I was ten years old that Purim, and in the fifth grade. That was the year that: (1) I shot up from being the shortest kid in class to my adult height, 5′3″; (2) Romeo and Juliet was the school play; and (3) Mimmi Cohen came to town. All three factors combined to make fifth grade the toughest, longest, most miserable year I had yet faced.

I felt awkward with my new height; I now had an aerial view of my classmates. I so badly wanted the lead in the play, but knew that it was a popularity contest. I felt sure that Mimmi—she would cross out any other way people spelled her name—Cohen would grab not only the lead, but all supporting roles and extras in the play as well, sweeping in from out of town with her Esprit button-down shirts, black nylons and shiny, grown-up loafers. I wore a lot of neon in those days. My favorite outfit, which I wore only on Fridays, was a bright pink dress with neon green and yellow squigglies zigzagging down the skirt, worn with fold-down ruffly white socks and silver L. A. Gear sneakers. The Friday of the tryouts for the play, I dressed carefully, taking extra care that the folds of my ruffly socks were exactly even at both ankles.

The tryouts were in the morning. Mimmi and I were called out of class together. She held the blue hall pass, and we walked in icy silence down to the auditorium. I felt gargantuan next to Mimmi, trying to keep pace with her tiny steps in my huge silver sneakers. She walked as she had probably seen her mother walk in high heels—quick, brisk steps that made her heels clop-clop on the cement like horses’ hooves.

She pointed her chin at the sky, pulling down the corners of her mouth and patting her blond curls as she walked. “I already know what I’m going to wear for my costume,” she said. “I have a real ball gown at home.” “Me, too,” I lied. “It’s . . . indecipherable.” I had seen that word the day before in a copy of Time magazine lying around the house, and decided that it sounded as glamorous as any other. “That’s nice,” Mimmi said, shrugging. “I hope this won’t take too long. I already know I’m going to get it.” The bottom dropped out from my stomach. “How do you know?” My world was spinning, but I wasn’t about to show her how I felt. “I just do,” she said. “Who else would they pick? Everybody else in this school is such a nerd.” “I am not,” I mumbled. Tears blurred my vision, and I blinked and blinked, trying to force them back into my eyes so Mimmi wouldn’t see. “S‑something in my eye,” I stammered.

We reached the auditorium. The dank smell of over-boiled peas and an Ajaxed floor wafted from the lunchroom next door, and I held my breath as Mimmi showed the blue hall pass to the teacher running the tryouts. “A‑ha. Right this way, girls,” she said. I felt nauseous and dizzy as I sat, waiting for Mimmi to finish so I could show the panel how good a Juliet I would be. Mimmi strutted about the stage, as cocky as a Bantam rooster. She rolled her eyes and clasped her hands as she spoke, her voice traveling up and down the scale like a car on roller-coaster tracks. With the last phrase, she dropped to her knees with a huge fake sob. Then she stood up, flashed all her teeth in a stagey smile, and curtsied deeply. “Thank you very much, dear.” Mimmi tossed her head and exited down the steps at the front of the stage, grinning as if she were the star of a toothpaste advertisement.

“Next.” I mounted the steps onto the stage. Mimmi sat directly next to the panel, her arms crossed, swinging her feet back and forth. I stood for a minute and breathed, focusing my thoughts. “Are you ready, dear?” I attacked that script for all I was worth. For every one of Mimmi’s eye rolls, I added two. Every one of her vocal crescendos was eclipsed and forgotten about. For my big finish, as opposed to merely falling to my knees, I threw myself facedown on the floor of the stage. That should show them who Juliet should be. “Thank you.” I stood up, still under the spell of my performance. “Thank you.” I bowed and smiled. “You may go back to class. Miss Cohen, please wait with us for a moment while we discuss rehearsals.”

I felt my face turn scarlet. I walked sedately from the auditorium, keeping my eyes straight ahead, though I could not see where my steps took me for the hot tears escaping down my flushed cheeks. Only when I rounded the corner outside of the auditorium, far away from Mimmi’s grin, did I allow myself to weep.

I saw a car pull into the parking lot. That looks like our van, I thought. I wished that my mother could come and spirit me away from the tryouts, Mimmi, my gigantic self. As I watched, the driver’s side door opened. My mother climbed down from the seat, holding two bulky brown lunch bags. She made her way towards the office. We often ran out of time in the morning for my mother to make lunch, so she brought it to school later on. I held my breath. Would she see me? I ducked behind a clump of bushes. My mother went into the office with the lunch bags. The clock stood still. I imagined her chatting with the receptionist, writing out two pink slips, one for my brother and one for me, to come to the office and get our lunches, turning away and putting her hand on the door—there! My mother headed back towards the car. She took out her keys.

“Mommy!” I ran out from behind the bushes. “Hi, sweetie!” My mother’s face lit up when she saw me. “What are you doing here?” “Mimmi got the part,” I sniffled. My mother set her lips, but only for an instant. Then the expression was gone, and she leaned toward me. “Do you know what?” she said. “I left dough for the hamantashen chilling in the fridge. It’s all ready for you. Why don’t you come home with me for lunch, and we’ll make hamantashen together?” “Yeah!” I said. Truly, this was an act of G‑d. I ran towards the car. “Don’t tell your brother. It’s our secret,” my mother said.

Ten minutes later saw my mother and me in the sunlit kitchen, rolling out hamantashen dough with my great-grandmother’s wooden rolling pins, shiny and smooth as glass from over sixty years of use. The dough spread under our hands like a thick puddle. The ache in my heart abated. “Do you know,” my mother said, “this is the very same recipe that Grandma used when she made hamantashen with her mother in the Old Country?” “They made hamantashen back then?” “Of course,” my mother said. “And before that.” “When before?” “For almost two thousand years, maideleh.”

Two thousand years. I pressed my tongue to my upper lip, trying to comprehend a gap of time, vague and dead as the flat pages of my history book, suddenly filled with people, great-grandmothers and mothers and daughters, making hamantashen for Purim. “Two thousand years ago, Shakespeare wasn’t even born.” “And you know what? G‑d gave us His Torah even before that,” my mother said.

My mother and I carefully cut circles from the flattened dough, filled them and pinched them shut. I tried hard not to let any of the filling peep out from inside, the mahn a delicious secret, like G‑d’s boundless love, kept by generations of Purim merrymakers. G‑d chose us. As I squeezed a hamantash together at the top, I felt honored to be part of such a miracle.

That day in our kitchen, I realized that Purim was more than three-cornered cookies. It was part of our legacy, and more lasting than any of the worries that plagued my ten-year-old agenda. The school play, Mimmi Cohen, even being taller than all my classmates, would pass. G‑d’s Torah, our Torah, eternal, and His chosen people, the Jews, would remain. I smiled at my mother. This was our secret.