The very first time I gave mishloach manot was in 1960, when I was a freshman in high school. Raised in a Reform family, that year my younger sister and I learned about this custom in Hebrew school and we decided to follow it, even though the only other Jews in our neighborhood were a reclusive elderly European couple.

We were hesitant, but we still put on costumes, took our hamantaschen and knocked at the door. When Mrs. L. opened it, she stared. In a shaky voice, she asked, “What is this?”

When we explained that it was Purim, she began to cry. ThroughWhen we explained that it was Purim, she began to cry her tears, she told us that ours were the first Purim costumes and the first mishloach manot that she had seen since the beginning of World War II. The Nazis had rounded up her and her family right before Purim; only she survived. Her husband, whom she met after the war, was also a survivor. They had both lost everyone and everything, including their faith. To her, our costumes and simple plate of hamantaschen were signs that there was a future for the Jewish people.

Years later and miles away, I was married to a man who managed an apartment complex with a large Jewish population. My first year there, I brought mishloach manot to the 14 retired Jewish tenants. But when a non-Jewish tenant said I shouldn’t play favorites, I realized that she was correct. From then on, I gave to all the retired tenants. Each year the number grew, until my last year there when I distributed 70 packages within the complex.

I know that some people send out elaborate, gourmet-quality packages. My treats would not have won any contests, either for wrapping or content. They consisted of plastic sandwich bags with homemade hamantaschen (prune and apricot) and a candy (to ensure that there were two types of food in order to fulfill the mitzvah). These were put in brown paper lunch bags, tied with a swirl of curly ribbon to which I attached a colorful, computer-generated “Happy Purim” tag. But judging from the joy on the faces of the recipients, they were perfect.

For me, the custom is a way of connecting with others. I have learned that my simple gift of food may be like a ripple in water that reaches somewhere never imagined.

One year, I didn’t get the packages distributed until late Purim afternoon, and two different Jewish tenants told me that they had worried I had forgotten them. The first year that I brought mishloach manot around, those housebound elders had had no idea that it was Purim. But because of my gifts, they had started paying attention to the calendar and were well aware of when the holiday came round.

As recently as two years ago, my second year in Israel, my mishloach manot again had an unexpected result. Nonreligious neighbors shared my hamantaschen with their friend, the owner of a little grocery in our neighborhood. I had never shopped there, but a few days after the holiday, I stopped in for the first time. The owner somehow recognized me, asking if I had given Mischa and Marina mishloach manot. Because of that gift, I immediately became a valued customer to that shopkeeper and not just another walk-in.

These wonderful experiences—memorable to me and probably to the recipients, too—would not have happened if I had just exchanged mishloach manot within my normal circle. They happened because I reached out.

In the book of Esther, Haman told Achashverosh: “There is one nation scattered and dispersed among the peoples ... .”1 The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that the meaning of this is that the Jewish people were not only separated, living in many parts of Persia, but they had also lost their unity as a people.

The community-wide fast requested by Queen Esther was the first unifying action of the Jews since they had been exiled. Later in the book of Esther, Mordechai tells the Jews to commemorate their deliverance from destruction by “sending delicacies to one another, and gifts to the poor.”2

By instructing the people to exchange gifts of delicacies with their neighbors and to give gifts to the poor, Mordechai was perhaps teaching his people—andGenerosity has the power to unite us by extension, us—that generosity to other members of the Jewish community has the power to unite us.

After experiencing so much isolation from the coronavirus pandemic, I hope this year through my mishloach manot to draw in the community of Jews who may feel alone, forgotten or alienated. Calling around to local nursing homes and assisted-living facilities might yield a surprising number of facilities with one or two Jewish residents—a good portion of whom may not notice when Purim comes and rarely have visitors.

To the forgotten or alone, even just a sandwich bag with unexpected treats, along with a smile and a wish for a “Happy Purim!” will make the holiday unforgettable. If you have children who can dress up and hand out the ackages, then you will give the recipients an additional treat, and your kids will learn how great it feels to make someone else happy. It’s a win-win.

If you want to give hamantaschen or other baked goods to people who might not be able to eat things you prepare at home, buy them from a kosher bakery and include its name or business card. Easier still, simply pack a bag of kosher potato chips and a piece of fruit. (That way, even someone on a diabetic or gluten-free diet can enjoy your gift.)

Whatever your gift of food, you will be putting another brick in the long road of Jewish communal life.

Happy Purim!