I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

I Paid it Forward With HamantaschenAlthough the word hamantaschen comes from two German words, mohn (poppy seed) and taschen (pockets), poppy is just one of the flavorful fillings modern bakers like to use in these delicious Jewish cookies.

This was part of the explanation I prepared as I set out to deliver home baked hamantaschen to mostly non-Jewish members of my suburban community. By the quizzical looks on their faces as I proffered the assortment of pastries, many had no clue what they were, who I was, and why I was standing in front of them with a gift. It wasn’t Christmas, after all.

At the prompting of best-selling cookbook author Marcy Goldman on her Better Baking Facebook page, I decided to share the sweetness of homemade hamantaschen with the helpers in my community, to thank the people who deserve our appreciation and don’t always get it.

Would they be hamataschen-receptive?

As I backed out of the driveway, I suddenly felt a prick of concern. In this age of terrorism, would the giftees view me with suspicion? Even if I appeared to be simply a flustered woman in flour-speckled jeans, you never know these days. Were cookies part of an evil plot, to poison innocent citizens just doing their jobs?

“We bake these on Purim,” I recited out loud in the car, “the Jewish holiday that celebrates Queen Esther’s bravery in saving our people.” I glanced in the rearview mirror, plucked a piece of dough from my hair and practiced a disarming smile.

In return for my gift of sweetness, I would ask them just one question.

The Library

I had butterflies as I began my spiel, but the librarian smiled warmly. She assured me  the cookies would be devoured within the hour.

“Can you tell me about something sweet in your life?” I asked her.

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

She thought for a moment. “My dog, Ellington.”

The Veterinarian

“Hamanta … what?” asked one of the assistants. Was I mumbling, or was it the cacophony of barks and meows that interfered? I spelled the word for her and she wrote it down. The other assistant asked what the fillings were. “Triple Chocolate. Poppy. Cherry. Blueberry.” I mentally counted on my fingers.

“Ooh, yum,” she said.

“And the sweetness in your lives?” I asked.

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

“My 14 year-old son,” said one. “My dog, Blue,” said the other.

The Hospital

Back in the car, I drove a mile to the hospital and parked in front of radiology, where I get my annual mammogram.

“Oh no, don’t take my picture,” demurred a nurse, holding her hands up in front of her face. “I didn’t wear makeup today.”

A male nurse peered around the corner and said, “Hey, for cookies you can take my picture.”

“What is one sweet thing in your world?” I asked.

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

“My cats, Fortune and Mason,” he said.

The Police Station

Fourth stop, the township blues.

Amid the hustle and bustle of a hectic weekday afternoon, two police officers readily agreed to be photographed as they held the plate.

“Could you tell me about a sweet …” I began.

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

“Wait, this is …hamantaschen?!” exclaimed the one on the right as she peeked under the wrapping. “My favorite!”

The Fire Station

The vast garage was filled with shiny fire engines and uniforms hanging neatly on hooks. I called out but no one responded. Around the corner I found a window with an office on the other side. Two firemen were sitting at desks. I didn’t want to startle them, so I rapped softly and held up the goodies so they could see I was not a threat. One of the fire fighters came out to greet me.

“Now, don’t these look good,” he said, accepting the plate from me. “Awfully nice of you. Is this a project or something?”

“It’s just my own way of giving back and saying thank you for what you do,” I answered.

He bowed slightly.

“In return,” I said, “please tell me what is sweet in your life.”

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

He paused, then said, “My job. I was a volunteer for 10 years and I’ve been full-time for five. I’m lucky to have a job I love.”

The Synagogue

I love Purim at my synagogue. Purim is kind of like Halloween, with funny costumes and parades. Both kids and grownups dress up, and this year the Megillah (the reading of the Purim story) was performed with a Motown theme, and it was hilarious. Hebrew prayers were sung to the tune of golden oldies and the rabbi in costume as Stevie Wonder was a sight to see.

This is Jill, our temple administrator who does a million different tasks every day to keep the congregation running. She doesn’t always dress this way, incidentally.

“Jill,” I asked her as I handed her a tray of hamataschen, “what is sweet in your life?”

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

“My son, my new daughter-in-law, and my dog,” she said.

The Congressman

Take a look at this photo. See the guy in the greenish-grayish sweater, center stage?

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

That’s U.S. Senator Bob Casey, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a fundraiser at the home of good friends. Before I left my house I made two plates of hamantaschen, one for the hosts and the other for the Senator.

“I’d like to give Senator Casey these cookies since it is the Jewish festival of Purim,” I whispered to an aide. “Can you help me?”

I knew what I wanted to say. I would tell him that we celebrate Purim because of the bravery of a beautiful and kind woman, Queen Esther, who in today’s parlance would be known as a nasty woman. Because she persisted by convincing the clueless king of a murderous plot, the Jewish people survived.

“No problem,” she whispered back. “Stand by the door and you can catch him on his way out.”

The event came to a conclusion. The Senator was making his way to the front, shaking hands and letting guests take photos. He detoured into the kitchen. I waited by the front door. People were walking past me as they left. Where was he? I walked into the kitchen. No Senator.

“He snuck out the back door. He had to get to his town meeting,” apologized the aide.

My message of sweetness was tabled.

The Bookstore

I am so happy that an independent book store has opened in my community. Yesterday i attended a book launch for my friend Cathy, whose latest excellent book is “Who Moved My Teeth?” Cathy is smart, funny, and a great friend. She also loves my hamantaschen. It’s kind of an inside joke with us.

Her eyes danced when I handed her the tin.

“They’re for me! she announced to the crowd, squirreling them away in a back room before the party began.

“Cath, what’s something sweet in your life?”

I Paid it Forward in Hamantaschen

“My mom is pretty sweet,” she answered.

I approached the owner of the store, Ellen. “I love your shop and I hope it succeeds,” I told her. “Every community needs a bookstore. I can’t wait to come back.”

I didn’t have to ask my question. For Ellen, the sweetest thing must be books.

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

I love baking hamantaschen for my family. Sharing them with those who deserved sweetness but didn’t expect it was in some ways even better.

Based on my small sampling and admittedly unscientific method, I concluded that random acts of kindness are more meaningful than we might think. Paying it forward really does work, especially when it’s a bit out of your comfort zone. We have the capacity to make a difference, one hamantaschen at a time.

In the end, it’s family, it’s home, it’s relationships that sweeten our lives. That will never change.

It’s not rocket science. It’s hamantaschen.

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64 Thoughts on “I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

  1. How wonderful, what a great thing to do! I forget that many people don’t know what a hamantashen is and luckily for you they do now!
    Haralee recently posted…The Dilemma of Diet and Special OccasionsMy Profile

  2. I can’t tell you how many ways I love this, and that you spent so much time paying it forward to those in your community who are the helpers. I love that you did this, Helene, once again proving to me that you are an angel and one of the most pure-hearted people I’ve ever known. I am blessed to be your friend.

    Did you save me a chocolate one? xoxoxo
    Cathy Chester recently posted…How Can I Be Thankful For My Chronic Illness?My Profile

  3. What a delightful day you must have had!

  4. Ok. It’s way early in the morning and now you’ve got me really wanting these cookies. I mean bad bad bad jones for them.
    Carol Cassara recently posted…Let yourself go!My Profile

  5. What a wonderful thing to do! It is a lovely thing to do no matter what, but genius to do it for Purim and the celebration of a strong woman!

  6. As the beneficiary of these delights, I can assure you they made my special day all the more sweet. I so loved reading and seeing the pics of all the places you went to share the joy of Purim. I hope they don’t remember your name because you know how much I hate sharing!!! Thanks again for a delicious Purim!! Love you and your spirit, Helene!
    Cathy Sikorski recently posted…You sure you don’t want to go to Happy Acres?My Profile

  7. I love this story as much as I love Hamantashen. What a wonderful way to bring a smile to so many faces!

  8. How much do I love this? What a wonderful thing to do!

  9. You are the best, my friend. I love this piece so much and think many of the world’s problems could be solved this way. I am now drooling over the thought of all those delicious flavors of hamantaschen!

  10. robin Rue on March 14, 2017 at 10:31 am said:

    What a sweet gesture. Who doesn’t love homemade sweets?

  11. I love this. The cookies are beautiful and the reactions priceless. The world could use more of this in it.
    Gina recently posted…Oven Corned Beef and CabbageMy Profile

  12. I love this. The world needs all the kindness it can get. Cookies make everyone happy. I am so glad you put your fears to the side in order to bless all the people who received your treats.

  13. I love everything about this! I love that you took the time to bake these treats and then brought them to all of these people as a random act of kindness. At the same time, you were able to pass along the history and meaning of these treats to people who didn’t know about hamentaschen and Purim. I know that I really love learning about things like this.
    Jessica Hughes recently posted…Best Vanilla Pudding Recipe with fairlife ultra-filtered milkMy Profile

  14. What an awesome post. I love those cookies and how nice of you to share yours with the world. Funny how so many people cited their pets as the sweetness in their lives. Anytime you want to come to CT with cookies…let me know!
    Laurie Stone recently posted…Barely Surviving a Crossword Puzzle TournamentMy Profile

    • hbludman on March 15, 2017 at 2:00 pm said:

      I noticed that too, Laurie. I will bring hamantaschen with me for sure if I come to CT!

  15. This is such a great idea! Its so important to recognize all the people who are constantly serving others.

  16. I had no clue what this was, but actually, I caught sight of PURIM on my calendar and wondered in passing what it was. I probably should already know (as I am a Christian), but I didn’t, and never really got around to looking it up. I guess God wanted me to know though, because here it is.

    Thank you.
    Author Brandi Kennedy recently posted…Monday Movies: 13 Going On 30My Profile

  17. What a wonderful idea to pay it forward. I love homemade sweets!

  18. This story put a smile on my face, you are so sweet to do that for people! I love hearing stories like this, it puts my faith back in humanity. And you never know the positive effects of what cheering someone up might be!

  19. Elizabeth O. on March 15, 2017 at 3:54 am said:

    What a lovely way to pay it forward and spread some kindness. I think it’s nice that you’re doing this and I hope more people do the same. We need kindness in this world right now.
    Elizabeth O. recently posted…Keeping secretsMy Profile

  20. I really love this post and I had no idea what that was till now! I ma a huge fan of people paying it forward though – we all need to do much more of this!

  21. What a great idea! So many people don’t know what a hamantashen is and this is a lovely way to let them know.
    Katja xxx
    http://www.katnapped.com

  22. All of those things look amazing. I am sure all of those civic places appreciated the kind gesture. I work for a library and I know we would have.

  23. Jessica Taylor on March 15, 2017 at 9:59 am said:

    What a thoughtful thing to do! I bet they really enjoyed it! Now you have me excited to try those little Jewish cookies haha

  24. Omg this is a wonderful idea ! I love it 😍 I love how you said you had butterflies in your stomach that would’ve totally been me but what a sweet random act of kindness !

  25. eazynazy on March 15, 2017 at 3:26 pm said:

    i have never heard about Hamantashen.but would love to try it one day . This is such a wonderful way to bring smile on people’s faces

  26. My fave story is Queen Esther…. so I would love to try these cookies! I can relate to your concerns though, so happy you were well received.

  27. Amazing Helene. That was a lot of work in the kitchen and all that delivering. So inspiring. Bravo.

  28. nicole on March 16, 2017 at 1:31 am said:

    never heard of it but so nice of you to share it with the people you love! Inspiring.

  29. This is an awesome and thoughtful posts. I know they were so happy to receive your cookies and you shall feel great about paying it forward, making do many people smile.
    Stacey recently posted…Blogging Report February- March 15thMy Profile

  30. This is such a generous and nice way to pay it forward. I’m sure the cookies must be delicious and you must be proud that make so many people happy. Give yourself a pad on the back Helene. Good job!

  31. What a touching post because you did just the sweetest thing. The Hamantaschen looks delicious and I bet everyone you gave it to felt really touched.

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