The coins were mesmerizing.

Cascading through my maternal grandfather’s chunky fingers, like crystal droplets flashing off a chandelier, they sliced through the air.

Clink, clink. A hundred thousand silver coins mingling perfectly with the tinkling of wine glasses and a room full of laughter. Again, Zeide dipped his hands into the cut-glass bowl. Cupping his palms, he raised them high, heaped with silver, coins flowing, flowing, flowing. Tinkling, clinking, singing, “Tzahalah V’Sameichah.”

“Here… stretch out your hands!” called Zeide, begging to be heard above the clamor. A fur-hatted queen’s guard held two buttoned white gloves out in submission and deftly pocketed the donation. He shook Zeide’s hand, then turned to join the shpielers at the back of the room, paving the way for the next in line.

A convention of bowls filled the center of the dining room table. Grand salad bowls, each filled with a different denomination. Should the levels in any begin to sink too low, a grandchild was dispatched to go and ask Buba for more. Neat rolls of coins parcelled in thick brown paper quickly appeared, and the bowl was refilled.

As we ate, round after round of shpielers burst into the room, filling the air with music, singing, and joy. Peals of laughter rang out in quick succession. After wrapping up their act, they, too, would crowd around my Zeide’s chair. I doubt Zeide ever tasted much on Purim day.

Looking back, I imagine an easier way could have been found to dispense with the Purim gelt. A few limp notes; perhaps even a pile. Or, a pen and a checkbook… voila! But where was the fun in that? Where was the drama? Showmanship streamed through my Zeide’s blood like bubbly champagne. It wasn’t about the audience. At least, not just. It was about the intensity, the thrill, the fanfare — and the passion.

You can’t fake that kind of passion.

*

We once lived with my grandparents for a short while. “Can you see them?” Zeide asked, standing by my bedside as we were about to say Krias Shema. His massive build cast a shadow that enveloped me from top to toe, and I basked in the warmth.

“Look, meidele!” he said, pointed to the ceiling. His smoky eyes peered into the distance, furrows lined his forehead as he followed his thoughts. My gaze tracked his thick, indomitable hands. They swished through the air, urging me to see what he could see. “Malachim! Hundreds of them! Waiting to take your Shema right up to the highest Heavens! And when we are done, they will dance. Dance!” All I could see was a lone enamel light fixture dangling overhead, lighting up a white expanse of empty ceiling.

But Zeide said: “Chap the malachim! Quick! Catch them!” So, I saw the angels. And the lightbulbs quivered with excitement. (excerpted)