John Mellencamp may have grown up in the Indiana heartland, but the lyrics of his 1985 hit “Small Town” could just as easily have referred to Philadelphia. It was here last week that I, having been born in the nation’s fifth-largest city, experienced just how small a town we live in.
The Eagles had won the Super Bowl just hours before when my wife turned to me to point out that in 17 years of marriage, 15 of them with children, we had yet to celebrate Purim as a family with coordinated costumes.
“Why don’t we go as the Eagles?” she asked.
I’m not much of one for public displays of hilarity, but far be it from me to pass up an opportunity to honor the Birds. “Sure,” I said, suggesting that I could wear my Zach Ertz jersey, the kids could make their own, and my wife could go as Swoop. It was a plan, although it was slightly modified a day later to include two of the girls as cheerleaders and the baby as a football.
That’s how the idea remained until Jason Kelce gave The Speech Heard ’Round the Schuylkill. Looking at Kelce’s mummer-fied visage on the cover of the Inquirer the next morning, I employed a simplified fandom kind of logic: Kelce has a beard, I have a beard — instead of going to our synagogue’s Purim party dressed as Ertz, I wanted to go as Kelce dressed up as a mummer.
“That’s a great idea,” my wife replied. “It’ll take some work, but I could make that costume.”
My wife is an excellent seamstress with a gift for creativity that I will never possess, but I was not about to let her toil over such an elaborate getup. No, I said. “Let’s stick with the Ertz jersey.”
Two weeks later, she texted me a picture of Kelce strutting around like a psychedelic leprechaun above the words: “You on Purim! But sorry, no pants.” (Thank heavens, as my 5’7” frame wouldn’t have been able to fit in the pants anyway. It was hard enough to keep the jacket from falling off my shoulders.)
Apparently, my wife scoured the news coverage of the Eagles’ victory parade and came across the story of how Kelce came to be dressed as a mummer, borrowing a costume from the Avalon String Band’s 2008 performance of “Ire-land of Leprechauns.”
Kelce, a Cleveland native who wanted to pay homage to Philadelphia and its fans, asked his hairdresser Libby Coyle — wife of string band member Bob Coyle — what she thought of him wearing a mummer’s costume for the parade. Libby called Bob, inquiring if the band had anything that would fit a 6’4” 300-pound center. The pink and green sequined monstrosity we all know and love was the only contender.
That story alone shows just how small a big city can be, but my wife decided to call Bob, the unassuming municipal union president who insists that everyone call him by his first name. She explained the holiday of Purim to him, told him about my own connection to the Eagles — I was born the night before their first Super Bowl appearance, while their victory came on my 37th birthday, according to the Hebrew lunar calendar — and mentioned my 94-year-old grandfather who insisted on staying up to watch the historic win. She brought tears to Bob’s eyes, he told her. Of course we could borrow the costume.
We just had to pick it up Purim morning from Rabbi Eric Yanoff over at Adath Israel. He was using it for the nighttime Megillah reading.
“Jason [Kelce] wearing the costume for the parade was an amazing thing,” Coyle told me last Friday. “But if you had told me not one, but two rabbis would be using it after him, I would never have believed you.”
As it turned out, neither could the attendees of the Purim party at Lower Merion Synagogue organized jointly by Chabad-Lubavitch of the Main Line and Chabad of Penn Wynne.
I’m not by nature a social person, but the costume — proving quite the draw — brought out another side in me as I happily posed for dozens of selfies. My kids had quite the blast, too, especially earlier in the day when after a visit to the Exponent’s downtown offices at the Jewish Community Services Building, traffic on Arch Street backed up because of rubberneckers.
Having worn the same jacket as perhaps the most visible Eagle since Brian Dawkins, I’m amazed at just how connected we all are, even in a city of more than 1.5 million people. That truth was made all the more evident at the close of the Purim holiday, when all of the joy abruptly turned to worry when a friend was struck by a car as she walked across the street. That night, hundreds of people joined a conference call to recite Tehillim together in the merit of her recovery. As of Monday, people in and around the Lower Merion Jewish community had collectively completed the entire Book of Psalms 18 times, while a webpage recorded the various pledges of good deeds by concerned community members.
When an inebriated but incredibly lucid Kelce took the podium outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he seemed to give voice to an entire city. And wearing his jacket, I saw firsthand how an entire community can come together in times both celebratory and devastating. Our tradition teaches that the fate of the Jews of Persia during the time of the Megillah hinged on their ability to unify in the face of adversity. Through collectively fasting, they were able to reverse Haman’s decree.
In the same spirit, we as Jewish Philadelphians can have a positive effect on each other, whether by bringing strength to a family or food to the hungry. And as citizens of one of the world’s great cities, we can create an environment where every underdog can succeed.
There’s nothing make-believe about that.
Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected]