If you receive a decent Jewish education in America, you are taught that Purim in Israel is a two-day holiday, with Jerusalem (a walled city from the time of Joshua) celebrating on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, and the rest of the country (and world) celebrating on the 14th day of Adar. It wasn’t until I got to Israel, however, that I found out that Purim ranges anywhere from a four-day holiday to a six-day holiday (as is the case this year — what I call the Mother of All Purims). Rather than a quick hit-and-run type of Purim, therefore, as the holiday was for me in the States, Purim in Israel never seems to end: tiring for parents, paradise for kids and a big bonus for Israeli skiers who can jet over to Europe and take advantage of low, off-peak rates and short ski-lift lines.
[A hint for those who are curious: The variation in the length of the Purim holiday has to do with the fact that Shabbat observance is incompatible both with certain aspects of the celebration of Purim and with the Fast of Esther. I would like to elaborate, but if I do, my editors will get mad at me for boring the majority of you.]
All of Israel gears up for the Purim holiday. Many countries have masquerade-type holidays, and this is Israel’s. Several weeks before Purim, radio advertisements broadcast the sorry tale of a harried mother who struggles in vain to come up with costumes for her kids (with a solution provided by the advertiser’s huge selection of Purim outfits). And a month before Purim, all the bakeries of Israel start selling hamantashen (the traditional three-cornered cookie) stuffed with poppy seeds, chocolate, fruit or date-nut filling.
In Israel, the process of getting caught up in the Purim spirit is facilitated by the social dynamics of the state. This was forcefully epitomized for me a few years ago when, five weeks before Purim, my ten-year-old neighbor Shuli knocked on our door. She wanted to know if she could borrow my son Elie’s policeman costume for Purim. A perfectly reasonable request, but remarkable since Shuli happens to be Christian (yes, we have some token gentiles in Givat Ze’ev). Purim is thus one of those test-cases for seeing what it means to live in a country whose majority culture is Jewish. With the exception of the Arab population, all children in Israel celebrate Purim. Outside of Israel, Purim is largely relegated to the synagogue, and tens of thousands of “unaffiliated” Jewish children do not even know what they’re missing.
The 12th day of Adar is special, because on this day all the children of Israel come to school in costume. (Although this year it’s going to happen on the 10th day of Adar — March 16 — because the Fast of Esther had to be moved from Saturday, March 19, to Thursday March 17. Oops — I said that I was going to spare you.) The streets are filled with hundreds of beautiful Queen Esthers, handsome Mordecais, regal King Ahashveroshes and evil Hamans.
I have to admit that something unusual happens to me when I see all those children parading around the streets of Israel. To be sure, it’s easy to be affected by kids in costume (the tension between their small features and their oversized costumes is often poignant), and yet when I see Israel’s Purim kids I don’t just think: “those kids are really cute.” More than on any religious or national holiday, more than when I see all those flags on Israel’s Independence Day, or the many “booths” of Succot, or experience the eerie quiet streets on Yom Kippur, more than all of this, when I see those kids walking around in costume, bringing life to the characters from the ancient Book of Esther, I think: Here is Hitler’s real defeat. Here is wonderful, joyful and incontrovertible evidence that the Jewish people lives, that Am Yisrael Chai.
Copyright 2011, Teddy Weinberger