Growing up, my favorite community holiday was Purim. We’d get together with the other Chabadniks (my very secular Israeli father insisted we only attend services entirely in Hebrew), there was always a magician, everyone would dress up, and all the attendees were boisterous and friendly. Years later, I realized that the friendliness was due in large part to the congregation’s wholehearted commitment to add delo yada, the religious requirement to revel in Purim by drinking until we couldn’t tell the difference between Mordecai and Haman (hiss, boo). The one sour spot of every holiday was that, without fail, a girl dressed as Esther would always win the costume contest. I guess the woman who saved us from the Persians does beat an enchanted dragon witch queen, or whatever amalgamation of crazy my young mind had concocted that year, but when I was younger, it made little sense to me. Nowadays, I’d definitely support a defender against the Persian hordes, but that’s a topic for an entirely different article.
Returning to the story of the Megillah, it was with great excitement that I learned, upon moving to Israel, that the Book of Esther is the touchstone of some of the most impressive displays of public revelry in the country. If you’ve ever been in Israel the month or so leading up to Purim, you may have seen pop-up shops along Ben Yehuda in Jerusalem or throughout Tel Aviv filled with costumes, the way Halloween shops emerge in the States. Parades and events for children are juxtaposed with huge street parties held for older merrymakers engaging in their religious requirements, though both are usually supported by the municipality.
Purim festivals date back to around the end of the Second Aliyah, the wave of Zionist immigration to Ottoman Palestine. The longest-running parade, Adloyada, was first held in Tel Aviv in 1912 and boasted provocative costumes and puppets, a tradition continued for decades. In 1933, a puppet of Hitler with a sign around its neck reading “Kill Jews” earned a rebuke from the German consul in Jerusalem, who demanded an apology from Tel Aviv Mayor Meir Dizengoff. Dizengoff refused. Today, the parade, still widely attended, has moved south, to Holon, and is much more child-friendly.
The holiday has lost its political overtones. Street parades and parties are populated by “Simpsons” characters, or whatever costume can be cobbled together. A savvy Purim celebrant can even enjoy two a year! In Jerusalem, the holiday is celebrated the day after the rest of the country, on Shushan Purim, the 15th of Adar.
MERAV CERAN IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE.