Purim in Israel
By Ashley Berns
As a student living in Israel, my holiday celebrations followed the same protocol: dress up in my nicest clothes, go to shul and eat a festive meal with family and friends (as long as it was not a fast holiday). This schedule had been ingrained in me over the course of the year. As Purim neared, I began to wonder if it would be celebrated like the other holidays or if it would be more like the celebrations I had come to expect from my childhood in Los Angeles—the shpiel, the carnival, the costumes.
There is nothing that could have prepared me for Purim in Israel. I quickly learned that the Purim celebrations in Israel are similar to those at home, but even grander. First, in Jerusalem, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of Adar. In most places, Purim is observed on the 14th of Adar. M’gillat Esther explains, “on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month—that is the month of Adar—when the king’s command and decree were to be executed, the very day on which the enemies of the Jews intended to have rule over them, the opposite happened, and the Jews prevailed over their adversaries.” The Jews fought and won on the 13th of Adar and celebrated the following day. However, M’gillat Esther continues by explaining that the Jews did not defeat their enemies until the 14th of Adar in the walled city of Shushan. Therefore, cities that were enclosed in the time of Joshua do not celebrate until the 15th of Adar, which has been appropriately named Shushan Purim. Because of the significance of Jerusalem, Purim is celebrated on Shushan Purim.
The celebrations were extravagant and exciting. The people took to the streets and celebrated with parades, parties, and carnivals. There was something for everyone. Volunteers for Women of the Wall read M’gillat Esther in the women’s section of the Kotel (the Western Wall). A parade through the streets of Tel Aviv displayed the wildness of the holiday. I attended the city of Modi’in’s carnival and megillah reading. Hundreds sat at the edge of the large auditorium benches, mesmerized at the beautiful chanting of the megillah and prepared for the next time the word ‘Haman’ was said. Of course, even the slightest utterance of the word ‘Haman’ was received with massive booing and the rattles of grogers.
Everyone, regardless of their age, was dressed in their favorite costume. There definitely was not a shortage of Queen Esthers and Mordecais. And for weeks leading up to the holiday, the aroma of freshly baked Hamantaschen (fruit-filled cookies in the shape of Haman’s 3 cornered hat) could be smelled blocks away, making sure I never forgot that Purim was coming.
My Purim experience in Israel is one that I will always remember. It wasn’t the individual carnivals that I was used to, but rather it was a large Jewish community coming together to celebrate the victory of the Jews.
Chag Purim Sameach!
Ashley Berns is a second-year rabbinical student at the Los Angeles campus of HUC-JIR. She is currently the student rabbi at Temple Beth Torah in China Lake, CA.
Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah.