We have just finished the holiday of Purim in Israel.
Did I write holiday? I meant month-long festivities..
For me, it started on Rosh Chodesh Adar – the first day of the month in which Purim takes place. This is a leap year for the Jewish calendar so it was actually Adar II. So songs like “mi’she, mi’she mi’she, mi’she, mi’she mi’she, mi’she nichnas Adar…marbim b’simcha!” (When Adar begins, we increase our joy!) had already been playing for a little while. I have to admit, I wasn’t feeling particularly joyful this year at the beginning of Adar. However, I was at a store when I overheard a young guy telling his co-workers that when he got on the bus that morning, the driver was wearing a clown hat. As people got on the bus, he explained “It’s Adar! We’ve got to be happy!” I smiled overhearing the conversation. I even thought of Rebbe Nachman who said that the best antidote for feeling unhappy is simply to start feeling happy. So, I did.
In my children’s school, for the week preceding Purim, there was pajama day, funny hat day, kids teach the teachers day, longer recess than class day. And the pinnacle of it all – two days before the actual holiday, all the kids come in their real costumes, exchange mishloach manot (lately the trend is each family gives 10 shekels and every child receives the same thing – so there won’t be competition or hurt feelings), there is a school-wide assembly with games and prizes. In fact, most Israeli think this is actually the holiday of Purim, the three days following are simply vacation from school.
In my congregation in Tzur Hadassah, we had much pre-Purim activity also in the direction of community caring. First of all, with the visit of a few rabbis earlier in the month, we received from our partner congregations Temple Sholom of Vancouver and Temple Beth El in Madison, suitcases full of costumes which we donated to local after-school programs for children from challenged families. (Along with art supplies, clothes, and games donated by visitors from Temple Isaiah of Los Angeles)
We offered congregants to buy packages for mishloach manot from Or Shalom, an organization that helps at-risk children, and a few wonderful congregants made home delivery of mishloach manot to every member of the congregation and also brought to the pre-school that we are helping to support.
I baked hamantaschen with the participants in our mother-daughter bat mitzvah group. (they couldn’t believe I had found a good parve recipe!) They, together, with our youth group members of Noar Telem and some of our pre=school families, delivered mishloach manot to over 20 elderly/lonely people who live in our area. Each family/group received a name and phone number and the delivery included a visit, exchange of stories, lots of smiles and even some requests for a return visit soon..
The Big Event was erev Purim, the megilah reading in our congregation. Our tradition notes the connection between the names Purim and Yom HaKipurim (Also known as Yom Kippur). In Israel you really feel the connection between the two holidays. They are the two days a year that the an incredible amount of secular Israelis come to synagogue – the most solemn day and the silliest. Over 100 people of all ages filled our hall. I have to say that I invested quite a lot of energy in the production! Our theme was based on a recent TV show “The Next Rising Star – to Eurovision”, a musical contest show with judges and home audience participation picking the best talent. Our teens decorated the entire hall with stars and scenes of Shushan. They put together short videos poking loving fun at our readers/”contestants”. People got really into it and made their reading (which was the traditional text) come alive in hysterical ways. I gave my kids dominion over a basket of prizes and candy which we distributed as freely as possible in Purim song contests, recruiting judges after each chapter, and for every kid who got up in front of everyone and showed his/her costume. Accompanied by a wonderful musician Boaz Dorot on keyboard. And a congregant even served as barman.
The next day, I was on Masada officiating at a bar and bat mitzvah ceremony of families from North America. Our cable car operator had teddy bear ears. I brought all kinds of hats, wigs, animal , ears, etc., for a mini megila summary reading. In my taxi the way back, the driver (wearing a crazy pink hat from his daughter’s costume) had left me a chocoate bar on the seat. That night, we were celebrating at a Purim party in Tzur Hadassah. My costume had started to wilt – whereas Wednesday night I was a star, that night I was a falling star.
The next day was Shushan Purim, the day Purim is celebrated in Jerusalem as it is a walled city. My kids were not interested – I think they were Purim’d out! I put on a green clown wig and headed out for coffee with my sister-in-law visiting from Haifa. She was full of enthusiasm as people passed by in fabulous costumes – “Jerusalem is so much better than Haifa! Here the adults dress up and everyone’s into it!” We met the beggars who knew it was their day and freely distributed matanot la’evyonim (the mitzvah of giving gifts to the poor on Purim).
And that’s not to mention parades that took place in cities around Israel “Adloyada” (after the Talmudic command to drink alcohol on Purim “until one doesn’t know” the difference between Haman and Mordecai), and the Purimon purim carnivals in the Scouts and in synagogues and other neighborhood gatherings, the stages of children’s entertainment.
I invited a pre-school parent to a congregation meeting that we had Saturday night (not connected to Purim) The next day I got a text apology – “I was ready to come, I put my kids to bed and I fell asleep with them. This Purim has exhausted me!”
And lest I believe that it is all over…I just got the invitation to a Purim “after-party for parents” next week! At least it’s a fundraiser for the new school yard of our kids school….
Though I’ve already gotten some frantic phone calls about Pesach…do you know where you’re having seder yet??