Friday, February 22, 2013

Purim Sameach

In the JPS Esther Commentary, Adele Berlin explains that the holiday of Purim most likely came before the book of Esther. Many peoples celebrate the spring equinox with some kind of festival that includes parties and masquerading. Jews likely took part as well. At some point, a Jewish story was written to justify the celebration. So, most of the time, there is an event and then a holiday to commemorate it. In the case of Purim, we first have the celebration and then the creation of the event. The perfect roots for this topsy turvy time of year.

Purim in Israel is a lot like what I imagine Mardis Gras is in New Orleans, only without the beads and all that entails. It isn't a one day thing, it is a week long celebration. And not just for kids. Adult Jerusalemites have been sporting crowns and funny hats all week. A big trend among teenage males is to shave words, pictures or designs into their heads and to actually dye their hair, not just temporarily spray paint it, all different colors.

 Our oldest took part in the Purim hair trend

The costumes are lavish and elaborate and it is clear that everyone takes a lot of care to choose the right costume and make the most out of it. And all communities participate. Our Haredi scribal arts teacher explained that in his community, it is common for people to dress up in the clothing typical of a different ultra-Orthodox sect. Or, they wear their summer coats though it is technically still winter. Or they wear huge hats, poking fun at themselves. Everyone finds their own way of turning their world upside down for this one week of the year.

Now, when we were packing for six months and reweighing our suitcases after the addition of every t-shirt and pair of socks, we weren't thinking about Purim. We didn't think that choosing a few of the costumes out of the literally dozens we have acquired over the years could save us a lot of time and money once we got here. Three weeks ago, you can imagine how we were kicking ourselves. Needless to say, we wound up spending a few hours in the costume shop.

Similar to the Holloween stores that crop up all over as we get close to the end of October, costume shops seem to have appeared out of nowhere. The major difference is the lack of haunted houses and the gruesome costumes we have at home. Otherwise, there is every kind of costume, mask and prop that you might want. It is hard to narrow it down actually. In the end, we settled on a Broadway dancer for our oldest, a weird guy for child #2, Princess Esther for #3 ("It just doesn't feel right to be called Queen") and a blue ninja turtle for the youngest.

Though it may not be immediately obvious to you, the first two costumes apparently require canes as props. As a matter of fact, those canes, one wooden and the other one that squeaks, turned out to be the sun around which all other possibilities must orbit. The youngest was the same, only his central artifact was a plastic blue samurai sword. As we contemplated what to get, those three items in particular gave me pause. Every school to which my kids have ever gone have had a strict rule against weapons or things that could be used as weapons. I clearly explained to the kids that it was possible that they would not be able to take their canes and sword to school because there may be a rule against such things. Though they understood, they had their hearts and imaginations set and we brought them home.

As we walked to school today, all of my concerns were allayed. We ran into literally dozens of swords, nun-chucks, plastic hand guns and even a plastic Uzi. One of the preschool teachers said, very sweetly, to our youngest that it was great that he, the other ninja turtle and the young knight in the class all had swords so that they could help defend the class today. Apparently, I had nothing to worry about.

The irony, of course, is that in Jerusalem, where guns, fake and real, are everywhere, violent crime is relatively low. On the other hand, in Oakland, where all costume weapons are expressly forbidden...well, you know. A reminder that it isn't just the accessibility of weapons that produces off the charts rates of violent crime.

But I digress.

In most places in the world, the actual day of Purim is Sunday February 24th, the 14th of Adar. However, since the fighting continued in the walled city of Shushan, all ancient walled cities, like Jerusalem, celebrate on the 15th of Adar. However, in practice, on both the 14th and the 15th there will be some serious celebrating here in Jerusalem. We have two spiels, two megillah readings and a party to attend on Sunday, our third carnival on Monday morning and then a big party in Kikar Safra, the Civic Center Square. Something tells me that, by the end of this week, we will have had the Purim experience of a lifetime.

Chag Purim Sameach.

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