But if you think you can ignore the holiday of Purim while living in the mercaz (city center) of Israel, you are sadly mistaken my friend. Starting with the first day of the month of Adar leading up to Purim (around 3 weeks), the whole country is in a frenzy. Or at least, that is what my experience with this crazy holiday leads me to believe!
My first exposure started at school when, on a seemingly random day 3 weeks before Purim, Yeshurun was converted into a Disney wonderland. You walk into the main compound and there is confetti and strings everywhere arranged criss-cross in the walkway, like those red laser beams you have to dodge when trying to break into a bank. Maneuvering into the building, the courtyard out front was actually a Jungle, with a watering hole, a giant water slide, and someone in a Panda and another in a Monkey suit. Streamers, balloons, and jungle themes really mirrored the “Mean Girls” jungle scene at the mall, but actually taking place in what looked like the jungle. Perfectly juxtaposed, I took 3 steps inside to the front lobby only to see the land of Frozen. Yes. There were snowflakes on the ceiling, a Styrofoam igloo in the corner, and a machine that was blowing foam snow all over the room.
We later learned that this was equivalent to a “Senior Prank Day”—at the end of the day, the grade would vote on a girl to become the school’s principal leading up to Purim. This means, that yes, the new Assistant Principal became a 17-year old girl, and that her rules ruled. For example, if a teacher said a special buzz word (let’s use potato as an example,) then everyone would get to leave and class would be over. Luckily for Emily and me, these rules didn’t apply to our classes.
But on this crazy day in particular, there was definitely no class amidst the giant balagan. Not realizing it at the time, we were also extremely lucky to see this “Purim sight” because the actual day of the Purim celebration was on a Tuesday, our day off. So this was my slice of Purim at Yeshurun, and it only prepped me for the ensuing chaos in Tel Aviv.
The closest phenomenon I can compare Purim in Tel Aviv to would be 3 days of Halloween on an American college campus (or at least, at my University). I came into Tel Aviv on Wednesday evening to hear the Megillah reading with some friends, where I heard the story of Purim. I was then ready to celebrate the right way…we are commanded to get so drunk that we cannot discern between Mordechai/Haman, or right/wrong. I dropped my stuff off at my friend’s apartment, where I’d be staying until Friday, got into my cat costume, and went out to Shuk HaCarmel. By day, this magical place is a haven for fresh fruits and veggies, cheap falafel, and those flow-y elephant pants. By night, the streets were flooded with people all-out in interesting costumes, music, and dancing. I think at one point, a game of limbo was involved? Either way, the whole scene just painted a picture of a college Halloween party, but extended to the scale of an entire city! Every street you walked down was another party, another crowd, another costume. And Thursday was just the same. As was Friday.
Friday afternoon, though, I went to Kikar HaMedina (a giant round about in TLV) for TLV’s version of a music festival. With a DJ, VIP, beer and hotdogs booths around the perimeter, and a vast sea of costumed teens, parents, and even kids, I was just one of the many Pocahontas that day. Celebrating this holiday in TLV was pretty much my wake up call that I’m not in college anymore!!!!
Learning about Purim, seeing how different sects of Judaism celebrate the holiday, and feeling like my Jewish culture was all around me, was an unparalleled experience. Hamantashen were sold in EVERY place that sold food for a whole month, costume shops were EVERYWHERE, and all types of Jews celebrate this holiday in one form or another. I went to an Orthodox synagogue for the Megillah reading, and the main man singing was even in costume! It was the first time I experienced the feeling that this holiday was being celebrated all around me, whether for some it be cultural or for others, religious, purposes. For this reason, I don’t think Purim anywhere else in the world will ever be the same.