By Sara Sless
Imagine this scene for a moment: It’s a Thursday in March and you’re driving to work in Tel Aviv. As usual, the traffic is terrible, so there’s plenty of time to look around! On the sidewalk, a group of children catches your eye. Although there’s still almost a week until Purim, the kids are wearing pajamas, their school bags on their backs. Further along, 3-year-olds are walking with parents and caregivers, the children all decked out in costumes—kings, queens, cowboys, Mickey Mouse, and more than one Bob the Builder, complete with overalls, a toolbelt, and a yellow hard hat The teacher who greets them at the door of the gan, the early childhood center, wears a colorful wig and clown shoes.
You take it all in stride, of course. In Israel, Purim festivities begin as soon as the Hebrew month of Adar arrives, and children of all ages wear costumes to gan and to school. (This year, Purim falls in the month of Adar II, the leap month added in certain years just as February 29th is added to the Gregorian calendar every four years. Purim begins at sundown on 14 Adar II, corresponding to the eve of March 16, 2022.)
A few blocks later, you pull into your favorite coffee shop. Inside you pick up a coffee, but pass on the daily pastry special, a freshly baked hamantaschen (a small, triangular-shaped pastry, commonly filled with apricot jam or poppyseed paste). Once in the office and settled at your desk, you find mishloach manot (a gift basket) filled with goodies, including a bottle of wine a client has sent you.
As you scroll through your email, an invitation to an office Purim party pops up: food and drink, of course, along and a comedy trio that will present a parody on Megillat Esther, The invitation includes additional details: “Fancy costumes are a must, and taxis will be available to take revelers home,” referring to those who adhere to the Talmudic imperative and the holidiay’s tradition to drink “ad lo yada”—until it is not possible to distinguish evil Haman from blessed Mordechai.
After a busy workday and a quick appearance at the office Purim party, you stop at the supermarket to buy baskets, cellophane wrapping, chocolates, and wine to make your own mishloach manot for a handful of close friends. As you leave the checkout, you drop a few boxes of pasta and other non-perishable food into the bins held by energetic, enthusiastic Tzofim (Israeli Scouts). They’ll distribute the donations to the needy, another Purim custom, known as matanot l’evyonim.
Once you are home and on the couch in comfy clothes, you flip on the television, eager for a program or two (and commercials!) full of Purim cheer. Next week, like many adults, you’ll be out with friends, reveling in the holiday fun, which reminds you that you need to put those mishloach manot together soon! Everyone you know—observant, secular, and, like most Israelis, somewhere in between—will be celebrating, whether by attending a megillah reading in synagogue or at a matnas (community center), making and delivering mishloach manot, or dressing up in crazy costumes. No matter how they celebrate, Israelis of all ages always enjoy the joyousness, frivolity, and fun of Purim!
This year, amidst the holiday’s many festive activities, including reading in the Megillah about how Queen Esther and her cousin, Mordechai, saved the Jews of Shushan (Persia) from death after Haman, the evil chief courtier of King Ahasuerus, devised a plan to annihilate them, let us remember the important messages of the Purim story. They remain relevant today, perhaps more so than ever: Good can triumph over evil; individuals have power to behave both maliciously (Haman) and well (Esther); the dangers of antisemitism persist, and it is our responsibility to resist it and other evils that continue to challenge us and so many others, especially the Ukrainian people at this moment in today’s complex world.
Chag Purim Sameach!
Sara Sless is assistant director at JCC Association of North America’s Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.