Voices from the field

The Whole City Is Bustling With Joy

By Yehudit Werchow

“Come and witness an unusual spectacle
The whole city bustling with joy and rejoicing….

a trumpet blowing a confusing melody and
the noise is really intolerable….

The whole town eating Hamantaschen
What a nice and disorganized holiday…”

-Naomi Shemer

Indeed a very unusual spectacle, the most amazing thing about this crazy festivity is that it is contagious for most Israelis, even if they are not deeply engaged with its contents and religious aspects. And if I may express my modest manifestation, I will say that you simply cannot avoid it or ignore it! For those who wish to test their levels of non conformism, I will suggest to try not wearing a costume on Purim in Israel. Believe me, I have tried it, and felt sillier than if I had been wearing a costume!

But I also have to admit, mainly to myself, that there is something rather compelling about the fact that the entire country turns into a Mega Broadway show. The irony of Purim in Israel is that you spend the entire year praying for rain and if there is one day when you can really do without the rain, it’s Purim. Yet Purim without rain is almost an oxymoron, so anyone who is really dedicated to the Purim experience just knows that having a wet-ish costume is the ultimate way to celebrate.

It’s true that there is much more to Purim than costumes and festivities, and it is important to mention the growing communal expressions and events dedicated to fulfilling the Mitzvot - from organized distributions of Mishlochei Manot and Tzedaka projects to public learning events and Megila reading. However, and as Neomi Shemer’s song depicts so vividly, the main thing about Purim in Israel is the joyous communal and national balagan! And it is felt by everyone and everywhere in Israel.

It’s part of the magic and the positive aspect of the encounter between the public sphere/space and the Jewish calendar. You can’t forget that it is Purim, even if you no longer go to school, don’t have kids in school or, G-d forbid, are not a Jewish educator; you simply can’t avoid taking part of the Purim experience - it’s in the streets, the air, with your neighbors, in the media and even at your local bank, Purim will find you in the most unusual places, just as the Megila promises!

So what is the story with Purim and Israeli society? Well, besides the fact that it’s a happy festivity, and we are actually commanded to rejoice and play with our identities and consciousness…in a healthy way. Some of the lyrics of Israeli Purim songs offer some insights that might explain the Purim experience in Israel:

“Join in, close your eyes
We have Purim, let’s forget about everything
If you feel pain, crush it with your feet
Open your mouth and sing loudly…
ah ah all of us will get crazy
We will sing and dance despite all the troubles…”

-Ten Katefe, lyrics: Avigdor Hameiri, melody: Mordechai Zaira

Purim has a therapeutic effect. Wherever there is pain or sorrow, stress or worries, we are instructed to cast it aside and celebrate the wonder of existence, our resilience as a people, the joyous victory (it is easier to celebrate when you don’t read the end of the story) and also simply to embrace and enjoy the opportunity to be silly and playful, simplistic but real. It’s an invitation to express love and kindness towards each other and to celebrate as a community. Purim is therefore a short, much needed break and if our tradition commands us to do so…maybe I shouldn’t exclude myself!

Chag Purim Sameach!