The first (and only) time I celebrated Purim in Israel was in 2012. I was living in Jerusalem as part of my grad school’s study abroad program. I went with some friends to a crazy Purim party for university students. We baked hamentaschen. It was fun!
At that time, I also preferred Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Oh, how times have changed…
Now, as a proud Tel Avivian, I celebrated my first Purim in Israel! Here are my takeaways from my first Purim in Tel Aviv:
I grew up very active in Judaism’s Conservative movement, and I received one of my BAs and my MA at The Jewish Theological Seminary. In conclusion, I have celebrated Purim for as long as I can remember:
Here is 3-year-old Sarah, dressed as Queen Esther for Purim! Can you tell pink was my favorite color?
For those who don’t know, Purim is yet another holiday celebrating Persian Jewish triumph over near-certain doom. We celebrate by dressing in costumes, reading Megillat Esther (Scroll of Esther), which tells the story of Queen Esther and how she (and her uncle, whatever) saved the Jewish people from destruction. During the scroll reading, any time Haman’s (the villain) name is read, everyone is supposed to make a lot of noise, to drown out his name. The idea is that we are erasing his name, and therefore his memory. In Judaism, remembering/honoring the dead is very important…so this is the ultimate diss in Judaism. (Think of it like this…you bump into an ex, and you haven’t thought about them in awhile, and it shows…and then they are embarrassed/annoyed/offended/feel like human garbage, etc. The ultimate insult is to forget someone and move on with your life.)
To celebrate, we also bake hamentaschen, a triangle-shaped pastry. Note: in Hebrew, hamentaschen are called oznei Haman, Haman’s ears. One of the versions of the Purim story claims that after Haman was defeated, he was hanged and his ears were cut off. Fun! People also give mishloach manot, which are gift baskets, both to family/friends and to the poor. Many people also volunteer.
There is also a custom that says you are supposed to get so drunk that you can’t tell the difference between the names Mordechai (Esther’s uncle, who also helped save the Jews) and Haman. My alcohol tolerance is pretty high, so I’ve never tried to accomplish this feat.
celebrating purim in israel
Here is what I’ve learned after celebrating Purim in Tel Aviv, vs. my past Purims in NYC:
costumes are a really big deal…or not
There are costume contests, and they are insane. People really make an effort/don’t just dress as slutty animals. I am 100% guilty of half-assing my past Purim costumes. I had better things to do with my time! (Like sleep…) While I have seen some costumes consisting at least 75% of an animal headband (and made one of these costumes, see below for my reason), there are also a lot of people who really invest.
purim lasts 1-2 weeks and there are a million parties
One costume is not enough, because to truly experience Purim, you must suffer through attend multiple parties…so one costume doesn’t cut it. And if you’re a parent of small children, this means you must create about a million costumes…so stay strong!
My other Purim costume was a cat, because I’m lazy
I spent 6 hours making this costume
Hamentaschen just aren’t that great
Apparently hamentaschen aren’t that good here…the dough just isn’t that great. Though I did have some pretty epic hamentaschen from Roladin, I will admit that aside from those, I was completely underwhelmed by the hamentaschen I ate. In order to provide sufficient anecdotal evidence to support this claim, I ate many, many hamentaschen.
ענק וגמד/ANAK V’GAMAD/SECRET SANTA, PURIM-STYLE
Anak V’Gaman translates into giant and elf/dwarf/small person, and is basically the Israeli version of Secret Santa. You must shower your Anak with presents, and make it a secret. My Anak didn’t guess that I was his Gamad, which is amazing, and means that I won Purim!