While many secular Israelis rush to the beach on Rosh Hashanah, and many fervently Orthodox Jews ignore the wail of memorial sirens on Martyrs Remembrance Day, everyone, it seems, loves Purim.
Due to begin in most places on Saturday night, and in walled cities such as Jerusalem on Sunday evening, Purim can be called Israel’s “universal” holiday.
Religious or secular, Israelis will be celebrating Purim with a vengeance.
Purim is party time, even in Orthodox circles. Indeed, it is the one day of the year when it is halachically permissible to get a bit tipsy.
“Of course we’ll have a party,” yeshiva student Basya Schur of Milwaukee said when asked how she and her friends would celebrate the holiday. “We’ll all be in costumes and it will be great.
“Still,” she added, “Purim is also a religious holiday, and there are mitzvahs to observe. Before the party, we’ll go to shul and listen to Megillat Esther. And this week, everyone in the yeshiva will give money to charity and prepare food packages for the poor.”
For weeks now, schoolchildren from every shade of the religious spectrum have been collecting food to distribute to the poor and elderly. On Purim, many of the kids — who have the day off from school — will personally hand out the food to needy neighbors or visit a local nursing home.
Holiday food-giving is not limited to the needy, however. A gift basket of chocolates and liquor is de rigueur when visiting family or friends on the holiday.
STOCKING UP ON COSTUMES
As such, sweet shops are doing a booming business.
The Elite Chocolate shops, with hundreds of branches all over the country, offer a gift basket filled with any combination of sweets and liquors. Many customers have spent $50 and up on a basket.
For those who cannot afford store-bought prices, another alternative is to buy wicker baskets, available in religious and secular neighborhoods alike, and fill them with home-made hamantashen.
As for costumes, stores have been stocking them for weeks. Parents wishing to create their own costumes scouted out shops on Ben Yehuda Street, where magic wands, cowboy hats and toy M-16s are selling for two shekels apiece.
In Geula, one of the capital’s most religious neighborhoods, most shops feature a surprising range of costumes and masks, from such traditional favorites as Queen Esther and King Ahashverosh to Charlie Chaplin and the Ninja Turtles.
The one notable exception is the absence of Israeli soldier uniforms as costumes, which are so popular elsewhere.
To initiate new immigrants into the fun, various organizations and government bodies have prepared Purim-related materials for the olim.
Both the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel have distributed thousands of copies of the Scroll of Esther in Russian and Amharic, and are holding seminars to teach the immigrants about the holiday.
Preparing for her family’s first Purim in Israel, Debbie, a new immigrant from New York, said, “I’m thrilled to see Purim merchandise in all the stores. It sure beats buying Purim costumes on Halloween.”