People who love Purim have an extra reason to celebrate the holiday this year: For the first time in a decade, Purim in Jerusalem is a three-day affair.
Throughout Israel, a carnival mood reigns as small children and their older siblings parade down the streets in brightly colored costumes, inspired by everything from the Scroll of Esther to the Simpsons.
As much a national holiday as a religious one, the celebratory mood extends from the beaches of Tel Aviv to the alleyways of Mea She’arim, Jerusalem’s most devout neighborhood.
The holiday commemorates the bravery of Mordechai and his cousin, Queen Esther, who helped save the Jewish people from a massacre plotted by the evil Haman, the Persian King Ahashveros’ henchman.
Purim gets its name from the lots cast by Haman to determine when the slaughter of the Jews was to take place.
The Jews of Shushan celebrated their deliverance from the decree of death on the 15th of Adar, one day after the rest of Persian Jewry was saved.
Since Shushan was a walled city, it was decreed that Jews in walled cities, such as Jerusalem, should forever celebrate Purim a day after everyone else.
According to the Georgian calendar, which is used throughout most of the world, “regular” Purim begins on the eve of Feb. 24 and Shushan Purim starts on the eve of Feb. 25, which this year is Friday night.
When Purim falls on Shabbat, the Scroll of Esther is not read. Nor can the mitzvah of giving money to the poor be performed, since handling money on Shabbat is prohibited.
To solve the problem, the rabbis devised the following formula: Those living in walled cities should hear the Megillah reading on Thursday night and Friday morning, just like all other Jews.
They must recite the special holiday prayer “Al Hanisim” on Shabbat, and attend a festive Purim se’uda (meal) on Sunday.
Sunday is also the day to distribute mishloach manot, the baskets of fruits and sweets that religious Jews traditionally distribute to friends and family on Purim.
“It’s a bit complicated,” conceded Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner of the Tzemech Tzedek Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem. “But what could be better than three days of Purim?”
For Gestetner, whose congregation reaches out to unaffiliated Jews, “Purim is a holiday that brings Jews together. We are a dispersed people, but the reading of the Megillah unites us.”
Like many Israelis, Gestetner has come to view Purim in a wider, more political context, as well.
“For me, Shushan Purim reminds me of the special place of Jerusalem in Jewish life. The city is at the heart of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.
“This is especially important to remember now, as people discuss possible Palestinian sovereignty over east Jerusalem, including the Old City,” he said.
Gestetner called on Diaspora Jews to show solidarity with Jerusalem this Purim.
“On Sunday, when Jerusalemites are having a traditional meal, Diaspora Jews may want to have one, too. They can give extra charity or make an extra l’chayim (toast). Now is the time to display our solidarity as `Am Echad – One People,” he said.