Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ashalim: Purim Fun

Clay Animal Project
 As with every holiday I've experienced in Israel so far, I continue to be overjoyed by the energy that is EVERYWHERE as everyone prepares for the next festival, this one being Purim!

I have to admit, I'm not sure why but Purim, despite all of the exciting activities surrounding it, has never been my favorite holiday. There were of course some lovely aspects to it. Growing up, I adored being in the Purim Play with the choir every year and like every little girl dreamed of the day I would get to play the coveted role of Queen Ester, which I finally did in our rendition of "Rockin Shushan" where Ester's Achashverosh was Elvis and Vashti sang "It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To." The narrators were "Rockettes" and we all wore poodle skirts with records glued to them. For my part, I got to sing "Downtown" but instead of those words, we sang "Shushan." It was always loads of fun.

I also used to LOVE watching my Dad dress up in a crazy costume and recite an-ever hilarious rendition of the Megillah. He would get up there with the Cantor and the other Rabbi and they would put on quite a show. I'm always proud of my father, but during those readings I was always especially grinning from ear to ear.  And then there was the carnival, the day every child at temple looked forward to- full of fun booths and games and candy and costumes. When I got older I ended up running the booths, usually opting to do the face painting.

My Little Snail Guy
But for some reason, despite all those whimsical happenings, I never really looked forward to it. I really couldn't tell you why. My only theory is that maybe Purim was so separate from the modern world I lived in, all the festivities being held only at synagogue, and the only sign of it in the stores being plastic boxed hamentaschen. All the other major holidays of the year were there for everyone to see: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur had their own days off from school, Hanukah competed with Christmas commercialism, and Passover came and went with Easter. The other holidays in between, Sukkot, Tu B'Shevat, and the like also had less impact, but since they were seemingly more minor on the calendar, it never bothered me.  I think my problem was that I always felt like Purim was the odd guy out. "What do you mean you boo whenever you hear the name of the man with the pointy ears?" and "Why do you have triangular cookies?" and "What's a grogger?" and "You're dressing up as what?" always rang from my non-Jewish friend's mouths. I suppose that maybe the entire concept of the holiday simply seemed foreign. And it wasn't enough for me just to call it the Jewish Halloween.

A clown I drew for the carnival
When I grew up and moved to New York City, Purim took on a new effect. It was a fun party all over the Jewish stratosphere. There was always a huge, outlandish overpriced Dor Chadash party at some sceney place; last year's was complete with glittering gold-painted women on stilts, fire blowers, contortionists, and magicians. There are tons of Megillah Readings at every synagogue, especially on the Upper West Side, and people slink in and out in costumed packs. One of the synagogues transforms its sanctuary into a kind of disco party which is always stuffed, and conversely, tends to always be disconcerting to see couples grind against each other only a few steps from where the Torah is kept. So my adult experience of Purim was generally more fun, but still, it always felt like a random hiccup.

But here, the buzz of the celebration permeates on every street corner. For weeks, shops have been brimming with bedazzled costumes, and parties-a-plenty have been planned. All week long people have been going around town conducting their business from beneath a pirate's hat or a spiderman mask or in a tutu. My cousin's 8-year-old daughter baked her own cookies and wrote sweet notes to everyone in the family as misholoach manot, and talk of what costume each person will be has been spinning through the air. As I write this entry there is a colorful costume parade marching down the street outside my cafe window. There are drums, tons of kids in costume, streamers, music, banners, and a general feeling of celebration. And Purim is still two days away. The popular kid costumes these year seem to be mice, bear cubs, IDF soldiers, as always ninjas for the boys, and princesses for the girls. Some people got very creative too-- there's a huge papier-mache dragon floating on huge stilts, a clown car zigzagging its way through the crowd, and all sorts of kites and batons.

One of the most popular Purim costumes this season
My schedule of celebration is also popping with festivity. Here's the breakdown of my week (and these are only the things I chose to attend- a girl can't do everything!):

Tuesday night: hamentaschen making party (I'm in charge of bringing the nutella)

Wednesday night: huge block party in Tel Aviv

Thursday day: there is only a half-day at work, so we're going to probably walk around the city in costume and go in and out of different street festivals and parties

Thursday night: myriad parties all over Jerusalem, one being a 90's theme, another a disco in the shuk, another a trans festival that is only announced an hour before and will most likely be in the north or south of the country...

Friday morning: pancakes and megillah reading

One more cute picture of the finished project
I kid you not- it seems to me that everyone is taking the proclamation of "getting drunk and being merry" very, very seriously!

And at the moadoniyot we're also having a lot of fun. Today I'm joining the kids at one to deliver mishloach manot to the community, and in another I spent last night drawing and painting huge decorations (scroll down to see one of them, Simba from the Lion King, below) for a carnival that is happening all this week. At schools, each day of the week has been a different costume party: inside-out day, polka-dot day, pajama day, and of course the costumes, and it is no different at the moadoniyot. We've also been planning all sorts of fun crafty activities, including mask making, clay animals (the ones I made as examples are displayed here), and all sorts of fun Purim challenges.

It's very refreshing to be in a place where my culture, my people, my history is all around me at all times. Sure, the intensity of the place and the dichotomy between secular and religious communities can be at times a bit daunting, but all in all, this wonderful experience of hamentaschen in every window, costumes at every small shop, and posters advertising parties plastered all over the city has an exhilarating effect. For once in my life, MY culture is spilling through the seams of society, and it feels pretty good!

Pre-painting Simba that I drew for the moadonit Purim carnival

Simba completed! It was so much fun to paint again, I think I went a little overboard...

Happy Purim to all!

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