On the eve of February 25, Jews all around the world celebrated the holiday Purim. Nowadays, Purim is often described as “Jewish Halloween” or “Jewish Mardi Gras.” Purim inspires these nicknames because of the excessive partying, eating, and drinking that take place on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Adar. But behind the hamentashen and crazy costumes, there is a rich biblical story that gave birth to this fun festival. The story of Purim is written in the Megillah – the Book of Esther – and takes place in Persia during the 4th century.
In 2019, while studying in Israel during my sophomore year, I experienced my first Israeli Purim. I had anticipated a mediocre costume party. My childhood Purim experiences consisted of the service at my synagogue where families dressed in costumes poured into the Chapel to sing, dance, and shake groggers. Post-service, everyone kibitzed while eating hamentashen. The whole experience was about 3 hours long, and while the celebration was extremely fun and lively, it didn’t prepare me for the joyous Purim I got to experience in Israel.
Similar to American Halloween, everyone bought costumes in preparation. My friends and I went to town in Hod Hasharon and bought cowboy hats from the party store. The Purim festivities stretched far beyond hours; it was a two-day extravaganza. The celebration began with a dance party that lasted late into the night. Breakfast was served in a decorated music-blasting dining hall. During the day of Purim we drove to Tel Aviv to go to a Static and Ben El (famous Israeli pop stars) concert in a large public park. The entire city was brimming with energy; people of all ages were out and celebrating. After the park festivities, we ditched the costumes for blue and white attire. We drove north to Haifa to watch the Israel National Soccer Team play live. While we weren’t technically celebrating Purim in the traditional customs, we all still felt the strong Purim spirit. The pure happiness we experienced through the warm hospitality of every Israeli we danced with and embraced earlier that day gave us ruach (spirit) on the sidelines. That Purim was much more than hamentashen, it was a sneak peak of the Israeli zest for life.
This year Purim is going to look very different. We did not come together in a physical sense to celebrate and embrace the Purim holiday. But, we were able to connect virtually. I joined Culinary Judiacs Academy for a Hamentashen bake. My close camp and life friend, Zoey, and her Dad, Chef Danny Corsun, founder, work side by side to “use cooking as the vehicle to teach about Jewish values, holidays, Torah, and Israel.” As we prepped our hamentashen for the oven we contemplated “If God isn’t mentioned in the story of Purim does that mean He wasn’t there at all?“ We all came to a consensus that God is present in the Jewish people through their acts of selflessness. Esther’s bravery to expose her Jewish identity to Ahasuerus in an effort to save the Jewish people brought G-d’s presence into the story.
Vashti (King Ahasuerus’ first wife) refused to be objectified by dancing at Ahasuerus’ party, risking her prestigious title. Esther, too, risked the title and luxurious life she had gained by holding royal status. While Purim is another story of the Jewish people’s will to survive and resilience, I see Purim as a story of brave women. My various different Purims in America and Israel have all provided depth to this fun holiday. I wonder where I will be celebrating next year…