The Year In Israel
By Max Fruchter
Until this year, I never fully perceived Purim as a holiday spanning longer than a day or two. I remember myself as a young boy picking out a costume and gathering colorful baskets of mishloach manot a few days before the actual holiday, but certainly not a week or longer.
The obligation to hear Megillah reading and distribute matanot l’evyonim also never necessitated any planning, as they are generally performed the day of and without much effort. Despite the incredible enjoyment I have in immersing myself in all these different mitzvot and traditions, Purim always seems to come and go so quickly. Unlike the eight packed days of presents and Menorah lighting on Chanukah, or the weeks of cleaning and kashering in preparation for Pesach, Purim, in my eyes, manifests itself in perhaps a day or two of anticipation of delivering mishloach manot, giving matanot l’evyonim, and having an original costume to wear.
In Israel, however, the opposite is the case: the two to three weeks preceding Purim are filled with an unparalleled enthusiasm evident in the plethora of costume stores, hamentashen sold at every bakery shop, and “Purim Sameach” signs displayed on buses and window frames. In Israel, Purim is a major holiday which truly epitomizes “Mishenichnas Adar Marbim B’Simcha” as it spans the entire month of Adar and not just the few days before 14 Adar.
Although several aspects of Purim celebration in Israel differentiate it from that in America, much of the holiday is the same in the two countries. Schools and yeshivot throughout Israel, regardless of religious affiliation, teach their students the halachot and story of Purim, albeit on different levels of intellectual depth. My yeshiva shiurim discussed topics I was familiar with from high school, such as recognizing the hiddenness of G‑d in the seemingly coincidental occurrences of the Megillah and applying the timeless lessons of the Jews defeating Amalek to our lives today. The abundance of Purim carnivals and chagigot in Israeli shuls and yeshivot bear striking similarities to festivities conducted by communities throughout New York.
Typical music and dancing, as well as face painting and other forms of entertainment, are accompanied nearly everywhere by popcorn and cotton candy. As far as costumes go, children in Israel can be seen running through streets wearing the universally sold cowboy, superhero, or princess outfits which I’m sure are equally noticeable in America. There is, however, a much larger presence of kids in Israel dressed as chayalim, policemen, and pilots, showing respect to family and friends who wear the uniform year round and not just as a guise for Purim. In light of current discussions of chareidim serving in the army, many older boys wore a green Tzahal shirt with matching pants, a black hat with peyos, and a gun.
Halachically, fulfilling the obligations of Purim in Israel presents much greater concerns. The fact that the actual day of Purim is celebrated in all cities outside of Jerusalem, and those in Jerusalem celebrate the following day on Shushan Purim, poses an interesting difficulty. This past Shabbos I stayed with a friend in Raanana, an unwalled city which heard Megillah after Shabbos. My friend and I wondered whether we could stay in Raanana through Sunday morning or not. According to the accepted rabbinic opinion, one who wakes up in an unwalled city on Purim, even if he later returns to Jerusalem in time for Megillah reading and the commencement of Purim there, would be obligated in all the mitzvot of Purim in that unwalled city (hearing Megillah twice, handing out mishloach manot, and giving matanot l’evyonim). For this reason, my friend and I decided to only attend the carnival and festivities at the shul in Ranaana after Shabbos but still make our way back to Jerusalem that night in order to not have to spend Sunday in Ranaana fulfilling the same mitzvot we would partake in the next day.
On Sunday evening, the time had finally come. Nearly 90 of us poured into the beit medrash to daven Ma’ariv and hear Megillah reading. Some wore costumes while others decided to come dressed up to the chagigah scheduled for later. At any rate, we all took joy in hearing one of our own rebbeim read the Megillah in animated tones and voices for the different characters.
Following the Megillah reading and a special dinner of chicken and steak, many of us partook in an optional hour-and-a-half learning program in which we received 50 shekel. The lively discussions went back and forth until everyone gathered into the auditorium for some food, energetic dancing, and the annual comedic video composed by some of the students. All the while, we laughed and remarked on how humorous and outlandish some of the costumes were, such as two boys dressed as babies in diapers, holding pacifiers.
The next day we heard the Megillah again, exchanged mishloach manot with our friends and rebbeim, and distributed money to the poor. It is common for many Israelis to even give money to any young child who asks for it. Israeli boys and girls approach unabashed with their hands extended and have them filled with coins by most walking the streets. At the end of the one-day holiday of Purim, I felt as though a monthlong festivity had just concluded. Weeks of preparation for this grand chag culminated in a most enjoyable day I’m sure to remember. With Pesach only weeks away, I look forward to planning in a similarly enthusiastic fashion for the eight-day holiday I’m sure will be equally inspiring! v
Max Fruchter, a recent graduate of DRS Yeshiva High School in the Five Towns, is now attending yeshiva in Jerusalem.