Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Hands-Down, the Best Day of the Year
There is simply no better day each year than Purim - and there is nowhere in the world like it in Israel. It is hard to convey what Purim is like here to someone who hasn't experienced it, but I'm going to give it my best effort.
I think Purim may be one of the best examples of how living in Israel allows us to live a full, rich Jewish life. When we lived in Potomac, I remember desperately trying to FIT Purim into my busy work schedule. As a public school teacher, I would get up at 6:00 in the morning on Purim day, drive around the neighborhood like a maniac delivering Mishloach Manot (small packages that people deliver to each other for Purim), race to school to teach, and then try to figure out how to get to a Megilah reading. One of the requirements for Purim is to hear the entire Megilah read at night and in the morning from start to finish without missing any words. I remember a few years when I left my classroom and raced to the nearby shul to listen to Megilah. As the minutes ticked by, I realized that my next class was about to start...and that I wouldn't be able to hear them finish the reading.
Then, when school ended, I would run home to change into a Purim costume and to join the family for the Seudah (traditional Purim meal). It always felt rushed and it always felt like my Jewish life and my professional life were in conflict and that I was desperately, and inconveniently, squeezing my Jewish life in around my "regular" life.
Now, those two things have become one. Here, in Israel, we BREATHE Jewish life. You'd have to be living in a very deep hole not to know that it's Purim.
In contrast to my life in America, here is how Purim looks in Israel.
On the first day of the month of Adar (two weeks before Purim!) the children start to get ready. There is singing and dancing in all of the school; kids come bursting into each other's classrooms singing Purim songs; and the oldest kids in the school write new "rules" for the school that everyone follows. These include things like allowing the kids to eat in class, allowing them to discard their uniforms for two weeks, outlawing homework, etc.
Then, when Purim finally arrives, the children all dress up in school.
They dress up again at night for the first Megilah reading.
Then, the next morning, they dress up again (are you seeing a never-ending pattern here?) for Purim day and for the second Megilah reading. We always dress up as a family, tying our Purim costume and our Mishloach Manot together. So, this year we were bakers from Krispy Kreme.
Josh and I spent all day Friday frying up 600 donut holes that we then glazed on Sunday and got ready to hand out.
We set up a shop in front of our house with hot coffee, ice choco and donuts and were ready for Purim business. The streets were packed all morning with kids delivering goodies to each other, with parents driving around in costumes and with music blaring in the streets.
We have a tradition on our street, started by an enthusiastic neighbor, to set up speakers outside with Purim music and to dance in the street, offering small shots of alcohol to the drivers trying to get by us. This year, an army truck came down the street and the collective group of us burst into applause and dancing.
We stopped their truck and opened the back doors, only to find a soldier already wearing a Purim mask.
As Josh remarked, "Only in Israel...only in Israel." The soldiers all got out of the truck and proceeded to dance in the street with us, to sing songs, and to happily, even giddily, accept our donuts and ice choco. Eliav, who is four, asked if they were in soldier costumes. "No," I said, while laughing, "They are soldiers, honey!"
When the dancing finally died down and all gifts had been delivered, it was time for the traditional Seudah. On Purim, one of the other obligations (along with hearing Megilah, giving charity, and giving small gifts of food) is to sit down to a festive meal.
We ate with a whole collection of our friends. We were a group of 20 people from 4 months to 60 years (or so); some more religious than others; some very old friends of ours and others people we just met; all happy to be together and to drink, eat, and sing in joyous unison.
It simply doesn't get much better than this.
And, of course, no Purim would be complete in my house without my sugar-induced, costume-wearing, energized children discussing NEXT year's costume before the sun even sets on this year's Purim.
We're ready...only another year, minus one day...and counting....