Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Yesterday was Shushan Purim, and what a day it was!

Purim is one thing – Shushan Purim is quite another, and the City of Beersheba did itself proud.

I walked up to the pedestrian mall in the Old City – or rather tried to. At noon, it was almost impossible to wade through the sea of fancy-costumed munchkins of all ages who spilled all over the Old City from Kikar Rabin. A costumed band was playing some great music and it was either a spaceman or a deep-sea diver (hard to tell which) sang some bouncy song, along with a freckle-faced yellow-haired moppet who looked to me like an Israeli version of Heidi.

The music was great -- the enormous banner “Purim in the Midrahov” -- was bright, colorful and almost covered with helium balloons. There were thousands of balloons, so many, so huge and in so many places it’s amazing the whole big architectural arches didn’t just float upward.

And the costumes! There were hundreds of princesses, surely some of them little ‘Esther’s’, a thousand brides, fairies with wings and wands, ballet dancers, poodles, kittens and at least one salsa dancer. And that was just the girls – the boys were a little more sedate, except for several Mordechai’s and a miniature Kohen Gadol wondering around. There were a couple of dragons, “soldiers” in camouflage, a pirate and at least one robot. A tiny newborn – he or she couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old – in a carriage was dressed up in a leopard suit, whiskers and all.

Maybe my favorite was a little Ethiopian girl, about five years old, with braided hair piled on top of her head, secured with a tiara. She was wearing a ruffled pink dress that would have stunned an Oscar audience, so unconsciously beautiful she just took your breath away.

Me? What did I wear? I went as a witch. That way I didn’t have to change clothes.

Some adults dressed up, too – I’d already seen an emailed photo of my professor friend Prof. Steve Plaut in Haifa, who not only dressed up as Naomi Chazan but even went to shul that way. Here’s a picture he sent:

(If you want to see the rest of Steve’s costume – woo-hoo!! – go to at www.zioncon.blogspot.com) this being a family blog and all…. But that’s the spirit of Purim. We all do things we’d never do any other day.)

Naomi Chazan? For you in Rio Linda, Naomi Chazan is a disgusting self-hating Jew who heads the infamous New Israel Fund dedicated to the support of Arab terror organizations. Geveret Chazan was recently fired by the Jerusalem Post, where she’d written a truly disgusting opinion column for years. Finally, even for the Post – which prides itself on a diversity of opinion – she went too far.

So that’s Steve, as Naomi Chazan, with a ‘horn’ on his head. The horn is a play on words (another typical Purim activity) -- in Hebrew, the word ‘keren’ means both ‘horn’ and ‘fund’.

All that said, I doubt anyone recognized Steve as Naomi because as anyone can tell, Steve is so much better looking than she is.

It wasn’t just thousands of kids in costume and music, either. There were activity booths all over the place – I saw a pottery painting area, another place were silhouettes were being made, artists of all kinds helping really little kids create plaster molds. There was ice cream, cotton candy and every other kind of sweet you could think of, but what captured my attention the longest was a bubble-blowing stand – I think these ‘wands’ were for sale, as compared to an activity. The soap-water bubbles the lady was making in the wind were enormous, coming from a wand that must have been two feet long, opening into a diamond shape. The huge glistening bubbles floated over the whole chaotic scene.

I have to admit those amazing bubbles attracted me. Incipient grandma that I am, I almost bought one – but then I started to wonder how I’d ever get a thing like that through airport security, not to mention the fact that it will be years before the not-yet-born granddaughter will be old enough to enjoy it.

So I walked along and couldn’t help think of the references I’d just seen in the American press about Purim being the “Jewish Halloween”.

That couldn’t possibly be more wrong.

“Halloween” -- “All Hallows Eve”, October 31 – is the night before “All Saints Day”, November 1, and El Dio de los Muertos, November 2. I remember being in Mexico when the ‘Day of the Dead’ was celebrated – families pack picnic lunches and go to spend the entire day in the cemeteries, playing, eating and being companionable with the dead. I remember the parades with skeletons and representations of ghosts, not to mention relics of the real dead, some saints, some probably not. Halloween is a celebration of death – and now, secular or not -- the focus is still dead things, evil, magic and the occult.

Purim is precisely the opposite. True, we do dress up in costumes and exchange gifts of food – but hardly the organized blackmail of ‘trick or treat’ that characterizes Halloween. Purim is the celebration of life – literally, the celebration of the Jewish people’s surviving yet another plot to kill us all, circa 356 BCE. It’s the ultimate in the “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat” holidays.

If you want to understand Purim, read the Book of Esther – which we do, at least twice during that 24-hour period. It’s the story of how Haman, the evil henchman to the king of Persia, cast lots – (‘purim’ in Hebrew means ‘lots’) to decide which day he should kill the Jews. Haman plotted to wipe out the entire Jewish nation, which, at that point in history, he had the ability to do. But the valiant Queen Esther – a hidden Jew – and her uncle (or cousin) Mordechai, foiled the plot, and instead of Mordechai being executed on the high gallows Haman built for him, Haman himself was put to death there. The Jewish nation was saved – so the celebration of Purim is one of joy. Once again – we survived!

So why the costumes? Because in the Book of Esther – significant parts of which are historically verifiable – the name of G-d doesn’t appear. Even though the book records only the names of the humans who took part in the events, we know that G-d was behind it, making it possible. His actions, in this case, were just hidden. So by dressing in costumes, we “hide”, too – disguise ourselves as something else. We even eat cookies with the filling on the inside – hidden inside, as it were, disguised.

But that’s Purim. What’s Shushan Purim? It’s the day after Purim, the day when the Jews of Shushan, capital of Persia, finally rested after having defeated their enemies.

Here’s what the book of Esther says:

PURIM: In the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on its thirteenth day ... on the day that the enemies of the Jews were expected to prevail over them, it was turned about: the Jews prevailed over their adversaries. - Esther 9:1

SHUSHAN PURIM: And they gained relief on the fourteenth, making it a day of feasting and gladness. - Esther 9:17

THE CELEBRATION: [Mordecai instructed them] to observe them as days of feasting and gladness, and sending delicacies to one another, and gifts to the poor. - Esther 9:22

‘Shushan’, a “walled city”, celebrated on the fourteenth day of Adar, as did the other “walled city”, Jerusalem, which also celebrates on that day. Now pretty much all of Israel observes Shushan Purim, too. In Beersheba, especially, with our largely immigrant population, Shushan Purim is a big deal.

But here’s an interesting thought: Where was Shushan? Located about 150 miles east of the Tigris River in Khuzestan. Which is to say, the city of Shushan now lies in – IRAN.

Amazing. Today in Iran, we have a modern-day Haman who’s threatening to do the very same thing Haman did, albeit with a more modern weapon. Ahmadinejad – just like Haman -- brags to the entire world he will destroy Israel and kill off all the Jews.

So who knows? Maybe with the hidden help of G-d Israel will rise up and destroy Ahmadinejad with the same kind of weapons he intends to us on us.

You just never know…..

1 comment: