A City (Momentarily) Transformed

A snapshot of an early Friday morning: A scantily clad police officer came towards me up the stairs, while a woman with bright purple hair and a matching shirt zoomed by on her bike. A man in a pirate hat passed me walking his dog, while an elderly gent dressed like robin hood told me that the sheriff look suited me. I returned the compliment.

No, this was not a bizarre dream that I had last night, but rather a snapshot of Purim in Jerusalem. It was incredible to see the city transformed for what amounted to over a week of celebrations (despite Purim itself only being observed for one day). Many people, myself included, took advantage of both regular Purim and Shushan Purim (which happens a day later in walled or formerly walled cities), traveling to Tel Aviv for one day and returning to Jerusalem for the other. In trying to describe the scene to a friend, I suggested that the feeling in the air was akin to the good cheer, friendliness, and generosity of the December holiday season in the US, combined with a less dark version of the Halloween goofiness and energy that is pervasive on the streets of NYC every year.

I spent much of Purim alternating between taking in the scene and enjoying the time with friends.Wednesday night (Purim for almost everyone outside of Jerusalem) I went to Tel Aviv to help out a friend; he was involved in a small Masorti community that was looking for people to come in and read the megillah. I went with a few friends and we had a great time- it felt like a true Israeli Purim experience. Many of the attendees would self-identify as secular or something close to it, but it seems like everyone dresses up and celebrates this holiday in full force.

The best Mishloach Manot ever from my family!

The next evening, I went to hear the megillah at a large synagogue with attendees of all ages and an impressive array of costumes, followed by a party hosted by friends who live at the corner of Esther HaMalka and Mordechai HaYehudi streets. (How can someone who lives at the intersection of the streets named after the two heroes of the Purim story not have a party??) Later that night, I took in the scene at Machaneh Yehuda shuk, which was transformed into a giant dance party, looking very different from the market where I had bought groceries earlier that day. The next day, after a fun, more intimate megillah reading with a community I frequent for Shabbat services, and a festive brunch with classmate and friend Mia, I ventured towards the neighborhood of Nachlaot for a seudah (festive meal) hosted by another friend. I was greeted by a a wave of color, music, and celebration. The “hippy” Jews of Jerusalem had taken to the streets, squeezing every last ounce of celebration out of the final few hours of the holiday. It was truly an incredible scene. Needless to say, the Shabbat that began that night was probably the quietest that Jerusalem has ever seen as everyone tried to recover.

Celebrating in Nachlaot on Shushan Purim day

Most of the costumes that I saw over Purim were simply fun and silly, but others certainly reflected current events and phenomena in the country. I saw a young woman dressed up as Purim story character Queen Vashti, and on her cape were bumper stickers that I’ve seen around protesting the silencing of women’s voices that is happening due to the influence of some sectors of the Haredi community. Another man was dressed up as “Tag Mechir” (Price tag), having spray painted himself with these words, reflecting the series of recent acts of vandalism by Jewish extremists in mosques, a monastery, a bilingual school, and other places representing different religious practices and experiences.

I for my part, was fresh out of ideas, but at the last minute found a cheap sheriff hat for sale in the shuk, and figured I could put together a western-themed costume. The result wasn’t half bad!

A pirate, a sheriff, and a genie walk into a Purim party... (with Mia and Sarit, special thanks to Sarit for the photo!)

Listen here, y'all, we roommates gotta stick together! (Thanks to Becky for the photo)

Unfortunately, when Purim ended, it was back to reality for me. I just started a new semester of school a few weeks ago, and am still settling into my classes. This semester’s lineup is shaping up to be about as good as last semester’s, perhaps even better. I am sticking with the same Talmud teacher, this time with harder material, though I’m learning Halacha (a strange assortment of the laws of Passover, Kashrut, and mourning) with a new teacher. I’m still taking Hebrew, and am finding it to be a great place to take linguistic risks without fear of making a mistake. I enjoyed my Midrash teacher so much that I’m learning with her again, this time in a course on how the rabbis engaged with dreams and dream interpretation in text. I’m taking a course on the development of faith and religion (from Israelite culture to Judaism) in the Bible, and a class on the history of Zionism and the State of Israel. My current schedule leaves me with many gaps during the day and nearly all of Tuesday free to get out and enjoy the beautiful Israeli springtime.

On the side, I’m still taking the Rabbinical Students Seminar through the Hartman Institute. Another, wonderful, extracurricular this semester is an Israeli literature class that I’m taking with the owner of cafe/bookstore Tmol Shilshom, a gathering place for many of the great minds of Israeli literature to sit, write, and share their work. It’s been pretty amazing to sit around tables in coffee shops discussing their short stories, memoirs, and poetry, especially with someone who himself is an insider in that world.

I have much more to report on, but perhaps I’ll save that for the next post. Next time, I’ll share what I’ve been doing with my no-class Tuesdays (affectionately known as “Tiyul [trip] Tuesdays”), what Passover preparation looks like, and anything else exciting that comes up.

Spring is here! Taken on a path I frequent in Emek HaMatsleva (The Valley of the Cross) near my apartment.

It’s a strange time of year for me right now. Purim to me always seems like that turning point in the year after which everything starts to fly by. It’s so easy to mark time: Passover is a month after Purim (I am already deeply entrenched in preparations), followed by seven weeks of counting the Omer to the holiday of Shavuot, and I’m leaving Israel a week later. It’s hard to feel like I just started my semester, yet to start preparing to go home as well. Throw in increasingly beautiful weather, and a carpe diem attitude, and I should have a very interesting/intense/eventful/exciting couple of months.


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