Celebrating Purim in Israel

 Mitzpe Ramon, Israel — March 2015

Purim was the best weekend of my time in the Middle East and was exactly the kind of experience I hoped to find in the Holy Lands.

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I’m dancing in the Purim recital next week. You should come, it’s going to be huge!

I didn’t believe her.

Mitzpe Ramon was a very small town, with somewhere between five and 15 thousand inhabitants, depending on who you ask. I was skeptical about the Purim dance. What I had forgotten about was Mitzpe Ramon’s status as a miniature Mecca for twenty-somethings due to its famous dance academy and artistic culture. Regardless, our friend was quite excited so we piled into the van and went to “the hanger,” an old aircraft hanger where large gatherings in Mitzpe were held.

At this point I wished I’d had a better costume. The Purim theme was to dress in black and white. I didn’t have the right clothing to dress as the obvious choice, the Hamburgler. My second choice was to use my keffiyah and dress like a Taliban member, but this seemed like a poor choice for a party where most of the people had recently served in the Israeli military. Instead I just wore the leftover hair clips that the women at the farm weren’t using. It wasn’t the best costume there. In fact, it was probably the worst. Adding insult to injury, another person dressed like a Taliban member, looked awesome, and was loved by everyone there. I’ll never trust my gut again.

But why the costumes? Purim is a Jewish celebration stemming from when Esther, queen of Persia and secret Jew, used her cunning to save the Jews from being killed through a royal decree. King Xerxes then executed his conspiring servant who drafted the decree instead, and relations between the Jews and Persians have been perfect ever since. The costumes are meant (roughly) to symbolize Esther’s concealment of her Jewish heritage before being made queen.

 IMG_2602-0The dance performance was roughly fifteen minutes long. The story started with a lone man on a dark stage to slow music, who was soon joined by a woman, and gradually others as the music sped up. Was this Xerxes pondering the decree, followed by Esther coming to advise him? Were the others the Jews in ancient Persia celebrating Esther’s work? That’s the best I can think of. There was no dialogue, meaning I have no idea what it signified or if it was even religious. Some video or pictures would probably add some context here and make this entire thing more readable, but no one else seemed to be recording it so I didn’t either. Sorry?

After the presentation, modern music started and the hundreds of people sitting on the floor jumped up and began dancing. Skin tone wise, most of the crowd was somewhere between ghost and Scandinavian. I didn’t expect too many brave dancers. Then I saw people jumping out of their shoes and remembered that the crowd around me is mostly made up of people from the dance academy. I know basic Salsa and don’t embarrass myself too badly with Samba as long as I keep people talking and they don’t look at my feet, but I was out of my element here. There were legs and heads flying far beyond the default safe zone for white dancers (IE no wider than your shoulders). A German from the farm and I did basic salsa moves to the decidedly not-salsa beats and hoped no one realized.

Purim was celebrated on Thursday and Saturday, meaning I spent Friday weatherproofing the fence where the llamas and alpacas were held.

 Saturday morning, myself and four others who were staying at the farm hitchhiked to Stei Bukher. It was roughly an hour away and was the location for the region’s Purim parade. A coworker who I never clicked with tried to talk me out of going, then was the only one who didn’t fit in the van when we rode in. Karma.

The main attraction in Stei Bukher was a parade in honor of Purim. The parade was surprisingly long, alternating between floats and dancing groups. The music wasn’t remotely religious and was often profane, but Run DMC’s impossibly catchy Ghostbusters theme was played often enough that nobody could complain. The floats were a combination of original animals and Pixar characters, but never Disney. A nearby family explained to me that Walt Disney was an anti-semite.

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Once I’d seen the parade twice, I headed to the town’s pavilion. The pavilion hosted a handful of stands and roughly 5,000,000 people. The stands varied from offering religious pamphlets, organizing support for political parties, street food, and selling trinkets.

After poking around in the pavilion, I followed the departing crowd back to the center of town and hitched a series of rides to the farm. I arrived at the farm that evening.

Purim was the best weekend of my time in the Middle East and was exactly the kind of experience I hoped to find in the Holy Lands.

I apologize for my poor transliteration of town names and poor explanation of Purim

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