Purim night in Jerusalem

Reporting from Israel: Yovav Kalifon

Last Thursday it was Purim. I usually don’t take this holiday very seriously since I don’t typically enjoy wearing a mask and a costume, partying all night and drinking heavily. This year something changed. I wanted to throw myself in there and see what it’s all about.

My plans to travel to Tel-Aviv for a party with people I met while traveling in India were foiled, after I accidentally caught a long nap and woke up around 23:00 at night. I got on my bike and went to down-town Jerusalem instead. Parties there were in full swing, people were walking around in crazy outfits, lots of stuff was happening all over the place. Before anything else, I decided to head for an ultra-orthodox part of town, to see how the people there were celebrating Purim.

Sure enough, there was more motion on the streets than usual, but it wasn’t as busy or as alive as in the center of town. Then I heard loud music coming from a girl’s school. I could see only young guys around, so I went in. They were partying hard, getting way too drunk for their age, running around holding hands and really letting it loose. Then I passed by a synagogue where I could see they were playing live Klezmer music, which I love, so I went in. The folks near the door motioned me in, even though they could tell I wasn’t from there. Even on a holiday where the custom is to wear a costume, they still dressed like ultra-orthodox folks dress, and I still looked very secular, despite having a full beard.

Anyways, after seeing a few parties in Meah-Shearim neighbourhood I went back to the down-town area, where I found a nice party in a private apartment on Bezalel Street and stayed up dancing all night, with regular Jews, some of them secular, some of them more traditional, but no ultra-orthodox. For sure not.

The main differences I noticed in how the ultra-orthodox and secular Jews celebrate this holiday were that the orthodox folks separated men from women in their singing and dancing (not to mention drinking), while the secular folks preferred dancing all together (naturally). The music they played was nothing alike, with the ultra-orthodox playing songs related to Purim, and secular parties playing everything but.

Another obvious difference was the way they dressed. The orthodox were not as inclined to go crazy and ridicule themselves by wearing outrageously funny costumes as the secular public enjoys doing on Purim. Some orthodox people I noticed did dress up as a policeman, city workers, an Arab Sheikh, but they were usually below the age of 7. Otherwise, people were content to dress nice, or just put on an unusual hat, like a Turkish Tarbush or a cowboy’s hat. Nothing special. My secular friends dressed up in much more creative ways, such as Iranian nuclear scientists, the Arab Spring, the Simpsons, the Smurfs, Greek mythological figures, private organs, and of course, going as religious ultra-orthodox Jews. The main similarity I noticed was that both the orthodox and the secular were fully engaged in the celebrations they were in.

Since most Jewish holidays are a little more strict with rules and commandments, do’s and don’t’s, I can see why the two groups would celebrate separately. But here, with the holiday of Purim, I thought it might have been nice to mix, if only this one time per year, to remind ourselves we’re a part of the same ancient people, members of the same modern country, two parts of a society that could use a bit of cohesion right now.

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