April 30, 2009

Purim has come and gone.

Purim has come and gone. It budded just after Tu B’Shvat in February with the appearance of costumes and candy, then sent out tendrils that quickly gathered momentum, smothering everything in site.

Candy baskets spilled from stores out onto the streets, children started celebrating in school, all day, every day. And Purim was still one week away. Kids had days when they became the principals and teachers, meting out creative punishments to the students. The schools held fairs, music blasting onto the streets. They held carnivals and made haunted houses. They went on field trips and baked hamentaschen. They had fun and, yet again, they did not learn.

Finally, the day before Purim, all kids from kita aleph to yud bet (grades 1-12) came to school in costume with one special mishloach manot to give to a class mate. I happened to be out walking my dog that morning and I saw it all; the kindergarten Spidermen and Batmen, their capes flying through the air; the little princesses and ladybugs; the primary school pirates and sailors; and then the high school pornographic display. I am still shocked by what I saw parading along the streets: spiked spray painted hair; shirtless boys covered in black body paint, girls with skirts hiked high and shirts pulled down low. One girl was wearing a costume of breasts with one complete plastic breast hanging out for display. She was dropped off by a parent driving an SUV and then shamelessly walked into the school. A teacher who was waiting outside laughed along with the girl.

But let me go back a few days to the Purim Parade. The Friday before Purim, many cities in Israel host a huge parade. School kids practice for this for months. They rehearse dances, music and make costumes and floats - and no, they are not in class learning. In Ra'anana, each school is represented in the parade, as well as bands and music schools. Flags are draped everywhere. The main street is then closed off to traffic, loudspeakers are placed above, and police stand on every corner.

The first year I was here, I was very excited and watched with enthusiasm. Wow. A parade for Purim. Not the Santa Claus Parade but a real parade celebrating a Jewish Holiday. I was enthralled. The second year, I saw it a bit differently. I watched the spectators from a café. I saw young girls dressed as provocative angels (what an oxymoron), their short fluffy skirts bopping in tandem with their fluffy halos. There were girls dressed up as nurses, once again in short, short skirts and high heels. I saw how they were walking and acting and I knew they were not out on the street to celebrate Purim; instead, they were out feasting their hormones. And then I looked at the floats. Not one float had any connection with Purim. There was no Esther, no Mordechai, not even a hamentaschen. It was a celebration of talent.

I also noticed that my kids’ Hareidi-style school was not in the parade. By the third Purim here, I knew what to expect. And so did the school. The school planned a field trip outside the city. The busses whisked the kids away before the parade began and they returned only to see the street cleaners sweeping up the tinsel. As for me, I stayed far from the madding crowd.

The irony here is that the scene on the street is perhaps akin to the party that Achasverosh held in Shushan. In the Purim story, Jews were not supposed to be celebrating in such a way, but they wanted to And so they went. And they ate be a part of it and wanted to be like everyone else.and drank, forgetting who they really are.

And then I began to wonder how many Jews at these parades really remember what they are celebrating – and whether they understand the significance of it today. Do they realize that we have a modern Haman living in what was then Persia, who again wants to destroy our nation? Do they know what saved the Jews then from impending destruction? Do they understand the modesty and dignity of Esther? Do they look for the hidden miracles in their lives and see the workings of G-d in the world? Do they really value their heritage? Or, do they prefer to be like every other Western nation?

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