March 5, 2015

A Purim Journey

(video promoting the parade in 2011)

For such a teensy country, Israel has many faces and personalities. 

This week, en route to a desert hike in the Negev, we found ourselves in Sde Boker, a tiny desert community on the edge of a dramatic canyon. Turns out my daughter is in the army with a girl from Sde Boker who suggested we contact her mother.

We dropped by and were warmly greeted by Orna, and offered coffee and cookies. Taking in the home's large picture windows overlooking a desert scape, the chili red clay tiles and warm tapestries, we felt as if we had landed in Santa Fe.

Bench built by Orna's son: a place to contemplate.
Orna then took us for a tour of her community, pointing out that the homes were all solar heated and that building code enforces no home should shadow its neighbor on the winter solstice.

She then took us to the High School for Environmental Studies in Sde Boker.  In this special high school, students are keenly aware of environmentalism and volunteer their time to restore the nature reserves in the area and also help out in the community.

Today, students were busily preparing for the annual Adloyada parade. (Ad lo yada means ‘until you do not know’ in Hebrew, a reference to the Purim tradition of drinking until you cannot tell good from evil. Purim is a rather unusual holiday.)

Each Israeli town has their own Purim Parade. Orna explained that this is one of the most famous parades in the country and some 5,000 people come from all over to watch this parade. 

Using recycled materials such as plastic bottles, irrigation hoses and newspaper, the students create floats that are so large (some four metres high), they need scaffolding to construct them.
A float in the making...and this is just the head.

As we entered the schoolyard, we heard music blasting. Kids were dancing while taping their floats, chatting and laughing.

“What’s the theme of the parade this year?” Orna asked one student.

Ya’ar ha kesum,” he replied, attaching a claw to a tree branch. Enchanted forest.

Ahh. Once we understood the theme, it all came together; the dainty pixies, a monstrous dragon, a kookie headless Cat in the Hat and mysterious mushrooms.

“The students start preparations for the Adloyada parade months in advance. And the week before, they work at this night and day,” Orna explained.

We were there on a Sunday, six days before the parade. The pressure must have been mounting, seeming that the students were just taping and constructing their floats. Yet they pull it off every year.

They were working with concentration and in unison and each piece was becoming a work of art before our eyes. I did not see one teacher present and wondered how they could create incredible artistry unsupervised: each float was a giant masterpiece in the making.

Watching these kids work so devotedly and with such talent and determination gave me a new insight into the meaning of Purim. I come to the holiday of Purim with one viewpoint: the religious perspective which includes keeping several mitzvot such as hearing the Purim story being read in shul twice, giving charity and two food baskets and having a special meal. 

As the years go by, I start to feel a bit of the ‘same old’ feeling on Purim and really needed some new inspiration for the holiday. Today, standing here in a small, non-religious desert community, I find it: a revitalized look at Purim. 

One face of Purim is keeping the commandments. Another facet is strength in unity. Looking at these high school children working and creating, I experienced a deep sense of dedication, unity and selfless joy. And all of this was in the name of Purim in an ecologically friendly framework.

“What happens to the floats after the parade?” I asked Orna.

“Sometimes they auction off one piece and then they destroy the rest,” she answered.

I was perplexed, realizing how much time and effort goes into each float, and I wondered how they could do this. And then I remembered the ancient Tibetan Buddhist tradition of making sand mandalas.  Groups of monks work on an intricate project in unison for weeks, only to destroy it after completion. The message? Our world is ephemeral and we should not get too attached to material objects.

I looked at these students with respect and admiration. Using recycled materials, they are able to create art and evoke a sense of awe and joy, then reduce this back to ashes. And next year, they start again. It is all about the process and the journey, not the destination.

Yet one more beautiful face to this amazing land called Israel.

Purim Sameach.

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