Returning to Israel to Celebrate Purim

How did I explain Purim to friends in the United States?  Well, it’s like a Jewish Halloween.  You dress up in costumes and bring treats to each others’ houses.

The Jewish return to Israel highlights how it goes a lot deeper than an excuse to bake Hamentashen (the triangle-shaped cookies with jelly or chocolate in the middle).  It also helps explain a phenomenon about in Jewish law and history —  Why is Purim celebrated on one day in walled cities and on another day everywhere else?

Familiarity with the Purim story is critical here, but to understand my points, you need to know at least the following: In the 4th Century BCE, about 70 years after the First Temple was destroyed and Jews were sent into exile, there arose a king whose advisor attempted to kill all the Jews, but the king unwittingly married a Jew, and when Queen Esther realized that her people were in danger, she was able to overturn the decree.

The Jews outside of the walled cities celebrated in their victory over their enemies who tried to have them annihilated on the 14th of the month of Adar.  Meanwhile, their brethren inside the walled city of Shushan were still fighting.  They could not celebrate until the 15th.

To this day, Jews living inside walled cities (“walled” being contingent on if it was walled in the time of Yehoshua, in order to give honor to Israel, which lay in ruins at the time of the Purim miracle) celebrate Purim a day later than Jews elsewhere.

Part of the Purim story, then, is about Jews not recognizing the need of fellow Jews.  One area was fighting while the other was celebrating!  So too today, the strength of the Jewish people comes from assisting one another.  The giving of matanot l’evyonim, gifts to the poor, and mishloach manot, packets of different foods, to one another, is a lot more than giving out candy.  It’s a way of making sure that everyone’s basic needs are met – that the poor have enough to eat for their festive meal, and that our friends (and even our enemies) can share in our cooked foods (one of the originals was a chicken leg and not a cookie).  While Halloween has come to frivolous candy distribution, Purim is at least in essence inviting both a friend and a stranger to share in a meal with you.

When I initially think about the return to Israel and living in Jerusalem, where toy stores are filled with costumes and elementary school children are singing songs about Purim, I think about the safety of being within the “walls” of a Jewish environment and that celebrating elsewhere just isn’t the same.  At the same time, I know that the threat to Israel’s security is real and that Jews in the Diaspora worry about the safety of people like me.

The miracle of Purim took place in the context of the division of the Jewish following their unexpected victory and the failure to recognize that when one segment of the population is in danger, we are all in danger.  However, it also marked the beginning of a return to Israel.  It was a trickle, not a flood, because not many Jews wanted to leave their homes and businesses behind.  Sounds too familiar.

The Second Temple was ultimately destroyed from something even stronger than neglect – a senseless hatred that evolved.  Our sages say that Purim will be the only holiday we still keep during the time of the final Redemption.  May our gifts this year bring that day soon.


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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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