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This is a little bit delayed, because the Internet connection in my room no longer works… I hope to fix that issue soon.

First, a short explanation of what Purim consists of might be helpful. This is the Jewish holiday centered on the reading of the Magillah, which is the Hebrew name for the text of the story of Esther. At these readings around Israel and around the world, the words are read in the unique tonal patterns of the Magillah-cant, but with a twist. The story is mostly relaying the tale of how Amman, the advisor to the Persian king, is trying to purge all of Persia of the Jewish people. Therefore, every time his name is mentioned during the reading, it is expected of all people present to clap, shout, sing, whistle, stomp their feet, etc ad infinitum so his name cannot be heard. All in all, the holiday is based on celebrating the survival of the Jews under hostile governments. Funny enough, this holiday in every validates what Rabbi Pear once said about all Jewish holidays being “1) we were almost killed; 2) we survived; 3) so let’s eat!!” As time progressed, the holiday took on more of a carnival-esque feeling: people dress up (as if for Halloween) to go to their synagogue for the Magillah, and then everyone goes out and drinks. A lot.

The day before Purim (so Monday of last week), there was a party at Justine and Théo’s apartment in the Kvar. They are both from France, and also studied here during the fall semester. Oddly, even though their other 3 roommates left at the end of the fall, HU never put anyone else into the empty rooms (so much for the “no rooms left to house abroad students” fear-based emails of December, I suppose). In any event, their party was a smaller one, with people coming in and out as they returned from other parties or left for a new one. The conversation centered mostly around silly cultural customs from the US, France, and Israel, and I was in the interesting position of the only person who spoke all the languages present. There was every combination: French/Hebrew speakers, French/English speakers, and English Hebrew speakers… and then me. So I had the entertaining position of trying to explain expressions across the table to different people, but it was a great time. Théo definitely has excellent taste in music (Led Zepplin, AC-DC, etc), which was a welcome change from the Scottish bagpipe techno from the Ukrainian guy across from my room. Also while there, it was explained to me by Eti and Adi, some of Justine’s neighbors, that there is a mitzvah (Jewish law) which requires all good Jewish people to get so drunk that they forget their own names. As the next evening would show, they were onto something. Finally, I met an Israeli guy named Assaf who recently came back from months spent in China and Vietnam, which seems to be divine Providence in terms of first-person experiences to help me figure out this upcoming trip I want to lead to Vietnam 😀

The next evening, on Purim itself, I went with Zack, Penina, and some of their friends to a Magillah reading at a nearby synagogue. I explained the procedure above, but attending the actual event was somewhat different. The costumes there ranged from excellent to simply goofy. Amongst my favorites, I would have to place the following (in the order I would award them a medal, actually):

1) a 6 or 7 year old boy as a cohen gadoll (hebrew for High Priest). Like, he had the blue and white robes, the sandals, and the elaborate placard around his neck with 12 gems representing the Tribes… everything but the headpiece, but at 7 years old, that is understandable.
2) Falafel laffa (look at this link and then imagine that exact food, except as a cardboard over-the-shoulders type of costume.
3) The various girls dressed as nymphs or dryads of some sort (some with twigs and leaves coming out of their hair, others with very elaborate face paintings of vines and nature)
Runner up) an 80-year woman dressed in various bandages and a splint, arriving in a wheelchair with a nurse. The “nurse’s” husband then arrived, similarly dressed. Clearly a costume, but I am still not sure if the woman was actually wheelchair bound, or if she just has a macabre sense of humor…

And, as I explained above, every person in the room exploded into noisy outbursts upon Amman being mentioned, even using things like New Year’s Eve noisemakers and, in one extreme case, the gentleman behind me seemed to be bashing the wooden chair with his cell phone… which is an odd use for such a device I think. That said, the intonation of the Hebrew words were beautiful, and as Zack explained to me, not quite so easy to read. Like, they are written without vowels, AND there is no musical score of any sort. The reader has to have memorized the vocal patterns and correctly read the Hebrew on the fly… in front of a huge audience. I don’t my Hebrew is quite up to that yet… 😉

Later that evening, prior to going out (I was invited to go to a bar by Justine, Théo and their neighbors), I decided to go eat at one of my favorite restaurants in Jerusalem. And, as it turns out, I went to go make friends with the owner. He is named Erez, which is Hebrew for “Cedar of Lebanon,” and he has a lot of interesting things to say about his country. He is newly a father, and apparently in the eyes of Israel, his wife will have to officially convert to Orthodox Judaism in order to let their daughter be recognized as a Jewish person. He isn’t pleased by this requirement, but he had a pretty good explanation for this: why worry about such a little thing, when life is filled with other, bigger challenges. Unfortunately, he uses such good advice to justify his acceptance of being “randomly selected” for extra security checks each and every time he has flown to the US… which I am not OK with, but everyone is welcome to their opinion.

After dinner and an engaging conversation with Erez, I departed for the Ben Yehouda street area with Justine, Théo, et al. Amongst other costumes we saw that evening, Eti was a “holy cow” (see the photos attached, everyone becomes clear based on their costume), Adi was a cat, Justine was haloed, Théo was be-starred (you’ll have to see it), Boris was a Viking of some sort, and then we had “Zeus.” I had no costume, but got dressed up somewhat and was glad I did. The bar was fairly tame when we got there, albeit with very, VERY loud music playing (compliments of the DJ). Eti got up and insisted on dancing, so I obliged, and we started the entire place dancing for the next 5 hours until they closed. Before then, I tryed to order a rum and Coke, which apparently didn’t translate too well; I got about 5/6 a glass of rum, with a slight bit of Coke poured in. On the other hand, it was extremely cheap as compared with at home, as the people with me assured me. A fun evening.

As it was a fairly tall glass of rum, and I hadn’t eaten in quite a few hours, I apparently decided I was ready to go around 2:30 or so. Now, this was a risky move… as I had no shekels with me, and was banking on the fact that the buses would still be running a such an hour. No such luck; to make a long story short, it took me quite a long time to find my friends again and bum some taxi fare off of them, but we all got home safely. Not to end this on a sad note, but desiring to present the whole picture of Jerusalem at Purim as I experienced it, I did encounter something terrible that evening. Every major city in the world has a population of homeless people, which is terrible. In this case, though, I was particularly bothered by the facts: many, many people were swarming the streets near the bars and spending 100’s of shekels on drinks and their costumes, which is all fine and good. Then, on the side of a major street, in front of a shop, laid an older man who didn’t have a blanket, nor enough warm clothes, but was trying to sleep. He was clearly homeless, and very very ill, and I was not willing to accept that the people around him could be drinking so much to celebrate the survival of the Jews, yet not be willing to spare any time, money, or other assistance for a specific individual in need. This only served to cement my intentions to get into the field of international aid work, but still bothered me quite a bit.

In any event, my apologies for the long post, but these were all the major events of the week and I wanted to share them.

I must note that while the first photograph here is mine, the other photographs were taken by Justine Verdier and Eti Pitilon and are posted here with their permission.

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