Israel Unmasked: Costumes, Ciggies & Rockets

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, a freelance Israeli writer

Purim in Nachalot, Jerusalem, 2012: Photo taken by Assaf Astrinsky

A weekend that ended with over 200 rockets and mortar shells being launched from the Gaza Strip toward Be’er Sheba, Ashkelon, Ashdod and other Israeli cities began with an explosion of another kind: that of light, color, dance and general mayhem.

Before the skies turned fat and dark with plumes of grey-black smoke, there was Purim 2012 – and what a holiday it was!

Officially, Purim celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire from destruction in the wake of a plot by Haman.

Unofficially, the holiday is a license for grizzle-faced security guards to sachet through Machne Yehuda in skirts, wigs, rouge and high heels; normally prim and proper school teachers to get dressed up as sexy, whip-wielding librarians and well-scrubbed Yeshiva bochers to stay up into the wee small hours – smoking, yelping and imbibing the night away.

I had the great good fortune to experience Purim 2012 in the heart of all the madness – the hip, artsy, freewheeling neighborhood of Nachlaot, Jerusalem. With an endless supply of blind alleys, improvised schuls and sidewalk troubadours, Nachlaot infuses the city with a checkerboard study in contrasts: tin roofs rubbing up against the neighborhood’s drive to gentrify.

While Purim celebrations in such Jerusalem garden communities as Rechavia and Baka provide wholesome fare for one and all, Nachlaot is a roving spectacle of hastily organized block parties, bearded ladies and magically appearing DJs – piping out an irresistible medley of traditional holiday songs, hip hop – courtesy of “Dag Nachash” and Lady Gaga.

My wife Debbie and I attempted to infuse the party atmosphere with a semblance of that Old Time Religion – by attending a perfectly sane and somber Megillah reading from the Book of Esther at one of Nachlaot’s many synagogues. However, a “quick” detour to Machne Yehuda forced us to revise our plans. With the neighborhood’s Kurdish, Ashkenazi and Sephardic synagogues all overflowing with the bewigged and bejeweled – we decided to take the digital path towards revisiting Mordechai’s triumph – courtesy of YouTube.

While YouTube provided the text, the synagogue located directly above our heads provided the uproarious soundtrack. Whenever Haman’s name was read out during the synagogue service, the congregation engaged in noise-making – meant to blot out the evil prime minister’s name.

With the passage of time, my mental faculties will inevitably dim; my hairline will continue its march towards oblivion and my eyesight will probably fade – forcing me to experience the world as a moving procession of shadows and fog.

Yet, the memories made during Purim 2012 – of costumes, ciggies and even rockets – will provide me with warmth, succor and tenacious hope in the remarkable endurance of the Third Jewish Commonwealth – forged in hellfire and consecrated by countless acts of heroism – until my soul slips the surly bonds of earth.

Purim in Nachalot, Jerusalem, 2012: Photo taken by Assaf Astrinsky
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