Purim In Israel: No Holds Barred


by Zalman Nelson - Tel Aviv, Israel

March 9, 2009

(lubavitch.com) The Jewish festival of Purim begins sundown on Monday, but the celebrations and preparations in Israel have been underway since the start of the month. Candy displays and colorful costumes of characters, modern and ancient have filled the shop windows for weeks. Days before the holiday, young and old costumed characters—pirates, superheroes, princesses and cowboys—take  to the streets with parades, parties and carnivals.

In  a country where tensions run high, the unbridled merrymaking of Purim is a welcome change of pace. Israeli revelers can get double mileage out of the festivities, celebrating the holiday on Tuesday in Tel Aviv and other parts of the land, and then again on Wednesday in Jerusalem where Purim is always observed a day later.

“The hype is much bigger here than in the States,” said Yosef Drebin, a 19 year old yeshiva student from America studying for the year in Jerusalem, where  eager

For the last three weeks, Chabad’s central office based in Kfar Chabad, have prepared some 500,000 Mishloach Manot food gift packages for distribution among residents, soldiers, police officers, Jewish prisoners, elderly and hospital patients on the holiday.

Volunteers from the local Chabad schools and yeshivas help with the packaging, as do patients at the city’s psychiatric work rehabilitation center, Merkaz Avodah Shikumi.  According to Rabbi Yakov Pinson of Chabad’s central offices in Israel, the facility’s 50 residents look forward to the three week campaign each year which produces close to 20% of the total number of Mishloach Manot.

Every two days, Chabad’s trucks pick up completed packages and deliver more materials. The staff and residents, who declined comment to protect their privacy, work on the Purim packages from 7 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon, before returning to regularly scheduled activities.

“It’s inspiring to see their passion and dedication to doing something positive for another Jew.”

Chabad’s 230 centers in Israel receive the packages free of charge, and arrange delivery in their areas on Purim day, fulfilling one of the holiday’s three mitzvoth—of sharing food gifts with others.

In an effort to expand their catalog of educational and practical resources for holiday observance—which includes reading the Megilla, Tzeirei Chabad created the Shluchim Assistance Center four months ago. Directed by Rabbis Mendy Kramer and Levy Vilenkin, the center developed an 18 minute pantomime video performance of the Megilla.

The video, designed to complement a public megilla reading, features Israeli pantomime and clowning artist, Amiram Attias, performing a skit for each chapter of the Book of Esther, while wearing his own original masks and costumes. In one scene, a water can converted into a mask depicts King Achashverosh’s pursuit of a new queen.

“We wanted to create something to bring the story to life, attract people to come hear the Megilla and entertain children,” says Kramer.  “Because pantomime is without voices, it makes a great fit.”

A known performer in Israel who comes from a traditional Moroccan background, Attias has been doing performances of the Esther’s story for years and was excited about the project. “He readily agreed to adapt to our needs and dedicated hours to the video,” Kramer told Lubavitch.com.

Each chapter of the Megilla is introduced with an overview. During each segment’s performance, corresponding verses from the Megilla appear on the bottom of the screen to help audiences connect to the story and follow along.

Kramer jumped into the project after receiving positive feedback from Chabad representatives who saw it as a useful tool in their Purim outreach. The show required months of planning, and was completed in time for Purim after an intense week of filming and editing in a Tel Aviv studio.

The video has sold out and is now only available via internet download after purchase.

As Purim preparations wind down, the holiday’s festivities will intensify: the semi-trailers loaded with goodies  will hit  the road, and Chabad representatives everywhere will bring the joy and observances of this jubilant and lighthearted festival to Jewish people the length and breadth of Israel.

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