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“The Jews had light and joy, and gladness and honor” (Esther, Chapter 8)

Shaliach, Shy Ashkenazi on Monday, March 23, 2020

At the very end of February, I attended a Shlichim conference in NY, spending time with close to 60 Shlichim, supervisors, lay people and Jewish Agency staff, learning from each other and sharing experiences. Attending with me was Laurie Albert, Director of Community Engagement at the Pozez JCC and my direct supervisor. Spending time together that is “Shlichut focused”, away from the JCC and everyday life, was a great opportunity to learn and grow together.

It’s always nice to be reminded that as a Shaliach you are a part of a larger network of shlichim that operates all over North America and around the world. We are all working toward the same goal of building stronger connections between the Jewish communities and Israel. Fortunately, I’ve had the privilege to witness these connections being made through my many years of working at American Jewish summer camps. I was able to see first-hand the effects these relationships had on me, other Shlichim, the local staff, as well as the campers. However, in all my years of working with Jewish communities, I never got to experience the magnitude of connection, support and pride of Israel at an event I attended immediately following the Shlichim conference. When I arrived at the AIPAC Policy Conference in DC and gathered with close to 20,000 people coming with different political, social and religious point of view, all sharing a connection and love to Israel. Being a part of this great network was amazing.

Israeli innovation, creations, art and humanitarian aid were presented at the main hall (the “Village”), telling the story of Israel 2020. The speakers be it politicians, activists, artists, researchers or others, all came to inspire and give their unique voices in the diverse texture of our society and among the supporters of Israel.

Now, one of the most interesting things about the Shlichut, and life in general, is how one goes from serious questions of Jewish peoplehood, Zionism and education in one moment to everyday “small” things that are a part of what allows us to create the bigger things. So, after a week of conferences and discussions, I was not prepared to what came next.

“Happy Purim!”, “Are you going to this Purim party?”, “Do you have a costume for Purim?”

Wait, what?! Purim?! Already?! But I’m not ready. No one gave me a heads up.
One of the things I am still trying to get used to here in the states is the fact that the public space does not reflect the Jewish calendar. In Israel, you know when a holiday is coming long before it does. The bakeries have Hamantaschen for sale long before Purim, you see the costumes hanging in store windows all over, everyone starts talking about their costumes and party plans weeks and weeks before the holiday.
Now I find myself facing Purim, but so unprepared. What should I dress up as?
You see, costumes were always important in my family. My mother made creative costumes for us as children. She would create the entire costume herself or buy only some props to complete it, but I rarely had costumes that were just bought. She used the mesh red bag that held oranges bought in the supermarket to create a Spiderman mask, tissue paper, construction paper and other materials to create cartoon characters we loved, using old clothes, sewing, stuffing and more. That is how my mother created the magic of Purim for us every year.

As adults, I always tried to have a creative, home-made costume. It is also my chance to create a character and be someone else for a bit. The costume could be super creative and crafted, or simple, yet interesting. Here are some examples for you- I dressed up as Papa Bear as part of a group of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. I sewed the brown fur pants, vest and ears myself; I was the witch from Hansel and Gretel and handed people at a party candy and put spices on them for cooking, while Hansel and Grettle wandered around the room; one year I put make up on to appear old and stayed in character the whole night long.

I always say – “If you dress like it, act like it!” – that’s the fun part of Purim!
One of the best things about Purim is how the streets are colorful and decorated. The children go to school in their costumes, carrying their “Mishlochei Manot” )colorful packages of snacks and treats for a friend). When I was a little boy we would go and watch the Ad-d’lo-Yada – “Until one cannot distinguish” (the tradition on Purim is to drink until one cannot distinguish between “Cursed be Haman” and “Blessed be Mordechai”). The Ad-D’lo-Yada is a Purim parade, full of costumes, big creative floats, music and celebrations.

When I got older, I went to the annual Purim street party in Nachla’ot – a neighborhood in Jerusalem that includes Machaneh Yehudah market. Thousands of young adults fill the streets the whole day long, music in different locations, bars out on the streets, food, colors, costumes and joy. You meet your friends, people you haven’t seen in years, people from out of town who came just for the party, and you all get to celebrate together. The celebration goes on from before noon to late at night, and the streets are overflowing with people in costumes dancing as one big community.

Purim takes over the streets! Literally.

Although it might not be the same here, there were parties, the Megillah readings, the costumes and the Hamantaschen to remind me that Purim was here, and that it is a great time of celebration!

 

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