When I first started working in Jewish media in the US, I was stunned to discover what a lackluster response Purim got from the majority of Jews I work with. As an Israeli, it definitely felt like (Jewish) culture shock.
“Purim just isn’t a big deal here,” co-workers told me. For most of them, this holiday, which I find so incredibly vibrant, is summed up with childhood memories of Hebrew school Purim parades — and even those memories weren’t particularly exciting. For my less observant Jewish American friends, Purim just isn’t a holiday that they relate to as adults, aside from, perhaps, a love of hamantaschen.
Growing up (mostly) in Israel, Purim was always a big deal. From choosing your costume (I’m so disappointed with my childhood self for always wanting to be a princess, and proud of my mom for trying to push me in different directions), to fussing over a mischloach manot (or shalach manos, as they called them here, little purim gifts baskets that contain treats and are exchanged in Israeli classrooms and are shared with neighbors, friends, family and the needy on Purim) even though all I really wanted was the pre-made store bought kind, to the fun events that were often staged in our schoolyards with games, activities, and bouncy castles (!!!). It was truly a festive and captivating day.
As an adult, Purim in Israel can be kind of exhilarating. It’s not at all about hamantaschen (which are good, but do not compare to other holiday treats — I’m looking at you, sufganiyot). Purim’s about parties and community (and yes, there’s the booze, too). Work places organize costume contests and gift-giving games. The streets are filled with costumed processions and sidewalk parties. And if you’re into getting wasted and dancing the night away, the world is your (kosher) oyster.
Just glimpsing at a list of 2018 Purim parties all across the Holy Land, there’s a three-day dance party and meditation event in a desert ashram, a circus party, a dance party with American DJ Marshmello (you know, this guy) as well as so many 12 hour raves and street parties that go on until dawn.
So you get it. Purim in Israel is wild stuff.
My Israeli friends here in the US do not mess around when it comes to Purim. Going home before 4 a.m. is just not an option. And let’s not even talk about how serious they are about the whole drink until you drop part. It is truly a sight to behold (and then help them with the whole massive hangover after the beholding). But most American Jews seem not to have caught on. (For the record I have noticed, in my inbox, two invites to Purim raves in the Brooklyn area, because Brooklyn.)
I will say this: I am not a lover of big parties (though I enjoy dancing terribly with strangers), and I do not do more than two drinks a night (and actually, being pregnant, I am staying clear of alcohol right now), but Purim still captures my imagination. It’s an opportunity for people to be creative, to plan and create a costume that will truly express who you are. I haven’t been that inspired by Halloween here. Maybe it’s because Purim feels exuberant and joyful in a way that Halloween doesn’t. Purim is about dancing, and letting loose, and being yourself (even if you are hidden behind a costume). And alright — eating a few hamantaschen doesn’t hurt.