On Israeli TV in October, I heard Halloween described as the "American Purim." I thought that was a refreshing reversal of that old (equally inaccurate) line that Hannukah is the Jewish Christmas. But now that I've experienced Purim in Israel, I can say that it's actually much more!
First, Purim is celebrated here at so many levels. There was the Purim parade down the main street of our town on Friday, full of school children in matching costumes (see post below) and straggling teenagers who were too cool to dress up. There were clowns on stilts and Carnival-style dancers with feather tails. Kindergarten classes chorused by on the sidewalks a bit after the main parade, in pairs organized by their watchful teachers.
The teenagers themselves celebrated in malls. We went to the mall on Sunday to buy supplies for our mishloach manot baskets, and discovered this (click on the image to see a larger version):
What you can't see well in the picture is just how many of the teenagers are in costume. We saw countless brides, "punks," clowns. And in true American Halloween fashion, there were countless teenage girls who use this day as an excuse to dress, well, in less. We saw sexy angels, sexy policewomen, sexy cats, sexy ladybugs, sexy princesses, sexy soccer players, even sexy Santa Clause girls. And the mall was FULL. Parents took little kids (more often dressed as cowboys, princesses or muscle men) to the mall when they weren't sure what to do with a day off from school and kids eager to show off their costumes.
Even secular Israelis fulfill many of the mitzvot of Purim. Every grocery store is full of cellophane-wrapped packages of mishloach manot, sales on candy, boxes of hamentashen. At our megilla reading, costumed kids and adults drowned our Haman's name with headache-inducing enthusiasm, while a possibly senile old woman in front of me lazily shook her grogger through the whole thing. We stayed up last night getting our own mishloach manot ready-- we're about to go on a delivery. And of course, the rabbi reminded us of that other important mitzvah of Purim, giving to the poor.
I'm struck by the extent to which you feel Jewish holidays in Israel. To be a secular Jew in the US means that you barely know Tu b'Shvat or Purim happens. But here dried fruit goes on sale at Tu b'Shvat, and almond trees actually start to bloom. (Calling Tu b'Shvat the new year of trees always felt like a nasty joke in Pennsylvania, as snow and ice covered black tree branches.) For Purim, television ads show rock stars dancing in costume at parties, grocery stores sell plastic breastplates for little knights, and kids have off school. For better or worse, Jewish holidays are as commercialized and ubiquitous in Israel as Christian holidays are in America, and personally I'd say it's for better. I like that Purim isn't just a Hebrew school activity here; it's owned by those teenagers in the mall and the little princesses with groggers and the adults trading gifts of food. I look forward to someday explaining to my kids that Halloween is a kind of American Purim, but not as fun.