Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Be Happy; It's Adar

Purim in Israel is a hoot. Costumes everywhere, like Halloween on steroids. Everybody dresses up, there are lots of parties, the merchants in Machane Yehuda don wigs and give out free hamentashen (called "Haman's ears" here- oznei Haman.) Two solid weeks before Purim the kids stop having "real" school and it's all about celebrating.

The fun is supposed to start on Rosh Hodesh Adar.

Last year, I wrote in the CJN about my experience with Women of the Wall on Rosh Chodesh Adar in Jerusalem: the rage I experienced coming from the men’s side, the fear from the women’s side, and my own disheartenment while praying with this group of sincere women at Judaism’s holiest site.

One year later, again on Rosh Chodesh Adar, I went to the Wall to pray with them. This time, there were close to 200 women gathered there, as since the arrest of Nofrat Frenkel for the “crime” of wearing a tallit the monthly prayer sessions have grown larger and larger in support of the idea that any Jew should be able to pray at the Kotel as they wish. This time, there was a large contingent of Masorti kids from the Israeli Conservative youth movement flanking us on either side. This time many male supporters came and stood on the men’s side nearest the mechitza, forming a sort of protective barrier between us and the men climbing on chairs to scream and curse at us. (For Adar the screamers brought a bull horn so we could hear them call us “Amalekites” more clearly.) This time we were protected not only by male police, but also by male army officers called in to help when haredi women tried to aggressively break us up by entering the tightly-knit group and physically pushing us out of the plaza. How odd it was to be praying behind a row of bare-headed male soldiers in the women’s section. When the haredi women became vocally abusive, shrieking at us (we are Christian lesbian Reform blasphemers) we kept on singing Hallel. Purim Shpiel meets Mahatma Gandhi.

There is something profound about singing in the face of people yelling at you. I thought of chanting the Megillah which reminds us that change comes from within us. I thought of Queen Esther going against the odds.  I thought of how everyone just wants to be a little of someone else every now and then, and about how we are supposed to get so drunk that we don't know the difference between our enemies and our friends. What a way to start the month of fun and games.

It struck me later that when we read from the Megillah at the end of chapter one about the threat of women not obeying their husbands, and the sarcastic decree which went forth from Ahashverosh commanding each man to be "king in his own castle" after Vashti refused to be degraded, we really read about the way society perceives the power of women as a national and cosmic threat. Instead of seeing the Women of the Wall as a sincere group of ohavei haShem, some Jews see us only as a threat to the system. Would that they could hear the Megillah as a mocking critique of this kind of drunken, irrational fear of women gathering and expressing their humanity, not as a justification for it.

I went to Megillah reading worrying a lot about the Rosh Hodesh gathering, but of course got carried into the Purim spirit soon after. Purim evening was rainy and cold. I love that Israelis never complain at all about the rain; they call it "geshmai bracha" or rains of blessing. Purim day was sunny and everyone was in a good mood in Jerusalem; the bus drivers wore funny hats and lots of kids came in from yeshivas all over the country to revel in Jerusalem's special day (Jerusalem celebrates Purim a day later than everyone else in the world because it is a walled city and the Megillah says walled cities celebrate a day later! But only cities with walls from the time of Joshua.) Everyone seemed to be smiling.

And they don't start stressing about Pesach the day after Purim. Matzah doesn't appear on store shelves with the ominous warning that this is all there will be of the brand of egg matzah that you like. The prices don't skyrocket within days. Most Israelis don't stockpile gross over-processed "ready to bake" Pesach products. So it's life as usual for another few weeks till the ONE--I repeat--ONE Seder! How civilized can you get?


  1. Wonderful posting, Elyse. Wish I'd been there with you. Happy Adar! Arlene

  2. Hi Rabbi Goldstein,
    It's really beautiful to read your blog! We've met briefly at my Great Uncle Irving Schoichet's unveiling, and I really enjoyed the beautiful words you shared that day. My fiancee and I are interested in speaking with you about the possibility of you officiating our wedding on May 15, 2011. It would be great to hear from you! Could you please email me at naomi.tessler@gmail.com when you have a chance to let us know if this might be possible. Thank you very much and wishing you continued journeys of beauty and inspiration!
    Naomi and Rob