Purim and Passover, the bookends of spring in Israel. It’s easy to scoff at the jokes about people who come home from the Megillah reading and kasher their kitchen for Pesach… until you wake up one morning and Purim, which seems like it was yesterday, was actually four weeks ago, and Passover, which seems like it should be at least a month away, begins Monday night. Oops. There has never been a better time to live in a studio apartment. My entire home took about an hour to clean. Yes, there was some grumbling about Pesach being an excuse to institutionalize spring cleaning, but the grumbling mostly took place at Matt and Ariel Russo’s house. It was there that I scaled the heights of Mt. Kitchen Counter to reach the uppermost peak of their cabinets, which are now hametz-free and basking in the orange glow of Astonish! (I have a weakness for cleaning products that include an exclamation point).
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before there was bedikat hametz, there was Purim, and before Purim, there was… making my Purim costume! I spend way too much time on costumes, promise. This year, I decided to be the Megillah. Ok, I decided to be the Megillah back in the fall of 2009. I went running into Megan’s room one night jumping up and down with excitement. The exchange went a little something like this:
Jess: I have the best idea for a Purim costume! I have the best idea for a Purim costume!
Megan: That’s great. But I really can’t talk about Purim right now. It’s after midnight… and it’s October.
When you think about the Megillah, obviously the first thing that comes to mind is linens.
So let’s take a moment and talk about linens in the Promised Land. First, you have to understand that the concept of a top sheet does not exist in this country. There are fitted sheets and duvet covers. Since you never actually touch the blanket that you sleep under, you don’t need a top sheet, you just wash the duvet cover. Before having this realization, I spent about a week scouring Jerusalem, from the textile stalls at the shuk to the home goods section of the Mashbir (department store), for a top sheet. How do you say top sheet in Hebrew? You can’t because there’s no such thing. So please, for your enjoyment, imagine me playing an endless game of Top Sheet Charades with exasperated Israeli salesclerks. Eventually, I acquiesced and bought a fitted sheet, which means I had to cut off the fitted part, which means I had to take a ruler and mark straight lines down the sides of the sheet because I can’t cut in a straight line to save my life. Told you I spend too much time on costumes.
I then cut the sheet into two long columns and painted (black tempra) the text of Megillat Esther onto the sheet. My big bubbly writing meant I could fit only about half of the first perek (chapter) on the sheet, but so it goes. It was enough. I safety pinned (never travel without safety pins!) the two columns together, wore brown pants and a brown shirt to represent the top and bottom of the scroll, safety pinned the bottom end of the sheet to my shirt, wrapped the “Megillah” around me, and secured it with a gold chain belt. Voila! Megillat Jess!
The only problem with this costume is that you can’t really tell how cool it is unless it’s unrolled, which requires a helper – thanks Shira.
After the Megillah reading at Schechter (I sat next to Margaux for a full five minutes before realizing it was her – the mark of a truly great costume) we enjoyed a Purim seudah (festive meal) and a spiel featuring a hilarious skit penned by our very own Ravid Tilles. I then reworked the scroll into a Megillah dress to wear for the rest of the afternoon, which included another seudah, a street fair in Nachlaot, and drinks with Hillary and Daniel. I managed not to spill one single bean about the fact that Daniel, after several years of courtship, was planning to propose to Hillary at the end of the month, which he did – at minyan! – in the Beit Midrash! – at Schechter! It was pretty exciting. There were bagels.
Also of note: in the weeks between Purim and Pesach, thanks to the pedagogical wonder that is my Hebrew teacher, Ada Spitzer, I wrote an essay in Hebrew. Me. Essay. Hebrew. Just sayin’. And… I gave my first-ever Dvar Torah (a teaching about the week’s Torah portion) in Hebrew. Is someone writing this down???
I can also officially understand most of what I hear in everyday conversation, and – this one is the big deal – I understand the snippets of other people’s conversations that I overhear on the street. I don’t know if I can emphasize enough what a change that makes in the way you experience another culture. Instead of nonsensical chatter featuring a recognizable word every now and then, I hear life happening in all its mundane glory.
Unfortunately, part of life happening in Jerusalem this past month included a pigua, a terrorist attack. I was home in my apartment when I heard a loud explosion. At first, I thought maybe it was someone with leftover fireworks – thanks to Purim, the past few days had been full of crashing and booming and banging. But it was loud, a loud almost bowl-shaped sound, a sound with depth, a sound that held something… scary. And then the sirens. When I heard the sirens, I knew that it wasn’t anything other than something serious. I went outside, across the street to the supermarket. People were coming out onto the street, everyone was on their cell phone, and I kept hearing the word – pigua, pigua, pigua.
Since 1998, I have spent a total of two years and four months in Israel. I have never, in all that time, been near a terrorist attack. So I am not embarrassed to admit that I did not know the word pigua. I am glad I didn’t know it. I am blessed I didn’t know it. The first thing that happens after a pigua is the sirens, then the cell phones, and then the phones go down because too many people are trying to make calls at the same time. I went back inside. The internet was still working, so I sat and alternated between news sites where I watched the events unfold in real time, and Facebook, where I waited as my friends one by one updated their status – all safe. I called my parents. I allowed myself to entertain – very briefly – what would have happened if – if – if – and then I stopped, because I couldn’t continue. There was a bomb in a bag near the central bus station. It has happened before and it will likely happen again. That is the reality of this place. But the next day, everything continued as if nothing had happened. That is the other reality of this place. I feel safe. Israel is as safe as it can possibly be given its situation. The truly remarkable thing is that the “if –” doesn’t stop Israelis. They go on living their everyday lives in a society that has a word for terrorist attack, a word that means that and only that. I want to imagine an Israel without the word pigua. I want to imagine an Israel without the “if –”?
There is no better time than the days before Pesach to imagine something different for ourselves. My beloved Talmud teacher, Moti Arad, reminded us of something on Wednesday, before sending us home to clean and shop and prepare for Seder. How many generations were the Israelites in Egypt? Many. They went to Egypt at the end of the Joseph narrative, and remained there for hundreds of years. And how were they treated? The Torah tells us they were treated very well. “The land of Egypt is before you,” said the Pharaoh of Joseph’s day. “In the best of the land make your father and your brothers settle, in the land of Goshen let them dwell” (Genesis 47:6). Yet what do we think about when we remember Egypt? Bitterness. Slavery. Death. The Israelites were not enslaved until the generation of Amram and Yocheved, the parents of Aaron and Miriam and Moses. As we are commanded, we should remember the bitterness of that generation, the suffering, the slavery. We should remember the wonder of the Exodus, the incredible gift of our redemption. We should remember, but also we should not forget. Do not forget that our enemies were not always our enemies. Do not forget that there may yet be a day when our enemies are our enemies no more.
Tonight, my grandmother (you can call her Goobie – we all do) arrived from the States to spend the week with me. She’s 79, but she’s spry, just ask the folks who saw us at the Ice Bar when she visited me in Stockholm. I can think of no better way to celebrate my freedom than to spend a week road tripping in Israel with my grandma! For those of you hosting a Seder, or for those who want to learn more about Passover and the Seder tradition, I urge you to check out the resources provided by JTS. http://www.jtsa.edu/x11698.xml
Chag kasher v’sameach!