It’s one in the morning on Purim and I finally finished baking hamenstashen with my three teen/’tween daughters. This year, in addition to the usual strawberry jam, chocolate chip, and peanut butter and chococolate flavors, we’ve added a new one to our repertoire in honor of us becoming Israelis: Sumsumia, a halva-esque delight made with a sweet sesame and honey paste, a serendipity from the Pereg store at Machane Yehuda.
Seven months have now passed since we remade our lives in our homeland. While we still have our “aliyah challenge moments,” they are fewer and farther between. Most days, we appreciate that we just get to live here and experience the regular, every day rhythm of Ango-Israeli life. We work here, learn here, do laundry here, sweat, cry, play soccer, and cook here. We now eat shakshuka for dinner and toastim for breakfast, have seen Peter Pan fly on a stage in Jerusalem and explored wildflowers and old luminous bell caves on a ditch day from school. We’ve learned where to shop, who to ask for what, and how to waze ourselves from here to there. We’re just living. In Israel.
While aliyah has had its fair share of heartache and headaches, to counter some of the frustrations that new olim can face, we heeded one of best pieces of advice (thanks, Ben!) we received when we made made the move: To treat every initial trip to a government office as an exploratory “pilot trip” so when nothing is accomplished we won’t be disappointed. And it’s worked. When we have actually achieved success on our first trip to the DMV or Misrad of Whatever & Waiting, we’ve been pleasantly surprised, and when we haven’t, we shrug our shoulders and say, “Pilot trip!”
For each moment of frustration, there is at least one equal and opposite moment of grace, one that really makes you stop and smell the shwarma, the grander little moments where your Jewish heart gets lodged in your throat and you just say: Thank G-d. And Purim here is certainly one of them.
While we enjoyed many wonderful Purim celebrations in our old-country home of La Jolla, California, we’ve discovered that Israel takes the party to a whole new level. The one day holiday gets supersized into two weeks of festivities as stores everywhere peddle masks and wands, baskets and candies. The malls have their own Purim stations and the schools each have a shuk Purim with food and games for the kids.
But my favorite activity so far took place the last day before Purim break where we experienced the “adeloyada parade.” This is where all the school-age kids don a bevy of creative, vibrant costumes and parade down the streets of our town, an exercise that’s repeated in cities and settlements all over Israel.
While many parents don’t attend, as a still-fresh immigrant celebrating our first Purim as Israelis, I couldn’t help myself. I attempted not to embarass my kids as I paparazzied them with their friends to capture the festive feeling. The kids were bursting with pride and excitement as they laughed at each other’s costumes and compared notes on the mishloach manot baskets they prepared for one another. My daughters, as the new kids, were afraid to wear costumes that were too creative or different, but looked great as a mime, a magician, and a homemade “Whatsapp.” Their schoolmates were dazzling, as smiling superhereos, produce from the seven species, a pre-teen Aroma waitress and a sparkly rainbow all heralded Purim together. My niece was a homemade laundry machine and one girl was even an entire birthday party as she lugged a long cardboard table on her shoulders, complete with a birthday cake hat and balloons.
And then there were all the little soldiers toting mini plastic weapons. Seeing “guns” carried by 8-year-olds is still really jarring. This certainly wasn’t our experience in American day school, where the rules declare, “No pretend weapons of any kind may be used with your costume.” But here we witnessed two shrunken soldiers cruising in an Israeli Army Jeep fashioned out of a cardboard box and driven Flintstone style to the parade. Another carboard box was transformed into a tank, ready to guard the Jewish state. I reminded myself about the cultural differences here, where these kids including my own will evolve into real soldiers one day and must be comfortable holding or even using real guns. There were girl mossad agents and swat teams and policemen. While Bibi was busy prepping for his much talked about speech, these kids were already preparing to ensure that the Jewish state remains secure in the future.
I admit I felt a bit foolish but couldn’t stifle the tears of pride as we marched down the street while the gleaming Judean Hills and little costume-clad gan children served as our spectators. The music truck followed along, lights flashing as it blared the tunes I first learned in pre-school in a land far way. And here I was, walking with my kids, celebrating the joyous survival of the Jewish people, a feeling so much more powerful this year after we sat in a bomb shelter shortly after our arrival this past summer and as Bibi was just hours away from warning Congress and the world about the perils of a nuclear Iran nearby.
As we marched, my 11-year-old (thankfully not ashamed to be seen with me yet) turned to me, a broad grin materializing like a rabbit from under her magician’s hat, and she marveled, “At least here, on Purim people don’t look at us like we’re weirdos.” And she was right. In America, even I felt self-conscious in our old neighhood when I’d venture out in the middle of March, Halloween nowhere in sight, dressed like a Slurpee or Miss Piggy, a moment that used to remind us that we were outsiders there. Abracadabra, she understood the magic of aliyah, of living in a place where we truly belong.
Just a few hours ago, when I finished fasting like Esther before me and after scrambling for last minute costumes in our new neighborhood in this special sliver of the planet, we decided not to wait and just dive into the Hamenstashen baking in our new home late into the night. And now, exhausted and full of one too many fresh Hamenstashen, I’m excited for the morning’s Purim revelry and more yummy filling of a sweet new life.