Purim in Beit Shemesh: An oasis of tolerance

Purim is undoubtedly the highlight of my year, although that’s only a recent thing. As a child, I never liked being dressed up either as Queen Esther, Queen Vashti or on one occasion, as one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters (especially when Cinderella was my prettier, younger sister). As a teen, I didn’t like it any better, because typically, I was so intent on creating an identity that felt true to me, and I couldn’t let go of it, not even for one day, not even to honor the commandment of venahafoh hu. As a young mother, I became painfully aware that my talents certainly did not lie in the fashioning of clever outfits for my children, and simply groaned each day at the painted faces I brought home from Gan and the unpleasant thought of scrubbing them off my little ones’ otherwise unblemished features that night in the bathtub.

“So when did you start liking Purim?” I hear you ask. Exactly ten years ago, that’s when: our first Purim in Nofei Aviv, Beit Shemesh. For the first time in my life, Purim became meaningful to me. No, not because of the hours I would spend in the kitchen preparing copies of mishloah manot that friends of mine had sent us the previous year (no creative inspiration of my own in this realm either), nor because of the super-quick megilla reading that we gratefully discovered in one of our neighbor’s homes just down the road. Neither was it because of the generous swapping of costumes among the kids of our community. And not because of the fun-filled Purim seuda that we began rotating on a year-in-year-out basis with two other families. No, although all of the above certainly contributed to the overall success of the day, none of them is the ultimate reason for Purim suddenly becoming my favorite day of the year.

Instead, very simply, it is the fact that our community puts on an adult-only Purim spiel that makes my face ache from the huge, long smile that it produces for three hours straight. For one night a year, our community puts adults first, providing adult humor that all the diverse members of our community can appreciate. Following that comes the best party of the year, graciously hosted in the home of our friends, where alcohol flows, music blares and spirits soar until approximately 3 a.m.

I hope that in this way, we will continue to celebrate together for many more Purims, in our small corner of Beit Shemesh, where women in sheitels and men in black kippot rub shoulders when bopping away on the dance floor with other women in jeans and men in fishnet tights and other wacky costumes. My wish is that the inhabitants of our precious enclave will not feel compelled to leave this oasis of mutual respect for the more tolerant shores of other cities in our holy land. For at this moment of time, in this location, against the backdrop of black and white tension and what is — very sadly – sinat hinam, baseless hatred in its purest form, true identities are irrelevant and the feeling of togetherness, of people just simply having a good time and fulfilling the mitzvah of achieving true simha, is what, honestly, makes Purim the happiest day of my year.

About the Author
Nicole Broder is the Pedagogical Advisor for the Beersheva branch of the ITF (Israel Teaching Fellows) MASA program. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bar Ilan University. Nicole also works as an English teacher in Beit Shemesh and as a teacher trainer in the Greater Jerusalem Area for the Ministry of Education.
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