Purim within my Palace

Erev Shushan Purim. I go to work dressed as a Bedouin, a side of myself that doesn’t get enough attention. In the evening, driving to megillah reading, the roads are lined with people in costume, funny hats and hairbands, colorful wigs. A very elderly lady wearing a mouth mask slowly totters across the road, and someone asks her if she has corona. How thoughtless people can be, I think, at a time when, more than ever, we need to be thoughtful.
The Nava Tehila reading is limited to 100 people in attendance, and we have been advised not to hug or shake hands. I read my annual chapter 7, the shortest but best chapter, where everything turns around and Haman is hung. I read still dressed as a Bedouin, in a white jelabia that I bought in the old city when I was 15 years old and a kaffiyeh with black rings to hold it in place. The man sitting behind me says, “From behind, I thought you were Ibrahim.” I stay after megillah and dance, and hug my friends, and, at some point, shed my costume, remaining in my “normal” clothes, tunic and tights. And then I get on my scooter and toostoos back to Ein Karem, the beautiful little village where I live, just outside of Jerusalem (but, for Purim purposes, still part of the walled city).
There is a door in my yard that leads into Ein Karem’s first synagogue. It’s a Moroccan one-room synagogue, for men only, and easy to miss. As more and more Moroccan synagogues were built over the years in the village, the population of this tiny synagogue dwindled, and in order to keep it active, the gabai has recruited yeshiva boys to come to prayers, and they easily outnumber the Moroccans on any Shabbat. I arrive home Shushan Purim night and, before I even park the bike, I hear music blaring from my yard. Mizrachi dance music. My yard is full of drunk yeshiva bochers dancing (this is a massive improvement over last year, when I drove up the hill and almost ran over one of them lying in the middle of the road), and I can hardly get to my door. They are wearing suits, and their white tzitzit shake around wildly as they dance.
These boys know me. They see me every Shabbat, I talk to them, they watch me feeding all the neighborhood cats. This night, they all greet me in heartily drunk fashion: Hi Ruthi, dance with us. Hi Ruthi, do you want to eat something? Hi Ruthi, do you want to drink arak (of course I do)? Ruthi, your cat ran away (I respond that, if I were my cat, I would run away too). They dance and dance and occasionally I go out and look at what they’re doing and dance with them a little bit and nibble a little bit of the store bought falafel, humus and salads on the table amid plastic plates and cutlery. And drink arak. And one of them offers me his friend, he could be your cat, he says, a great cat.
At the other end of my house, the wall of kitchen windows looks down on a big yard where another party is taking place. People are in costume and dancing to really good music. The yard is decorated with glowing lights on the trees, there’s a woman wearing a kimono, a pirate, and lots of colorful wigs, gloves, and faux elegant dresses. Cool young people from the neighborhood and the Yeshiva HaChilonit, and I see that one of my cats is enjoying that party as well (I guess this cat prefers chilonim to¬†yeshiva bochers).¬†I am amused by the two, almost opposing, streams of Judaism that frame my house, and the differences and similarities in their celebration.
As I look out my window at the costume-fest below, the blinking lights, the tables laden with homemade healthy food and drink, the ceramic serving bowls, the neighbor yells up at me to come down and join them. But I’m happy as I am, walking back and forth from one end of the house to the other, dancing to the beat of both drummers.
About the Author
Ruthi Soudack, originally from Vancouver, arrived in Jerusalem for a short visit three days after the beginning of the first intifada, and has been here ever since. She is a traveller, yoga teacher, writer, translator, editor, storyteller, musician, and occasionally, a stand-up comic.
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