Avi Mayer
Assistant Executive Director, American Jewish Committee (AJC)

The Day Purim Changed Forever

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Time for a confession: I’ve never really been into Purim.

For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why. Everyone seems to love the holiday and, objectively, it has all the fun things: a good story, delicious food, drinking, gift-giving, parties. Every year, I’d go through the motions, but I just couldn’t seem to get into the spirit. What was wrong with me?

And then it hit me.

Over Shabbat at my parents’ house, I found myself rummaging through the box of family Purim costumes in search of something to wear over the holiday. As I pulled out colorful wigs and parts of old Power Rangers costumes, I found these (photo above) and was transported 21 years back in time.

It was 1996 and I was a schoolkid in Jerusalem. With Purim approaching, I tried to figure out a great costume, and I ultimately came up with the perfect one: I decided to be the pope.

Using a photo of John Paul II from the family’s Golden Book Encyclopedia as inspiration, I set about making the costume by hand. Since the robe I was using was blue, that became the base color, rather than the traditional red. I cut a mitre (papal hat) out of oak tag and used a gold pen to mimic the design. I found a piece of cloth and drew on decorations like the ones I saw in the encyclopedia. I took a broomstick and covered it in aluminum foil to create a pastoral staff (without the cross on top, which, I figured, might not be particularly well-received in my religious elementary school). The whole thing looked amazing and it remains my best Purim costume to date. I was so excited to wear it to school.

And then, a few hours before the holiday was set to begin, a Palestinian suicide bomber walked into a crowd outside Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center and detonated the explosive belt he had strapped around him. Thirteen people were killed and 130 wounded, including a pregnant woman who lost her unborn child. Many of the injured were children and teenagers in costume. Most of the dead were under 25, and five were in middle or high school.

The country was plunged into mourning. Holiday celebrations were called off and observances were scaled back. Purim was canceled.

My parents had to decide whether or not to send me to school in costume. Knowing how much effort I had put into it, they decided to let me go dressed up.

I don’t remember how many of the kids in my class came in costume, but I do remember feeling awful about it. How could I be in costume when kids my age were lying in hospital beds and parents were mourning their children?

When the holiday ended, I took the costume apart and put it away, never to be used again. Purim would never be the same.

So as I put on my costume and head to Megillah reading in just a few hours, I’ll try hard to celebrate our people’s salvation and have a carefree time, but I won’t beat myself up if my joy is somewhat diminished. There are some things that stick with you, no matter how many years go by.

About the Author
Avi Mayer is the Assistant Executive Director and Managing Director of Global Communications at the American Jewish Committee (AJC). He lives in Jerusalem.
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