It is holiday time here in Israel: Purim. Purim is the holiday that celebrates the saving of the Jewish people (once again) from the Persian Empire, according to the book of Esther. It is celebrated from the 13-15th during the month of Adar (the Jewish calendar), which is today, tomorrow and Wednesday. If you are not familiar with the story, then you can find it in the Bible or Tenach. (Don’t worry, its a short book.)
There are 4 things a Jewish person MUST do during Purim:
1. Listen to the story of Esther, either in the bet-knesset or at home. Usually the first night is reserved for the telling of the story by parents to the family.
2. Send a gift of food to at least one friend.
3. Give charity to the poor.
4. Eating the Purim meal, and drinking alcohol.
Even the Orthodox Jews drink alcohol during Purim. It is one of the only times that they are ‘allowed’ to do so, and drink they do! They are told to drink until they cannot distinguish between the evil of Haman and the good of Mordachai.
Modern day Purim has also been influenced by the Western Civilization’s adaptation of Carnival. Over time it has become a blend of the two, since they seem to overlap on the calendar. Now, not only do people observe the 4 laws during Purim, but it has also become a costume/party fest. Each night everyone dresses up in costumes and parties. Yesterday, while I was at the hospital visiting the Shevet kids, a group of teenage girls came in dressed in various costumes, giving out Hamantashen (a Purim pastry) to all the kids in the hospital. It was part of their giving to those in need, while at the same time enjoying the fact that they can get dressed up.
(There is also a pretty good movie adaption of the story of Esther called One Night With the King, FYI)