Holiday celebrations amid the specter of Iran

Download this story in Microsoft Word format here.

Click photo to download. Caption: Purim in the Israeli city of Ofra. Credit: PD.

From New York to Israel, Purim 2012 produced the expected revelry for Jewish communities, yet held a deeper contemporary significance than usual due to the ongoing threat of a nuclear Iran under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—the president of a geographic area formerly known as Persia, site of the Purim story.

Is Ahmadinejad a modern-day Haman? What events in the Jewish world defined this year’s Purim? Here is a global recap:

New York City

Across generations and celebrations—including the presence of (Jewish) royalty at events of international note, local masquerades for “young leaders,” synagogue “spiels,” and children’s carnivals—the usual fun and frolic permeated Purim 2012.

At the Waldorf Astoria in New York City,patterns of pale light and shadow decorated a ballroom alight with tall, shimmering silver candlesticks embracing dozens of flickering flames, on tables glittering with shiny silver groggers.

The annual Purim Ball of The Jewish Museum of New York celebrated Purim on an international scale, honoring one of Judaism’s most “royal” personas, Baron David de Rothschild, as its honorary chairman. The black tie event brought together an international cadre of the Jewish community’s cultural elite for an evening replete with continental charm and elegance.

In synagogues across the Jewish universe, revelers gathered to celebrate the redemption of the Jewish people in ancient Persia—modern-day Iran. The wonderfully silly “spiel” at New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue told the ancient story through the music of the 1960s, sparking the musical memories of the “boomers” and bringing humor to their children, grandchildren and parents. Perhaps the evening was able to erase consciousness of an ominous possible international crisis. Similar revelry characterized the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) masquerade, an event that welcomed hundreds of 20-somethings (“young leadership”) to a sold-out evening of Purim festivities.

Israel

Purim celebrations in towns within 25 miles of the Gaza strip, such as Sderot and Beersheba, were canceled last week due to security concerns, Israel’s Walla News reported.

Still, Israelis in other parts of the country dressed up as everything from super heroes to zombies.

Various news outlets posted photo galleries of Purim costumes from around Israel that included clowns, trolls, princesses and cowboys. Yedioth Ahronot posted a gallery with everything from the Smurfs, a dog dressed as Superman, and Muammar Gaddafi.

On the day of Purim, a group called the Qixote Committee also organized a parade of people dressed as super heroes. This revamped version of Purim’s traditional spectacle was organized to protest the rising cost of housing in Israel, and included people dressed as Captain Treasury Boy, a villain who takes money from the needy and sells companies to irresponsible owners.

Another costume was the Tycoonosaurus, including a cape painted with luxury residential towers and oilrigs. Other costumes included Lady Abundance, Lobbyist Army, Radioactive Fallout, Mega Polluter and Spinomat. Part of the parade had revelers ride a bus dressed up as a spaceship, reported Haaretz.

Earlier in the week, Israelis participated in the annual Zombie Walk held every year in the streets of Tel Aviv in honor of Purim. Lacerated limbs and copious amounts of fake blood dominated the sight. The parade was held late in the evening and included about 250 revelers.

Washington

Click photo to download. Caption: U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman waves to AIPAC delegates March 5 in Washington, DC. He spoke at the AIPAC convention for the last time as a senator, with his talk covering Purim and the Jewish biblical right to Israel, among other topics. Credit: AIPAC.

At the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman—the country’s most prominent Sabbath-observant legislator—invoked Purim during his remarks, noting how, “The hand of God is there on every page of the story of the book of Esther.”

The religious tone of the Connecticut Independent’s speech didn’t stop there, as Lieberman passionately spoke of the Jewish biblical right to Israel—and received thunderous applause from the AIPAC crowd when he did so.

“Israel’s history didn't begin in 1948,” Lieberman said. “It began thousands of years before in Genesis 12:1 when God called Abraham to the land I will show you and promised Abraham, ‘I will make you a great nation there.’ Through the milieus since then, through good times and bad; sometimes it were very good and sometimes it were very bad. Through times of statehood and times of Diaspora, the Jewish presence on the land of Israel has been continuous.”

The Iranian threat looms

Did the intensity of this year’s Purim celebrations in New York and Israel counterbalance the seriousness of current politics, significantly focused on the continuum of the historic threat of annihilation of Israel and the Jewish people emanating from “Shushan”?

Click photo to download. Caption: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Credit: PD.

Does the exuberance of these celebrations simply reflect the traditional mandate to lose the ability to differentiate between good and evil?

Or, is this all a response to the existential threat posed by the looming specter of a nuclear Iran?

Only time will tell. In the ancient Purim story, circumstances and perhaps a small miracle or two saved the Jewish people of Persia. Modern-day miracles are always welcome.

Posted on March 11, 2012 and filed under Features, Israel, U.S..