newsJewish & Israeli Holidays

Purim 2024

J’lem students mark Fast of Esther at Tel Aviv’s ‘Hostage Square’

High schoolers pray for the return of the captives from Gaza.

Librarian Kobi Abarbanel with students from Jerusalem's Hartman High School, including Chai Lascar (second from right), in Tel Aviv's "Hostage Square," March 21, 2024. Photo by Amelie Botbol.
Librarian Kobi Abarbanel with students from Jerusalem's Hartman High School, including Chai Lascar (second from right), in Tel Aviv's "Hostage Square," March 21, 2024. Photo by Amelie Botbol.

Some 400 students from Hartman High School in Jerusalem converged on Tel Aviv’s “Hostage Square” on Thursday, to fast and pray on the Fast of Esther for the safe return of the 134 captives held by Hamas in Gaza.

“We came today to tell the world we are not forgetting the hostages. We are one people. Like Esther told Mordechai to get together all the Jewish people on Purim, we are coming together with the families of the hostages,” Kobi Abarbanel, the librarian at Hartman, told JNS. 

“We came here while fasting, we did not eat or did not drink, in solidarity with the hostages in Hamas’s tunnels who are held against their will without food or drink, without hope. On this day, we wanted to feel the way they feel,” Abarbanel said.

The Fast of Esther is a dawn-to-nightfall fast held before the Purim festival, which commemorates the events that occurred during the Jewish exile in Persia as recorded in the Book of Esther. While the fast is generally celebrated on the day before Purim, when Purim falls on Sunday, the fast is moved from Shabbat to the preceding Thursday.

At “Hostage Square” near the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, JNS met Chai Lascar, 15, a Hartman student, who came to Israel from France as a toddler with his family.

“We hear about what is happening on the news, but here we are actually able to feel a little bit of what the hostages are going through in Gaza,” he said.

Lascar, whose grandparents still live in France, evoked the challenge that the Jewish community is experiencing back in his country of birth.

“It’s a catastrophe in this day and age to see some people get attacked and harassed because they are Jews. My grandparents are scared to leave their mezuzah on their doorway and are afraid to be identified as Jews,” he said.

Naomi Mandel from Jerusalem’s Hartman High School at “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv, March 21, 2024. Photo by Amelie Botbol.

Naomi Mandel, in charge of pedagogic activities at the religious boys school in the capital’s German Colony neighborhood, told JNS, “Today, on the Fast of Esther, we felt that we needed to organize this gathering and pray for the hostages to return as soon as possible. We brought every single student in our school to fast here.” 

Ahead of Purim, Israel’s Education Ministry warned against wearing “panic-inducing costumes” during the holiday as the country grapples with the war against Hamas that began on Oct. 7. The ministry recommended that teachers sit down with students and parents to discuss “how to properly celebrate the holiday” with the recognition of the “worry or sadness they experience.”

Many municipalities have decided to cancel or alter traditional events, including Holon, which has nixed the nation’s largest Adloyada Purim parade.

An exception is Jerusalem, which plans to celebrate the holiday as usual, including with a street party in the Nachlaot neighborhood near the Mahane Yehuda market and dressing famous buildings in monster costumes. 

The capital will host its first Purim Adloyada parade in more than four decades, which will include 30 floats and seven musical stages along the kilometer-long downtown route on Monday when the ancient walled city celebrates the holiday—Shushan Purim—on Sunday evening and Monday, a day after other places in the world.

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