Purim Israel – The Jewish Mardi Gras

Purim is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the Jewish people being saved from persecution over 2000 years ago. It is one of the most joyous Jewish holidays.

9th March 2020

10th March 2020

Days to start

What is Purim?

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Purim is a Jewish holiday that celebrates a failed attempt by an ancient Persian King to wipe out the Jewish population over 2000 years ago. The story is recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther and occurs in the ancient Achaemenid Persian Empire.

The story follows Esther the chosen wife and Queen of King Ahasuerus who uses her influence to save the Jewish people in the empire from a bloody massacre by Haman the advisor to King who conspired to kill the Jews.

When is Purim?

Adar is a month on the Hebrew calendar and Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar, except in the cities that were protected by a wall that existed during the Biblical time of Joshua, for example Jerusalem. In those cities Purim is celebrated on the 15th of Adar.  

The 15th of Adar is known as Shushan Purim.” It is also known as being a day of joy and celebration even in the places where Purim has already occurred.

When is Purim 2020?

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In 2020, Purim begins at sundown on Monday, March 9th which is Purim Eve and concludes at sunset on Tuesday, March 10th, 2020 which is Purim Day. Wednesday 11th March is Shushan Purim, or Purim Day in the walled cities such as Jerusalem.

What does Purim mean?

The Purim definition refers to lottery system that Haman used to decide what day the massacre would occur. The lot he selected fell on the 14th day of Adar which why Purim is celebrated on this day. Purim actually means “lots” in ancient Persian.

The Jewish Mardi Gras

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Purim is often called the Jewish Mardi Gras because of its carnival-like celebrations. Purim is a big deal in Israel and the Purim celebrations occur all over the country. Street parties, parades and dressing up in costumes occur in almost every city, town and village in Israel.

The Jewish holiday of Purim is actually more of a national holiday than a religious holiday. There are not large celebrations for Purim outside of Israel.

How do they celebration Purim?

Purim is filled with parades, parties, costumes, alcohol, food and lots of merrymaking. Purim is like Halloween because everyone dresses up in costumes, even the adults! You will see adults walking all around town in costumes.  

Even those who aren’t religious will still join in the Purim festivities dressing up, drinking, eating and being merry.

What is the story of Purim?

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What is Purim in the Bible? The Story of Purim pays homage to a brave young woman named Esther, from the Book of Esther. The tale begins with ancient Persian King Ahasuerus who ruled some 2500 years ago.

The King was searching for a wife and selected Esther an orphaned girl who was being fostered by her first cousin Mordecai to become his new wife and queen.

Meanwhile Haman who is the Kings’ advisor conspired grand plans to kill all the Jewish minority in the empire. He obtained King Ahasuerus’ permission to do so, as well as the funds to execute the plan. He casted purims a lottery to select the date for this genocide.

Mordecai who is Jewish goes into public mourning upon hearing about these plans along with the other Jews in the Ahasuerus’ empire. Esther who is also Jewish unbeknownst to the King is persuaded by Mordecai to use her influence to stop the plan from going ahead suggesting that maybe it is fate that she was selected to become Queen.

Saving the Jewish People from Genocide

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At the time a Queen was not allowed to go before the King without being summoned, punishment for doing this was the death penalty. Esther decided that she didn’t care about the consequences and had to try anyway, in order to save her people and that she didn’t care if she died.

To prepare for her meeting Esther decides to fast and pray for three days and requests that all the Jews in the Empire fast with her. On the third day she works up the courage to seek an audience with the King inviting him to a feast the next day. Luckily the King accepts her invitation.

The next evening both King Ahasuerus and Haman attended Esther’s banquet. At the banquet she reveals that she herself is Jewish and that Haman is planning to kill her and her people. This enrages the King who orders Haman to be hanged.

King Ahasuerus allows Mordecai and Esther to create a decree replacing Haman’s one. Mordecai and Esther create a decree that the Jews may pre-emptively kill those who pose a lethal risk to them.

This results in the deaths of 75,000 Jewish people’s enemies. Mordecai becomes the second rank to King Ahasuerus and creates an annual commemoration to remember how the Jewish people were saved from annihilation.

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How is Purim celebrated?

In the Biblical Book of Esther, it states that Purim celebrations should be about “feasting and gladness, sending portions to one another and gifts to the poor….  There are four main Purim celebrations that include:

  • Hear the Meglillah aka the Book of Esther
  • Give to the needy
  • Send Food Gifts to friends
  • Feast!!

Public Recitation of the Book of Esther

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People head out to the synagogue to hear the whole Book of Esther which is called the Megillah being read out. This must be done twice, first on Purim night, and again on Purim day.

It is important that you listen carefully to the story and take in every word. When Haman’s name is mentioned people stamp their feet and makes noises to eradicate the name. In addition to a public reading of the Book of Esther everyone must also say special prayers.

Everyone must donate to the less fortunate

purim israel

One of the most important features of Purim is Jewish unity. A beautiful Purim tradition is donating to the poor. One can give either money or food donations and they must to do to at least two people during the daylight hours of Purim. They must also place two coins in a charity collection box.

Exchanging gifts of food and drink

Purim emphasises the importance of community, friendship and togetherness and this is demonstrated by a lovely Purim tradition of giving and receiving food and drink packages between Jewish family and friends. This custom has grown into a major gift giving event. 

The parcels are called Mishloach manots and people must send at least two different ready-to eat food items to at least one Jewish acquaintance during the day light hours of Purim. The gifts must be delivered via a third party and even children give candy to their friends on Purim.

It’s important to know that you don’t spend more on the gifts then you did donating to charity.

Feast!

purim israel

During Purim people will gather together with family and friends and celebrate with a large feast called Seudat Purim! The meal traditionally begins before sundown and lasts late into the night. Fasting is actually prohibited on Purim!

The table should be beautifully decorated, and the dinner should include lots of meat, singing, laughing, having fun and drinking. In fact, consuming lots of alcohol is common and there is a saying that one should drink until he is not able to tell the different between Haman and Mordechai.

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The Fast of Esther

On the day prior to Purim, the 13th of Adar, everyone must do the Fast of Esther. The Fast of Esther means that nobody can eat or drink to honour Esther’s three day fast before she approached the King. The fast starts an hour before sunrise and lasts until nightfall.

Why do people dress up for Purim?

purim israel

The primary tradition of Purim is rejoicing! It’s all about celebrating how the Jewish people were saved from Haman’s plans. Pretty much everyone dresses up for Purim wearing costumes or masks, or at the very least their best clothing.

Kids wear costumes to school, adults wear costumes to work. The most popular costumes are the King, Queen Esther, Mordecai and Haman.

It is speculated that the custom of masquerading originated in the 15th century influenced by Roman carnival celebrations that spread across Europe. Others say that it is a way to emulate God who is always present yet always concealed.

During Purim there are plenty of costume contests occurring or re-enactments of the story of Esther. There are plenty of public celebrations that occur throughout Israel in the city of Tel Aviv a free street party occurs that is attended by thousands of people, all dressed in costumes.

Eating Haman’s Ears

On Purim everyone eats Haman’s ears which are the traditional food eaten during Purim. They are essentially triangular cookies with various fillings of chocolate or jam, dates, cheese or other various fillings called hamantash. The origin of this tradition is a mystery but probably comes from the old tradition of cutting of a criminal’s ears.

Holon Adloyada

purim israel

Purim parades which are called Adloyada, and they occur all over Israel. But the biggest and the most famous Purim Parade occurs in Holon. The Adloyada in Holon, just south of Tel Aviv! The parade draws crowds of over 150,000 people.

The parade features elaborately decorated giant floats, 4,000 dancers, drummers, bands and street performers who all participate in the parade. It is a great day for the whole family! The event is free to attend and begins at 12pm starting from Sokolov Weizmann Street at the corner of Golomb. Join in the fun and were a costume or some bright colours!

Purim in Tel Aviv

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Purim in the capital city does not disappoint! There are loads of events to choose from, but the biggest event is a huge street party that occurs in Kikar HaMedina – the State’s Square. Thousands of people come together dressed in costume. It is free to attend and there are performances from top musicians. Expect huge crowds of people singing, dancing, eating, drinking and merrymaking!

Another popular event is the Tel Aviv Purim Zombie Walk! Join thousands of people, dressed as Zombies who parade through the streets of the city. The event begins at 21:30 on the corner of Ben-Zion Boulevard and King George (close to the Dizengoff Center).

Purim in Jerusalem

purim israel

If you want to celebrate Purim in the city of gold, there are plenty of events occurring all across from Jerusalem from parties to carnivals, there is something for everyone! The main Purim event in Jerusalem takes place in Safra Square. 

Jerusalem Purim at Safra Square is designed for kids with lots of family-friendly events including circus acts, costume competitions, live music performances, arts and crafts workshops. There are also performances from top Israeli television stars and musicians.

If this is not for you there are plenty of Purim Parties like Jerusalem’s Nachalot Street Party, held on Nisim Bachar Street and is free to attend. There is also the Purim Rave Party at the Tower of David, a Purim Party at the Shuka and so much more. There are also numerous Purim events held in the numerous museums.

Getting to Israel

Getting to Israel is becoming simpler and more affordable with more flight routes flying between Europe and North America opening up. The majority of people fly into Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport which has flights from most major European and American airlines. To get a quote for a flight click here.

To get to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, the most common way is by a sherut, which is a shared taxi. This takes under an hour. Get a quote for a rental car here.  

It is also possible to enter Israel from both Egypt and Jordan via land border crossing which is common for those travelling across the Middle East.

Where to stay for Purim

Check out some hotel deals in Jerusalem here.

Check out some hotel deals in Tel Aviv here.

Before you go!

We can’t stress the enough the importance of travel insurance! Being protected on your travels gives you an irreplaceable peace of mind. Don’t learn the hard way about the importance of travel insurance. Never travel without coverage!

Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads.

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