Low-key Purim celebrations in Tel Aviv against backdrop of war


March 29, 2024

Amelie Botbol

Nirit from Gedera in Dizengoff Square with her husband and six children. March 24, 2024.

(JNS) - Tel Aviv's bustling Dizengoff Street was lined with people garbed in Purim costumes on Sunday, even as the celebrations were noticeably muted compared to years past due to the ongoing war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

"This year feels different with everything that has been happening. There are people who aren't celebrating with us because they can't and there are those who will never celebrate again," Zach Blank, 28, who immigrated to Tel Aviv from the United States 10 years ago, told JNS.

Blank was released from IDF reserve duty a month ago. He explained the significance of this celebration while looking at a makeshift memorial put together by members of the public at Dizengoff Square.

"I learned in the army to compartmentalize; I can celebrate and keep on with my life even when others can't. When my time comes again and I get called to serve, I will get back to do the job," he said.

Blank came to Dizengoff Square to hear the reading of the Purim megillah (scroll) at a prayer tent where dozens gathered.

"It's okay to have a good time but let's not forget what is happening in our country," added his friend Rachelle Gold, who made aliyah from Canada nine and a half years ago. "The atmosphere overall is somber. It's important to have a good time and enjoy ourselves, but at the same time we remember that there are 134 hostages held captive by Hamas in Gaza," Gold told JNS.

Dana, 22, from Tel Aviv, works as a waitress at Dizengoff Square's Beer Garden. She described each celebration as an opportunity to remember. 

Her friend Noa Argamani is one of 19 women still held by Hamas in Gaza.

"I was at a three-day festival this weekend where we honored the victims of the October 7 Hamas attacks. Everything we do is in memory of someone, whether it is a soldier who fell in battle or a resident of the Israeli communities near Gaza who was killed," Dana told JNS.

"I know that she [Argamani] would want me to be happy and try to enjoy life, even as our thoughts and hearts are with them. We are praying and hoping that next year will be different and that we will be able to enjoy things fully with them," she added.

For some, Purim has taken on a greater significance as Israel continues to battle enemies on the southern and northern borders. 

"We wanted to show everyone that we are still celebrating, that even as we are under attack and our enemies try to bring us down, we will not be defeated," Michelle, 23, who immigrated to Tel Aviv from Italy five years ago, told JNS. 

"On Purim, we defeated Haman in Persia. And we must pass on this fighting spirit and our victories from generation to generation. This year, we feel it even more, and that is why we should celebrate," she said. 

Michelle's husband, Yossi, 26, called on everyone to take part in Purim's tradition of giving. "It is a great mitzvah [commandment] to send mishloah manot [Purim baskets of food and drink], give charity to needy populations, and listen twice to the megillah. Right now, we are on our way to a mishteh [festive Purim meal]" Yossi told JNS. 

Even as they reiterate that they are not afraid, the couple admitted that they stay away from crowded places as a precaution. 

Some parents could not imagine foregoing celebrations.

"I wanted my children to feel the joy-if we can call it that this year. We made sure to put aside all our fears and reservations. We are strong. We will not show fear and we will allow our children to experience Purim as they should," Nirit, 43, a mother of six from Gedera, told JNS.  

On Thursday, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion decided to make some changes to Purim celebrations in Jerusalem after meeting with families of hostages held in Gaza, including renaming the city's Adloyada Purim parade, which is taking place in the capital for the first time in 42 years, as a "United Purim" parade.

Other cities including Holon and Tel Aviv decided to cancel parades and significantly tone down street celebrations-mindful of the Oct. 7 victims, bereaved families of soldiers killed in action in Israel's war to destroy Hamas in Gaza, displaced populations and families of the hostages.

Rodney Moise Bellaiche shared a message of hope with JNS.

"Purim is remembered as a day of victory for the Jewish people thanks to Esther and Mordechai. We are not afraid. It is our faith that allows us to go on. Hashem will hear our prayers and grant a miracle," he added. 

Amelie Botbol

Zach Blank approaches a prayer tent at Dizengoff Square to hear the recitation of the Purim megillah, March 24, 2024.

Such a miracle most certainly would include the release of hostages kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7, who remain in captivity after nearly six months.

The latest progress in negotiations includes Israel tentatively accepting a preliminary agreement brokered by the United States for the release of the female IDF soldiers held by Hamas in Gaza.

A delegation led by Mossad Director David Barnea returned to Israel on Saturday night after another round of talks took place in Doha, Qatar. Reports indicate that Jerusalem is willing to move forward with part of a broader agreement being hashed out that would include the release of five female IDF soldiers in exchange for 25 Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli prisons.

Jerusalem adamantly rejects Hamas's demand for a "permanent ceasefire" and the withdrawal of IDF troops from the Gaza Strip as part of any agreement to free more than 100 hostages still in captivity.


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