Israel Prepares for Unorthodox ‘Corona Purim’
In Petah Tikva, Israel, families drive their cars around fantasy-themed sets inhabited by actors – a socially distanced alternative to the traditional Adloyada parade, February 2021. (Courtesy Petah Tikva municipality)

Israel Prepares for Unorthodox ‘Corona Purim’

Anxious to avoid major increase in COVID-19 cases, Israel prepares for an unusually quiet Purim celebration

Afraid of a spike in cases expected to follow Purim revelries, Israel has declared strict limitations on congregating during the holiday, which include a nightly curfew between 8:30 pm and 5 am. Meanwhile, people throughout the country are preparing to celebrate differently this year.

Purim 2020 caught Israel off guard. Necessary adjustments due to the pandemic had not yet hit home and Israelis failed to break their custom of celebrating the revelatory holiday with parties and events. The country saw the immediate results of these actions when a spike in COVID-19 cases forced the country into lockdown.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men dressed in costumes celebrate Purim in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, March 11, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images)

Concerned with experiencing a repeat of last year, and with vaccinations pushing many to treat the limitations more lightly, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry issued a joint statement stipulating that congregations are forbidden, as well as all “parties, Adloyada processions [annual holiday parades] and large-scale events.” The statement also directed that holiday meals be limited to nuclear families. In addition, on Tuesday the government decided to enforce a strict nightly lockdown during the holiday, in force from 8:30 pm to 5 am, which forbids being more than a kilometer away from one’s home and visiting other homes.

The Jewish holiday of Purim is celebrated by all the Jewish sectors in Israel with parties, large family get-togethers, mass events and congregating in synagogues for the recitation the holiday’s Book of Esther.

“For everyone, as well as for the police, Purim this year will be slightly different, in light of the coronavirus,” Hilla Amar, spokesperson for the Israel Police’s Operations Directorate, told The Media Line. Amar says that there are no large events planned or approved, and the police are monitoring social media and other intelligence sources to discover illegal events that are being planned. “We will be there [at the parties] to enforce” the ban, she says, “and we’ll impose fines when necessary.”

To enforce the government limitations and the curfew, Amar says that stations in sensitive areas will be reinforced with additional manpower. Also, the Israel Police plans to erect checkpoints throughout the country.

Meanwhile, some in Israel have simply chosen to pursue an alternative method of celebration. Adloyada Purim parades were specifically banned as mass events. The municipality of Petah Tikva found a creative way to circumvent the ban by grounding the parade in a city park and allowing families in their cars to round the show without risking any potentially infectious interaction. “We built the show in a large park that has a path around it and the cars drive by,” Michal Maor, the municipality spokesperson, told The Media Line. Fantasy-themed sets were created, with actors inhabiting them. Families are able to enjoy the show in their own cars; getting out and wandering on foot is prohibited.

In Petah Tikva, Israel, families drive their cars around fantasy-themed sets inhabited by actors in a creative replacement for the traditional Adloyada Purim parade, February 2021. (Courtesy Petah Tikva municipality)

Many eyes are turned to the Haredi sector, which has been blamed for lax observation of COVID-19 regulations. Large-scale celebrations are customary during Haredi Purim and are a part of fulfilling the holiday’s religious obligations. This year, however, Haredi journalist Yehoshua Rudnick expects the vast majority of events to be canceled. “More than 90% of the leading rabbis have instructed not to hold the events and everyone has canceled,” he told The Media Line. “Of course there are extremists,” he admits, that may hold events just like they choose not to receive the vaccine, but they are a very small percentage, “a small fringe.”

Customarily, yeshivas raise funds during Purim, a time when Jews are particularly commanded to give alms to the poor. In order to raise money, yeshiva representatives visit donors during the celebrations. To avoid the danger of infection that this would cause, however, Rudnick says that many have decided to make their rounds using the phone. The journalist’s popular Haredi news site Hamechadesh is allowing yeshivas to advertise for fundraising free of charge, to encourage this safer practice.

Rabbi Eli Landesman of the Mir Yeshiva, a famous institution and the world’s largest yeshiva, agrees. “In my opinion, there will be barely any” events, he told The Media Line. His yeshiva is shifting the holiday celebrations as well. “It won’t be Purim like we’re used to,” he said. There will be a religiously mandated feast but “no dancing” this year.

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