Purim in Israel
Purim in Israel is one of the most festive times of the year. There is simply joy in the air - it's tangible country-wide! What makes this holiday so special?
The story goes that long, long ago, evil Haman wanted to destroy the Jewish people. He had nearly convinced King Ahasuerus to do so when fierce Esther steps in -- she ultimately marries the king. Through her bravery, the Jews were saved, and we recount this miracle every Purim through reading the Megillat Esther. This is the first of the four mitzvot (commandments) of the holiday.
You can find readings multiple times a day, in all of the different synagogues or beitei knesset in Israel. Even this year with the Coronavirus, we anticipate there will be lots of outdoor readings and celebrations. It's important to hear the Megillat Esther on Purim to fulfill the mitzvah (positive commandment)!
The next mitzvah of the holiday is the Purim meal or Seudat Purim. The meal is supposed to happen during the day and is meant to be rich, plentiful, and delicious. Of course, drinking wine and merriment is a huge part of the holiday, and it's customary to drink a lot of wine or alcohol.
It's also traditional to dress up in a costume on Purim. Part of this stems from all of the miracles of Purim being "hidden" in the story. Though they are not overtly mentioned, it's obvious a miracle happened! It's also said that the custom originated in Italy, where the spirit of "Carnival" fused with the holiday of Purim, hence the costumes. Whatever the reason is, we love to dress up, and you will see everyone in Israel in costume for Purim. Children, parents, bus drivers, cashiers, even dogs--everyone is celebrating the holiday!
The third mitzvah is "Mishloah Manot," which essentially means "sending portions." It must include two different foods or drinks that can be immediately consumed (meaning you don't have to cook them) and of course you can add more goodies! People tend to make creative gift baskets for the occasion to send to their friends.
The fourth mitzvah of Purim is to give to the poor, at least two people. For obvious reasons, this mitzvah fits along with the spirit of Purim. Though we are celebrating, we must not forget those less fortunate.