Celebrating Purim with PACT
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by Julie Jaslow Auerbach
Life in Israel is more than what you read in the news. This time of year, Jews all over Israel are getting ready to celebrate Purim! Bags of pre-packaged mishloach manot (Purim gift baskets) filled with oznei Haman (hamentashen), candy, games, drinks, masks, and more have been on sale in the supermarkets for weeks. Costumes of all sizes and funny hats are sold in small stores on almost every block. Children, teens, and even adults appear on the streets in costumes, hats or bits of make-up. Jerusalem billboards announce a myriad of upcoming parties all over the city. Even during the Jerusalem Marathon this past Friday, there was a festive atmosphere as the city’s residents came out en masse to cheer 25,000 friends and relatives. Jerusalem's Purim celebrations are unique. Because it is a walled city, Jerusalem celebrates Shushan Purim, which is the day after Purim.
On Sunday my husband and I traveled to Kiryat Gat to visit a PACT program, a Federation-supported initiative. Aimed at Ethiopian-Israeli children ages 6 months to 12 years, PACT closes the developmental and performance gap that separates the immigrant population from their peers. Arriving at the gan (preschool), we were immediately greeted by 35 (the average Israeli classroom size) mostly Ethiopian-Israeli children gaily singing Purim songs. Like the room at the Jerusalem gan where I volunteer twice a week, a corner was designed as a castle with all kinds of costumes for the children to try on, and another corner had an aron hakodesh (ark) with a Torah scroll. The atmosphere was, like Jerusalem, celebratory.
To hear the family story of Elimelech Kessay, Kiryat Gat’s PACT manager, as they journeyed from Gondar, Ethiopia to Israel, we sat in the gan’s bomb shelter (because of past conflicts, each Israeli school has a room specifically built to be a protective shelter, in addition to a guard at the gate to each school). Surrounded by resource boxes for Pesach, Yom Ha’atzmaut and other Jewish holidays and mishloach manot the children had prepared for IDF soldiers, we listened intently. We learned how his family began preparing for the journey without knowing when they would leave. Twice they attempted to leave Gondar without success. Each time they traveled by night and slept by day to avoid rapists and thieves along the way. We could not but help think about the parallels to Pesach.
What kept the family going through all of the challenges they faced? It was the strength of their grandfather’s belief that they would succeed in reaching a new and better Jewish life in Israel. An amazing story. An amazing edah (Jewish ethnic group). An amazing time to remember.
Chag Purim Sameach (Happy Purim)!