Tel Aviv comes to a halt for Purim festival

Israeli children dressed up in costumes in downtown Jerusalem, during the Jewish holiday of Purim when it is customary to dress up, March 24, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Some 100,000 costumed residents of Tel Aviv and surrounding towns are expected to take part in the city’s annual festival for the Jewish holiday of Purim on Friday.

The event follows dozens of similar festivities on Wednesday and Thursday throughout the country. The holiday is celebrated twice: in most places from Wednesday night to Thursday night, but a day later, from Thursday night to Friday night, in cities with ancient walls similar to those of the Persian capital of Susa where the Purim tale takes place.

Thus, while parties and parades kicked off in most places on Wednesday, many events — especially in the capital Jerusalem, which counts among the list of ancient walled cities, they lasted into Friday.

The holiday commemorates the Biblical tale of an averted genocide of the Jews in the Persian empire some 2,500 years ago.

One of the holiday’s official rules, as set down by the Talmudic Sages who formulated the Jewish legal tradition, requires that celebrants consume enough alcohol to render them unable to distinguish the Purim story’s villain, Haman, from its hero, Mordechai. It is the only day on the Jewish religious calendar that requires drunken revelry.

That may be one reason police are shutting down large parts of central Tel Aviv to vehicular traffic ahead of the pre-noon festival on Friday.

From 9:30 a.m., the metropolis’s famous Kikar Hamedina park was sealed off to motorists, with stretches of Weizmann, Jabotinsky, Pinkas, Lipski, Aryeh Akiva, Helsinki, Tashach and other roads closed by police. The city’s major north-south thoroughfare, Namir Rd., may also be closed for a time, officials warned.

The holiday’s second major tradition is the giving of mishloach manot, gift packages of food and wine.

Ahead of the holiday, President Reuven Rivlin took the initiative, carrying a basket of treats to an Israeli family living near the President’s Residence.

In a Thursday video, Rivlin is seen carrying the basket up the stairs of an apartment building, and being greeted at a doorway by a man in an Israel Defense Forces reserves uniform.

Inside, Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, chat with the young people living in the apartment, who are apparently students. They recall nostalgically their own days in a “student apartment.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also released a Purim video showing himself visiting the IDF’s Kfir Brigade in the Etzion Bloc of the West Bank.

Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, shake hands with troops, at one point meeting a French-speaking soldier. Sara Netanyahu asks him if he came to Israel with his family, or as a “lone soldier.” He tells the Netanyahus he came alone, eliciting a “Well done” from the prime minister.

“My wife and I came in the name of all the people of Israel to bring you these holiday gifts,” Netanyahu tells the troops, “but also to express the appreciation of the entire nation, and its thanks. Every day, you defend the citizens of Israel here in the Etzion Bloc, and the entire country.”

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