Mobilizing Communities to Stand Up for Israel

The Israel-Hamas conflict, rooted in historical animosities, has sparked a global surge in antisemitism. Following the breach of the Israeli border and the unprovoked attack by Hamas on October 7, the international Jewish community has rallied together, mobilizing various communities to express solidarity with Israel. This unity was notably evident at the Washington, D.C. Mall, where 200,000 individuals from diverse backgrounds convened to condemn Hamas violence and stand in support of those affected.

The Washington, D.C. event attracted people from various communities, including Jewish and non-Jewish politicians, representatives from Black, Christian, and Iranian communities, and families directly impacted by the crisis. The atmosphere at the gathering was intense yet joyous, with a collective determination to denounce Hamas violence and provide support to those affected. A 2.5-hour transcript of the rally is available for reference.

In light of Hamas’ declared intention to repeat the October 7 attacks and their desire to annihilate Israel while holding over 240 hostages, our collective stance is centred on supporting Israeli efforts to recover all hostages. Simultaneously, we are committed to working towards the permanent elimination of Hamas’ power in Gaza, aiming to prevent them from orchestrating any future attacks.

Our resolve remains unwavering as we pursue these goals, united and firm. We sincerely hope that diplomatic and peaceful avenues can be explored to address the root causes of the conflict and pave the way for a lasting resolution that ensures peace for all in the region.

Pro-Israel students at Concordia recently organized a gathering to voice their opposition against violent Palestinian activities on campus. Julia Langleben, a McGill student, passionately addressed the rally, sharing her experiences and detailing the intimidation faced by pro-Israel students since October 7. A detailed account of her speech is available, and the Montreal Gazette has also covered the event.

Additionally, a peaceful protest took place on the steps of Place Des Arts in Montreal, aiming to demand the release of hostages held by Hamas.

Amid a snowstorm on December 4, I joined thousands of people in Ottawa to express our support for Israel and demand the release of hostages held by Hamas. The diverse gathering comprised individuals from various backgrounds, including politicians, community leaders, representatives from the Ukrainian, Persian, Black, and Christian communities, religious leaders from different faiths, and worried family members of the hostages. You can find the coverage here.

Voices of Support: Diverse Perspectives on Israel in the Current Conflict

In the ongoing Israel/Hamas conflict, various notable voices provide unique perspectives:

  1. Mosab Hassan Yousef: The eldest son of Hamas co-founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef, Mosab defected from the terrorist organization in 2005. His 2010 book, “Son of Hamas,” offers a firsthand account of his experiences, revealing atrocities committed by Hamas against prisoners in Israeli jails. He shared his insights with the University of Michigan students on November 29, 2023. Watch the discussion here. In the book, he reports that he “first saw the light” after a stint in an Israeli jail during the mid-1990s. At Megiddo Prison, he witnessed Hamas inmates leading a brutal year-long campaign to weed out supposed Israeli collaborators. During that time, he said, “Hamas tortured and killed hundreds of prisoners.” He recalled vivid memories of needles being inserted under fingernails and bodies charred with burning plastics. Many, if not all, had nothing to do with Israeli intelligence. “I will never forget their screams,” he continued. “I started asking myself a question: What if Hamas succeeded in destroying Israel and building a state? Will they destroy our people in this way?”
  2. Douglas Murray: An esteemed academic and scholar, Murray contributes a well-researched perspective on the geopolitical dynamics of the Israel/Hamas conflict. He founded the Centre for Social Cohesion in 2007 and discussed current deaths in Gaza during an interview with Piers Morgan on Sky News. Watch the interview here.
  3. Niall Ferguson, John Cochrane, and Stephen Kotkin: Esteemed scholars in their respective fields, they shared valuable insights on the geopolitics of the Middle East in a discussion at Stanford’s Hoover Institute. Their conversation reviewed the challenges posed by the war and discussed possible outcomes. Watch the entire debate here.
  4. Brigitte Gabriel: An American citizen of Lebanese Christian origin, Gabriel founded the NGO Act for America after seeking refuge in the U.S. following the Islamic takeover of Lebanon. Her mission is to raise awareness about Islamism’s challenge in America. Watch her perspective here.

The Price of Peace

Amidst the ongoing conflict in Gaza, the toll on human lives and the impact on all communities are stark. However, the Israeli cost of war is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media.

Today, on December 22, the IDF announced the deaths of two more soldiers killed during the fighting in the Gaza Strip, bringing the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 139.

Lt. Shai Ayeli and Sgt. First Class Tal Shua

1- Lt. Shai Ayeli, 21:

  • Cadet in the Bahad 1 officers’ school’s Gefen Battalion.
  • He previously served in the Air Force’s Unit 669 and is from Ashkelon.

2- Sgt. First Class (res.) Tal Shua, 31:

  • Combat Engineering Corps’ 7071st Battalion, from Beersheba.
  • Israeli hospitals are currently treating over 10,000 seriously injured individuals.

In response to the events of October 8, Israel faced a challenging situation that required swift mobilization of resources to address the aftermath of the unfortunate incident. Immediate priorities included providing comfort to survivors, laying the deceased to rest, and relocating evacuees from the southern border to central Israel and Eilat. At the same time, due to the looming threat posed by Hezbollah from Lebanon and Syria, communities near the northern border were also evacuated.

The situation’s urgency prompted the mobilization of 300,000 reserve soldiers, presenting a formidable logistical challenge in equipping, housing, and feeding such a large force. The commendable sight of local and international volunteers supporting these efforts was noteworthy. An additional 300,000 Israelis willingly returned to military service, and global volunteers offered hands-on assistance throughout the country, including the essential task of harvesting crops left unattended during the crisis.

Beyond the workforce, the response extended to the financial realm, with millions of dollars swiftly collected from the general public, exceeding $60 million within the first month and eventually surpassing a billion. The war’s guiding motto, “Byahad Nenatzayach” – “United, we will be victorious,” underscores the imperative of overcoming a ruthless adversary that, for ideological reasons, refuses to acknowledge Israel as a cooperative neighbour.

While acknowledging constant appeals for humanitarian aid for Gaza, it is crucial to keep in mind that Hamas initiated this conflict, and the situation has been complicated by their lack of concern for their civilian population. Resources provided in the past have been diverted to constructing extensive and costly attack tunnels and training children in activities that run counter to fostering peaceful coexistence. It is essential to understand these factors to comprehend the dynamics fueling the current conflict.

During a recent press conference, Secretary of State Tony Blinken emphasized the need to address the underlying causes of the conflict and hold Hamas accountable for its actions. He stressed the urgency of disarming Hamas, stopping the use of civilians as shields, and surrendering to achieve a faster resolution to the conflict.

“One of the things that’s striking to me is that, understandably, everyone would like to see this conflict end as quickly as possible, but if it ends with Hamas remaining in place and having the capacity and the stated intent to repeat October 7 again and again and again, that’s not in the interests of Israel, it’s not in the interests of the region, it’s not in the interests of the world. What is striking to me is that even as we hear many countries urging an end to this conflict… I hear virtually no one demanding of Hamas that it stop hiding behind civilians, that it lay down its arms, that it surrender. This would be over tomorrow if Hamas were to do that.”

A Call for Peace

As we embark on the joyous holiday season, let us reflect on Chanukah’s timeless message, which transcends all faiths. It highlights the idea of breaking free from oppression, representing the victory of freedom over physical slavery and harmful ideologies.

Judaism and Israel have consistently aspired to preserve our way of life and actively collaborate to foster global harmony. Israel, demonstrating its commitment to humanitarian values, has consistently been at the forefront, extending aid to any nation grappling with natural or artificial disasters.

Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and whichever religion you practice. May we all contribute to increasing peace and harmony in our shared world. May we all witness the freeing of our hostages and the achievement of everlasting peace in Israel and worldwide. Hashta b’agala oo’bzman kariv – Speedily and soon in our present time!

Confronting Antisemitism in Canada and Beyond

I recently visited Israel and witnessed the events that unfolded on October 7. The conflict began when Hamas, the ruling power in Gaza, breached Israel’s border defences on October 7, deploying three thousand Palestinians, trained fighters as well as ordinary civilians who invaded peaceful communities committing acts of violence and capturing as hostages over 230, men women and children of all ages. It’s worth noting that regular Israeli citizens played a vital role in swiftly stopping the attackers on the very first day, even before the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) arrived. The rapid response and intervention by the local police and ordinary citizens was remarkable and saved many lives.

Upon my return to Canada, on October 16 and 17, I attended a conference in Ottawa, focused on addressing the issue of the resurgence of antisemitism in present-day Canada. This event, organized by CIJA, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Canada, had been planned before the outbreak of the current war against Hamas in Gaza. The conference brought together a diverse group of 1,500 individuals, including 250 high school and college students as well as many professionals, law enforcement officers, NGO leaders, educators and scholars of many fields. They all came together to address the problem of the resurgent hatred towards Jews and Israel appearing in Canadian society including the newly insidious strain emanating from social media platforms.

Notable figures, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and opposition leader Pierre Polievre, gave keynote addresses, emphasizing the gravity of the situation and reinforcing the collective resolve against illegal discrimination towards Jews. One of the most impactful accounts came from a teacher from the Ottawa Public School System, who courageously shared shocking revelations about the persistent bullying of the youngest Jewish pupils in Ottawa’s elementary public schools.

The gathering also offered an opportunity for intimate dialogues with Members of Parliament: I was assigned to meet with Sherry Romanado, Federal Member of Parliament for the district of Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, and Brad Redekopp, Federal Member of Parliament for Saskatoon West. Their openness highlighted the potential for collaborative parliamentary action on this file and paved the way for sustained advocacy, a commitment shared by all participants determined to confront antisemitism head-on.

The most important lesson highlighted by the conference was that “silence is collusion”: Silence is what enables antisemites and the spread of antisemitism. The conference also pointed to the power of collective action to bring about significant change. However, even as the conference ended, we became aware of the dire necessity for action in this area: A Palestinian protest was taking place in Ottawa outside the doors of the conference hall and we were advised not to exit via the main doors; It served as a stark reminder of the obstacles to be overcome. Given these realities, we all must reaffirm our unwavering commitment to fight against the poison of antisemitism whatever its source, utilizing the lessons of the past to guide us toward a more inclusive and just future for Jews and all peoples in Canada. If Jews can be singled out, anyone can be singled out for persecution and lawlessness must be vigorously addressed by all governmental authorities.

Resilience and Unity: How the Jewish Community Responds

The Jewish people have a long and proud history of solidarity with their brethren, exhibiting remarkable resilience in adversity over centuries of exile from their homeland, Israel. Jewish communities in every diaspora have consistently demonstrated their commitment to caring for orphans, widows, and strangers among them. In Montreal, this noble endeavour is entrusted to the Federation-CJA, which tirelessly works to provide for those in need. Every year, the community comes together for a fundraising campaign, gathering funds for these essential services. This year’s mission included raising urgent funds for the war effort in Israel, initiated on the very first day of the conflict.

Our enduring traditions, commitment to Torah study, and alignment with Torah principles have provided sustenance for the Jewish people throughout millennia in both prosperous and challenging times. This emphasis on regular Jewish practice is pivotal in our collective efforts to support Israel’s existential war of survival, the eradication of the threat to our people from Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran as well as the local threats of antisemitism. Whether inside or outside Israel, we are all dedicated to the common good, working towards the recovery of our captives and the elimination of threats like Hamas, ensuring the safety of our people worldwide.

The issue of antisemitism, which is the ongoing hatred and discrimination towards Jews, has been a long-standing problem. The Jewish community has always acknowledged this issue, as evidenced in the following passage from our Passover seder:

Through the ages, many groups have risen to destroy us. But the Holy One, Blessed Be, always saves us from their hand!

She’ lo echad bilvad amad aleinu l’chaloteinuV’ha Kadosh, Baruch Hu, matzileynu mi’yadam. (Hebrew)

On April 7, 2020, the talented Ishai Ribo enchanted the audience with his rendering of this Passover classic, ‘Vehi She’amda.’ With his mesmerizing vocals, he breathed life into the timeless lyrics, reminding us that throughout history, many have tried to bring harm to our people.

 

In today’s world, where we’re bombarded with news of conflict and suffering, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless. But in the midst of this, we can find hope and purpose in the belief that each of us has a role to play in bringing about positive change whether standing up against injustice or simply being present for those in need, we can all be agents of goodness and positive change.

Think about when you’ve seen kindness or compassion make a difference, whether in your life or the world around you. Those moments are like glimpses of the divine, reminding us of our power to create miracles through our actions.

And it’s not just about individual efforts. When we come together as a community, our impact multiplies. Regardless of our backgrounds or beliefs, we share a common humanity and a responsibility to make the world a better place for everyone.

In our tradition from time immemorial, we pray for the time when “the lion shall lie down with the lamb”  a time of peace in which the strong and the weak coexist peacefully for the greater good. Chazan Mutlu from Central Synagogue in NYC recorded a prayer that is regularly recited on behalf of Jews facing adversity, wherever they may be, on land or sea. The prayer seeks the boundless mercy of God to release those in distress, from darkness to light, from slavery to freedom. In the present time, we fervently pray for the speedy release of over 230 hostages captured by Hamas on October 7 “Hashta ba’agala uvizman kariv.” – speedily and in nearest time!

 

My Journey in Israel from October 7-12: A Chronicle of the Jewish Community’s Resilience

I travelled to Israel from October 7-12 and experienced many emotions while witnessing the Jewish community’s resilience. The backdrop was set against the celebration of Simchat Torah, a jubilant occasion marking the completion of the annual Torah readings and the commencement of a new cycle.

I joined my nephew Rabbi Yair Silverman’s synagogue on October 7 for the Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah festivities. This marked a significant end to the Rosh Hashana-Yom Kippur-Sukkot holiday season. Simchat Torah is a unique event that signifies the completion of the annual synagogue readings of The Five Books of Moses, or the Torah, and the start of a new cycle with the story of Genesis/Bereishit, narrating the tale of the world’s creation.

Before the service started, Rabbi Silverman shared unsettling news about an ongoing attack in Israel. He offered refuge to anyone needing to return home but committed to continuing the service. Despite this news, most of the congregation stood together and decided to proceed with the synagogue services. The atmosphere remained festive throughout the day, and we reconvened at 6 p.m. for a scheduled talk by a congregation member and the closing service.

Later in the evening, we learned that Israel was in conflict with Hamas in Gaza. Rabbi Silverman received a remarkable phone call from a Rabbi in Tel Aviv that night. A couple scheduled to marry the next day insisted on proceeding with their wedding in Zichron Yaakov. This request was based on rabbinic teachings that emphasized not delaying joyous occasions, such as weddings or bar mitzvahs, even in the face of adversity.

A Joyous Wedding Amidst Adversity

Rabbi Silverman took on the responsibility and orchestrated a wedding for the young couple and their entourage with the support of his congregation. The heartfelt ceremony took place the very next day, on Sunday, October 8, at 1 p.m., hosted within the walls of their small synagogue housed in a school. The bride’s extended family and close friends attended the momentous occasion while adhering to cherished traditions. The synagogue community, spanning generations, celebrated the joyous event with the family, inviting strangers to participate as guests. This is a customary practice in the joy of a wedding celebration. Fortunately, I captured a video of this event, and the family graciously permitted me to share these precious moments with you.

Return to Jerusalem and Changing Realities

I drove back to my apartment in Jerusalem the next day, around noon. It’s located in the heart of Israel, amidst the picturesque Judean hills, and it takes about ninety minutes to reach from Zichron Yaakov, which lies just south of Haifa along the Mediterranean coast. When I arrived, my phone buzzed incessantly with updates from various WhatsApp groups, each one fervently discussing how to handle the unfolding situation. They shared information about cancellations, recommendations, and what events were still on track. Among them, my pilates community was particularly active, already planning for a class the following day.

My tickets for the highly anticipated concert featuring Ishay Ribo, a renowned artist celebrated for his soul-stirring interpretations of biblical texts, were initially scheduled for October 8 at Jerusalem’s Binyanei Hauma. However, they were cancelled, and refunds were promptly issued. To taste Ishay Ribo’s artistry, here’s a snippet from one of his concerts on a Jerusalem stage, dated November 26, 2019, retrieved from YouTube. Kicking off the evening’s musical journey, he performs “Modeh Ani,” a heartfelt ode expressing gratitude for each new day, a prayer commonly recited at dawn. What’s remarkable is the harmonious unity of the audience, fervently joining their voices in this melodic prayer. These concerts transcend mere musical performances; they evoke the essence of a collective spiritual experience akin to a live prayer service.

 

We were instructed by government authorities through official media channels and WhatsApp groups to prepare our homes for the current reality. This included ensuring everyone had enough water, food, flashlights, and transistor radios for their bomb shelters. I went to the mall with my friend Sarah Kraft, who offered to drive. During our visit, we explored various establishments such as the electronics store, hardware shop, health food boutique, and supermarket. While searching for transistor radios, we faced an unexpected challenge: the electronics store was out of stock. Fortunately, they directed us to a nearby place specializing in cell phones, where we purchased the last two radios available.

People in Israel came together to ensure soldiers and civilians were well-equipped with essential resources. Some gathered protective gear and ammunition, while others prepared meals for the 300,000 reservists called to duty at short notice. Meanwhile, many groups provided spiritual support through communal activities like singing, dancing, and Torah classes, both in-person and online via platforms like Zoom. Additionally, they crafted “tzitzit,” undergarments adorned with fringes to symbolize connection to the Torah, which were offered to any soldiers who wanted them.

In my Jerusalem residence, we are fortunate to have a bomb shelter in the building. However, my friend Sarah, who lives in a building without one, faced a difficult decision. We had to choose how to prepare for the uncertain times ahead. Despite having a pre-scheduled direct Air Canada flight back to Montreal on Thursday, October 12, all international flights to and from Tel Aviv were suddenly cancelled, leaving El Al as the only airline operating in and out of Ben Gurion airport.

I contacted my travel agent, who suggested purchasing an El Al ticket to Zurich, allowing Air Canada to honour my ticket and continue my journey to Montreal. I decided to proceed with this option. Before my departure, I entrusted Sarah with the keys to my apartment so she could access the air raid shelter if necessary.

Returning to Montreal

Upon my arrival, I was extremely grateful to have received an invitation to join my cousins for dinner on Friday night. The following day, I attended the Shabbat morning synagogue service with Rabbi Poupko at my usual place of worship. The atmosphere during the service was familiar, except for a brief additional prayer dedicated to remembering hostages and a heartfelt rendition of Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem. Hatikvah, also known as the “Hope” or “Aspiration,” resonates with the two-thousand-year-old yearning of the Jewish people for sovereignty and freedom in our homeland, making it a poignant and cherished moment for all who gathered.

Reuniting with the congregation filled me with relief and joy. As we reconnected, we openly shared our experiences and the challenges we had faced since the onset of hostilities. In this tight-knit community, many of us have family and friends in Israel, and some have connections to individuals who have tragically lost their lives. Our sense of unity and vigilance remained high as we grappled with the uncertainty of the situation.

That night, our community began a weekly tradition of gathering for an additional prayer service dedicated to reciting Psalms/Tehilim. We came together to listen to words of comfort and support from our rabbis and to recite our designated psalms as a group. Reciting Psalms, whether in a group or individually, is a cherished Jewish tradition that provides solace and strength during challenging times. This weekly act of unity and faith will continue for as long as necessary. Bacol Serlui, a prominent Israeli poet, esteemed literary critic, and dedicated educator of Hebrew literature, has also shared her perspective on the profound tradition of reciting Psalms.

“At noon on that dark Shabbat of the holiday of Simhat Torah, one of our sons went off to war. I almost died of fear, trembling, and sorrow for the little we knew, from worrying about him and others. And what does a person do when he has no way out? He cries and screams his way through. And like my mother and all the other women, I sat with my Tehillim, reciting from beginning to end until the close of the holiday, until my tears dried up and the breaking news broke me once again. I recite the Psalms again and again and feel that the Tehillim are reading me, dubbing my fear and sorrow, giving me a voice. Three millennia ago a Jew sat and poured out the agony of his soul in times of peace and war, and here he reaches out a hand of prayer and speaks to our own day, until we will be redeemed.” *1

Our influencers and rabbis have reminded us that we all actively participate in God’s divine mission, whether we serve in the armed forces, contribute on the home front, or engage in contemplative prayer. They encourage us to deepen our dedication to mitzvot, righteous actions, and prayer.

The Rabbis in Israel have decreed a three-day communal fast inspired by the story of Queen Esther in the Purim narrative. The tradition is a mirror of the time when Haman had secured a decree to annihilate the Jewish community in Shushan, Persia (modern-day Iran), on a specific day. On a mission to avert this catastrophe, Queen Esther implored the community to observe a three-day fast before her fateful audience with King Ahashverosh. This moving story is commemorated annually during the festival of Purim, as recounted in the Book of Esther.

On Sunday, October 15, we celebrated Rosh Chodesh, which marks the start of a new month. A few years ago, the women of Montreal started a unique tradition by hosting an exclusively female Rosh Chodesh service. Whenever I am in the city, I attend this special gathering. On this particular occasion, the service was even more extraordinary as we gathered to celebrate the Bat Mitzvah of a young girl who turned 12, a significant milestone in the life of every Jewish girl. It was an inspiring and emotional experience to hear her flawlessly chant the Torah portion of the day. We celebrated this important day in her life with her classmates, friends, and family.

Resilience and Unity: How the Jewish Community Responds

The Jewish community has a long-standing tradition of solidarity and remarkable resilience in times of adversity. Throughout history, Jewish communities have consistently shown compassion for the vulnerable, including orphans, widows, and strangers in need. In Montreal, the Federation CJA oversees these noble efforts and tirelessly works to support those in need. Each year, the community unites for a fundraising campaign to gather crucial funds for these essential services. This year, we focus on raising urgent funds for the ongoing war effort initiated on the conflict’s first day.

Last week, a remarkable fundraising concert showcased some of Montreal’s beloved Jewish entertainers who generously lent their talents on very short notice. Among them, Milena Kartowski delivered an awe-inspiring rendition of “Stand by Me,” leaving a lasting impression on all attendees.

Throughout countless generations, the Jewish people have relied on our enduring traditions, unwavering commitment to Torah study, and alignment with Torah principles as a steadfast foundation. We have weathered both prosperous and challenging times by consistently practicing Judaism. This emphasis on consistent Jewish practice is crucial to our collective dedication to supporting Israel’s existential struggle for survival, including the ongoing efforts to counter threats. Whether within or outside Israel, we are united in our pursuit of the common good, striving for the recovery of our captives and the elimination of threats to ensure the safety of our people.

The Jewish community is acutely aware that the pervasive issue of antisemitism, an enduring hatred directed towards Jews, serves as a motivating force for groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. This recognition is articulated in a poignant passage from our Passover seder:

“Through the ages, not just one, but many, have risen to destroy us… But the Holy One, Blessed Be, always saves us from their hand!

She’ lo echad bilvad amad aleinu l’chaloteinu…V’ha Kadosh, Baruch Hu, matzileynu mi’yadam.”

On April 7, 2020, Ishai Ribo delivered a remarkable performance of a classic Passover song that enchanted the audience. His mesmerizing vocals brought the timeless lyrics to life and served as a powerful reminder of the numerous attempts made to harm the Jewish people throughout history. Despite these challenges, the Jewish people have always shown resilience and triumphed.

 

Miracles occur when we fight against evil, emphasizing our collective responsibility to confront it. As individuals and a unified community, we are consistently called upon to contribute to goodness and improve the world. This call extends to both Jewish and non-Jewish members of our society.

Only by successfully eliminating such malevolence can we hope to bring about messianic times, where peace reigns, and universal well-being, health, and happiness prevail. We pray earnestly for this day to come soon, swiftly, and in our lifetime.

Hazan Mutlu of Central Synagogue in NYC has recorded this prayer, which we all recite on behalf of our brethren facing adversity, wherever they may be—on land or at sea. We pray for the boundless mercy of God to free them from distress, leading them from darkness to light and from slavery to redemption, swiftly and soon, in our time.

“Hashta ba’agala uvizman kariv”

 

We stand united and fully prepared, without a doubt, that we will triumph over the evil forces threatening us!

Am Yisrael Chai: The Jewish People are alive and living, now and forever!

 

Footnote:

  1. Psalms for the State of Vertigo, traditiononline.org

Jerusalem’s Unique Purim Celebration: A Blend of Festivity and Tradition

Nestled in the heart of Jerusalem, where ancient cobblestone streets seamlessly merge with modern vibrancy, lies a celebration like no other: Jerusalem’s Unique Purim Celebration. This annual event effortlessly blends the energy of festivity with the richness of tradition, creating a captivating tapestry that embodies the essence of this beloved holiday.

While Purim is observed globally on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Adar, Jerusalem, classified as a “walled city” in sacred texts, is celebrated a day later. On the evenings of Wednesday and Thursday, March 6 and 7, the vibrant spirit of Purim permeates the streets of Jerusalem, alive with costumes, parades, festive meals, and joyous gatherings.

To outsiders, Purim may evoke parallels with festivities like Mardi Gras or Halloween, given its theme of costumed revelry. Yet, Purim transcends mere merriment. This Jewish holiday is rooted in deep spiritual and meaningful traditions and encompasses both material and spiritual dimensions.

The material celebration is a spectacle enjoyed by people of all ages, featuring enthusiastic participation in costume-wearing, impromptu plays, and the exchange of food gifts known as Shalach Manot. The festivities culminate in a joyous family meal, a seudah, in the late afternoon before the holiday’s conclusion.

However, Purim’s spiritual facet is equally significant. Central to this dimension is the Hebrew reading of the Megillah, which narrates the Purim story. Notably, women hold a special connection to Purim, as listening to the Megillah is one of the few commandments specifically incumbent upon them. Queen Esther, the text’s heroine, underscores women’s significance in this celebration.

The Megillah is chanted in synagogues or private homes, fostering widespread participation in the communal listening experience. This year, I attended the evening Megillah reading at Simhat Shlomo, my former Yeshiva in Nahlaot, near the bustling Jerusalem open-air market, the Shuk. The scene in the Shuk was electrifying, with open stalls selling customary Purim masks and treats, restaurants resonating with music, and people dancing into the night. The infectious merriment even infiltrated a cell phone service store in a Jerusalem mall where I happened to be.

Captivated by the festive spirit, I seized the opportunity to capture videos within the Yeshiva during the Megillah reading. Now, immersed in Purim’s vibrant atmosphere, these recordings encapsulate the essence of the celebration.

A diverse assembly of men, women, and children eagerly gathered, anticipating the arrival of their Megillah reader, Rabbi Leibish Hundert. In the meantime, they entertained themselves with lively tales and joyful singing.

With anticipation in the air, Leibish commenced the Megillah reading.

In the afternoon, I was graciously invited to join my nephew, niece, and other family members for a delightful Purim feast, where we shared laughter, exchanged stories, and savoured traditional delicacies.

Jerusalem’s Purim Celebration is a testament to its blend of festivity and tradition, seen in vibrant streets, joyous gatherings, and spiritual practices. This annual event goes beyond mere merriment, exploring the holiday’s cultural and spiritual significance. Each part adds to Jerusalem’s Purim experience, from Megillah readings to costume parades. It reminds us of Purim’s legacy, uniting communities in celebration and reflection.

For those seeking additional Purim Torah, I recommend exploring an earlier blog post, “What Purim Can Teach Us Today.”

Shabbat in Jerusalem

I spent my first Shabbat in Israel at my nephew’s home in Kiryat Menachem, a growing suburb in the hills of Jerusalem. The city’s progress was evident through the anticipation of expanded train services and the sight of cranes in the air. Yet, Kiryat Menachem retained its charm as a “fifteen-minute city” where most amenities were within walking distance. This older settlement had preserved green spaces and access to Shvil Yisrael, the Israel Trail, which allowed us to take a leisurely walk and enjoy the vibrant hues of Jerusalem’s spring flowers.

During Shabbat, the kids excitedly showed off their Purim costumes. My seven-year-old nephew, Eitam, took on the role of the Saba, a beloved grandfather who traditionally dispenses candy to children during Shabbat services in synagogues worldwide. Armed with his grandfather’s cane and a bag of sweets purchased from a local store, he embraced his role enthusiastically. Meanwhile, my eleven-year-old niece, Yehudit, transformed into her teacher, donning dresses, a purse, glasses, and even a wig, a source of great amusement.

For my subsequent Shabbat, I moved to my new home in the Katamon neighbourhood, a quintessential residential enclave in Jerusalem lying beyond the “old city.” The area is characterized by the mandatory use of the pink Jerusalem stone in construction, and my street was lined with distinctive pink stone garden fences.

Explore my snug apartment, where the indoors seamlessly blend with the outdoors through a charming enclosed balcony. In the afternoon, around 3 o’clock, I captured the essence of the space through photographs featuring children and their caregivers representing various genders.

Joyce, my neighbour who recently moved from Toronto to Israel, gifted me her delicious homemade challah. I decided to try some cooked food from a local eatery that caters to the Shabbat crowd. Our neighbourhood has many synagogues, including the Chabad House Synagogue, where I learned about their post-service lunch tradition. I attended their Friday night services, and on my way home, I encountered a group of people in the middle of the road. One of them recognized me as the broker who had just bought her mother’s apartment and warmly invited me to join them for supper and lunch the next day.

The next day, on my way to the synagogue, I passed a school full of children. Once inside, I found the adult service and listened to a woman give the Sabbath talk in an Orthodox prayer service. Later, at Chabad’s post-service kiddush, I sat with two English-speaking women with extensive experience living in Jerusalem and Israel. One was visiting her in-laws, and the other was a divorced woman starting anew in the neighbourhood. We discovered that we all had lived on Lake Street in White Plains, NY, during nearly the same period many years ago.

It’s incredible to see how interconnected our world can be!