In Esther 9:22, Purim is dedicated as a day “of feasting and rejoicing and sending portions of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” This is commanded because Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews was reversed, and the appointed day turned from sorrow to gladness “and from mourning into a holiday.” To read more on the history of Purim, see here.
Today, Jews in Israel celebrate Purim by doing exactly what is commanded in the Book of Esther—feasting, rejoicing, and giving gifts to one another and the poor—plus a modern addition, wearing costumes.
Feasting and Rejoicing
During Purim, each Jewish family in Israel usually gets together for a special holiday meal. The most common, traditional food that is made especially for Purim is hamantash, called “oznay Haman” in Hebrew—which literally means “Haman’s ears.” These are triangular cookies with chocolate, date, poppyseed, or jam filling. They are absolutely delicious!
Around the time of Purim, there are many parties; this is the way Jewish people celebrate and rejoice. There are parties at school for the kids, parties in individual neighborhoods, and communal city parties in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It is common and traditional to read through the Book of Esther while booing and shaking rattles when Haman’s name is read.
During Purim, it is common to give and receive a “mishloach manot,” which literally means “sending of portions.” These are gift baskets filled with all sorts of sweets and goodies; the adults’ often contain wine—a symbol of being merry. From Kindergarten to 12th grade, every student brings one for an exchange with one of their fellow classmates.
Purim is also a time of giving to the poor and less fortunate. There are multiple rabbinical principles for how to fulfill this Mitzvah, a precept or command. A common principle is to give two substantial gifts (money, food, drink, or clothing) to two poor people; even the poor person is obligated to give. This type of giving creates joy and unity among the people.
Wearing costumes is a major part of celebrating Purim in Israel. Kids and teachers wear costumes to school, and people wear them to parties and just for fun around the time of Purim.
The exact origins of this traditions are debated. A common understanding is that wearing costumes conceals one’s identity just as Esther’s was originally concealed, and just as God’s is in the Book of Esther—His name is not mentioned, but His work is evident. Nevertheless, costumes add to the joy of celebrating Purim, and create a source of laughter and excitement.