Israelis Mark Purim, Urged 'Not to Lose Hope'

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Immanuel Dallatorre and his wife Miriam -- carrying large bird beaks -- had just come from synagogue on Friday morning where they listened to the Biblical story of how the Jewish people were saved from certain destruction in ancient Persia.

Their costumes were part of the festival of Purim being celebrated by Jews throughout Israel and around the world on Friday; in Jerusalem (and other walled cities) also on Sunday.

In synagogues throughout Israel and the world, Jewish people gathered on Thursday night and Friday morning to hear the reading of the Megillah, the Biblical Book of Esther.

The story recounts how Haman, chief prince and advisor to Persian King Ahasuerus, in the 5th century B.C. tricked the king into signing an edict for the destruction of the Jewish people throughout his vast kingdom.

But before the plan could be implemented Queen Esther whose Jewishness had been hidden, revealed her identity and pleaded for the life of her people. Instead of the destruction of the Jewish people, the king allowed them to fight and overcome those who had intended them harm. The king also had Haman and his sons hanged.

"Purim is a big miracle," said Dallatorre. "God saved us from a certain enemy, who almost succeeded in killing us. This was a miracle."

The origin of the custom of masquerading on the holiday is unclear, but one explanation is that just as Esther's identity was hidden and even God was hidden - his name does not appear in this Biblical book - so the Jewish people hide themselves on this holiday.

Costumes have run the gamut this year from a little Israeli boy from a settlement in the Gaza Strip dressed up as a Palestinian suicide bomber with a bomb belt, to others who chose the brand new Messiah costume, which came with a blonde wig and was constructed as if He was riding on a donkey.

On Friday, it was possible to see a few children dressed up. One little girl was a flower queen, a little boy was a policeman and an infant wore a Dalmatian suit. One adult, who said he sins like everyone else, was dressed as an Orthodox Jew.

"I am dressed up as a dove of peace," said Dallatorre, who was clad in a white hooded sweatshirt and white pants with a foot-long white bird's bill and small clock hanging around his neck.

"But this is a special peace dove with a ticking clock," he said. "For those who understand a peace dove with a ticking clock, not every peace is peace. We need the peace of God," said the 24-year-old master's student in physics.

One Jerusalem resident noted that whereas in the time of Queen Esther, Haman was an enemy trying to destroy the Jewish people, nowadays Israel has Hizballah, Hamas and Iran - all intent on crushing the Jewish state.

Another resident said the message of Purim for today is the message of hope.

"The message for the Jewish people is not to lose hope," said David Elbag. "The situation was bad but then it turned around for good."

The holiday continues in Jerusalem on Sunday with the giving of money, food baskets and gifts to the poor and needy.

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