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Jewish Girl’s Social Diary: Purim Partying And Purim Protesting

To celebrate Purim, our Jewish social diarist went clubbing and protesting, back to back. She partied downtown, and protested in Midtown. She drank with Chabad and the club crowd, and marched with the beanie-wearing leftists. Here, she tells the tale of two very different Purims.

The BASH.

We knew we were close to “The Official Purim BASH” when we saw a man ahead of us dressed as a riot police officer, complete with helmet, shades, ballistic shield, and plastic grenade launcher. “US Embassy Jerusalem,” read the label on each of his accessories.

We stood in line for “The Official Purim BASH,” a clubby, annual Purim event by Eli Lunzer productions. My friend and I waited our turn behind a Fiddler (off the roof) and two beautiful Russian women in jeweled headpieces — I don’t know what my costume is, one said, though it was not clear if she hadn’t made up her mind or if she simply hadn’t dressed herself.

It was steamy inside, and as we waited for our drinks a man introduced himself, sliding his hand into mine. “You’re strong!” he said, after we shook. He asked me what other Purim events I’d been to that evening. Since both of my grandfathers died before my birth, it’s heartwarming when their contemporaries try to pick me up in bars, maybe.

We waded past a flapper, two thieves, Superman, and Dracula in a black velvet kippah dancing with a woman, also dressed as Dracula. Then men were on us, suddenly, shouting. They circled us, forcing us into a corner. “What’s your name, what’s your NAME,” a man shouted, guiding his hand behind my back. We backed away, and they followed us deeper into the corner. “You have four seconds to tell us your names!” The one with no costume shouted. “4, 3, 2, 1.”

“Our four seconds are worth the next eighty years of your life!” my friend yelled, bravely. They made eye contact over her head, chuckling. “Attitude,” one said. “Too much attitude,” said the other. “But I like it.” He made to take my hand. “Tell me your name,” he said. “Or else I’ll just call you Ashley.”

At midnight, we left our drinks and exited the lounge, crossing the street to climb into a van. The Chabad Mitzvah Tank, a trailer, held in its long and narrow birth Batmen, rockstars, gangsters, and a man in a sports coat and silver wig who chanted the megillah in under 20 minutes, sounding like the quiet hum of a cassette tape set to rewind.

We stepped back into the club. My friend smiledat a man dressed in a prison jumpsuit. “What was the crime?” she said.

He looked her up and down, then right into her eyes.

“Rape,” he said.

We danced. We watched as a panda got into a dance-off with the Fiddler on the roof, as Israeli club music played. A beautiful woman with deeply tanned skin and blond curls passed by, waddling in a ballooning polyester red suit. We watched her confidently push past other women, buffeting people aside with the volume of her outfit. She glowed.

I felt silly, suddenly, for the careful way I’d flicked up my eyeliner and the shallow costume I’d picked. It’s Purim, after all — a time for joy, for comedy, for not taking yourself too seriously. “What’s your costume?” I said, patting the girl in red on the shoulder. “I love it.” Her eyes gleamed.

“I’m a fat person,” she said.

We left the party. People were streaming in; we were stopped by a man covered in newsprint, holding a papier-mâché microphone. “Hi!” he said. “I work for the evil fake news.”

“Me too,” I said. We chatted for a few minutes, he asked for my number, and I told him no. He sighed. “You won’t go out with a Republican, huh?”

It’s a tough question to answer. Can you judge millions based on one label? Can you put such a high fence around your heart? Dating, after all, is more of a matter of desire than reason.

But what woman would go out with a man wearing a shirt showing Christine Blasey Ford, with the word “Fake” stamped over her face? Politically, you might agree. Evolutionarily, it’s not practical to spend more time with this man.

On Purim, everything is supposed to be upside down and backwards — unless Coronas cost $9 and you’re forced to abandon yours halfway through to hear the megillah read in a camper van — in which case things are barely blurry. The holiday invites us to feel joy and freedom. To become so drunk that we don’t know the difference between the good guy and the bad guy. Fake news and the real news. Flirts and threats. The man supporting a woman, and the man attacking her.

Oh, today we’ll merry, merry be.

A Purim Protest

Sheltered under a giant umbrella on the steps of the main branch of the New York Public Library, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood, his body made of dowels and drooping cardboard, a bright red three-corner hat reading “MAGA” stapled to his head. A few members of IfNotNow, the group of young, Jewish Americans who call for an end to Jewish American support the Israeli occupation, had crafted the puppet the night before. A sandy-haired man with a nose ring supported Netanyahu-as-Haman, lifting the plastic covering off the delicate papier-mâché head like a veil, as wind and rain battered the group. “Wait a minute, you’re not Rachel at all!” shouted one volunteer, and everyone laughed.

“We’re celebrating Purim by marching to Birthright HQ to deliver mishloach manot — traditional gift baskets — with the gift of information about the occupation, which Birthright refuses to even acknowledge!” Yonit, a 27-year-old IfNotNow member, said into the iPhone live-stream moments later. “We hope that Birthright rejects its Haman-like Trump-supporting donors, and instead chooses Esther, Mordechai, and us.” A volunteer carried pastel wicker baskets loaded with hamentaschen and “accurate maps of Israel/Palestine” — maps that label The West Bank and show the Green Line, as well as print outs of a report by the UN Human Rights Council commission that says that the IDF intentionally shot children, among others. The baskets were purchased by a volunteer at a 99 cent store, the hamentaschen from Empire Kosher Supermarket in Crown Heights.

“Some of them have caramel in them!” a male volunteer in a plastic crown announced. “Caramel hamentaschen! Caramel! It’s buck wild!”

The tiny group included one member designated as police liaison, in case of any interaction with law enforcement. Another was responsible for live streaming, two were to go enter the headquarters, and one to hold the puppet. “And remember,” one leader said just before the march, “When we read Haman’s name in the megillah, please boo loudly.”

“Heckle like it’s Howard Schultz,” came one suggestion.

We crossed 42nd street, followed by a few tourists. Yonit looked into the camera. “We also know that it’s not just the Haman-like Bibi Netanyahu, or Trump, or any of their racist advisors who are our enemies today,” she said, invoking Michael Steinhardt, the Jewish philanthropist and Birthright funder and co-founder who, that day, had been accused of serial sexual harassment in the New York Times by several women.

“What we know from this story and from the Purim story is that those who attempt to control women’s bodies and weaponize women’s bodies will be violent towards everyone,” Yonit said.

Before the march, Yonit told me that she joined IfNotNow years, ago when she found herself in search of a Jewish community that opposed the “moral catastrophe” of the Israeli occupation. (The group defines the occupation as: “a system of violence and separation by which Israel denies Palestinians freedom and dignity by depriving them of civil, political and economic rights.”)

“But do you think there should be an Israel?” I asked. “A Jewish state?” Her expression was unreadable. “IfNotNow is actually not a policy organization,” she said. “What we are saying is that the status quo right now is completely unacceptable. What comes after is not what we work on.”

What came after the walk was that we landed in the shadow of scaffolding, in between an Equinox gym and a pizza place. Group members threw out polite suggestions about how to proceed.

“How do we feel about singing a purim song?”

“How do we feel about chanting evil peoples names and the shouting, ‘You are Haman!’?”

“Do you guys want to unfurl the Megillah?”

The last idea was met with excited oohs. Inside the Equinox, gym-goers began to gather, looking petrified.

The designated IfNotNow volunteers were not able to drop of the mishloach manot. When volunteers entered the building, guards told them that Birthright was no longer headquartered there. “But we were just hear last week!’ one responded. (“We were previously at Birthright HQ on March 14, and we’re told that they wouldn’t see us,” one INN member told me.) We trooped back to the library in the cold rain, some group members chatting about the anniversary of Baruch Goldstein’s terror attack, others practicing ventriloquy with the Bibi puppet.

“All Jews are weak assholes except us!” one exclaimed, in an imitation Philadelphia-Jerusalem accent.

“Have sex with soldiers,” said another. “It’s part of being a good Jew!”

The volunteers laughed. Then they got back to work.

Jenny Singer is the deputy life/features editor for the Forward. You can reach her at Singer@forward.com or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny

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