Monday, March 24, 2008

Hag Samaech (Happy Holiday)

Yesterday we celebrated Easter here in Jerusalem and had a great time thinking about the message that Jesus brought to this very city so many years ago. Once again it was a joy to celebrate a meaningful holiday here while the rest of the city struggles to live up to its name "The City of Peace". You can read more about our experiences with Easter at The Jerusalem Letters .

One of the strangest things for me this year was celebrating Easter while the Jewish community celebrated Purim (Commemorating the events of the Book of Esther). Interesting traditions have formed around this holiday such as dressing in costumes, eating pastries called "Haman's Ears", and the requirement for all males to get so drunk that their judgment is severely impaired.

After our time in the park with family and friends as we celebrated Easter, one friend and I took a late night walk through the Old City of Jerusalem to "people watch". It was one of those warm summer evenings where it felt good to just be outside. As we walked through the city we noticed a large presence of Israeli Military working to maintain order and we noticed hundreds of Ultra Orthodox Jews celebrating the liberation that came in the Book of Esther. Unfortunately the drunkenness that overwhelmed the city took away from the true joy they could have in remembering the events.

We walked by a Yeshiva school where young men spend their entire days studying the Torah and we saw one future Rabbi sitting outside in a Mexican sombrero while his friend vomited in the bushes next to them. We passed hundreds of people so drunk that they slurred their speech and had trouble walking. They were so drunk that they actually thought I spoke Hebrew clearly. As we wandered through the streets, we made our way to the Western Wall which is a place of prayer and important Jewish events such as Bar Mitzvahs. The wall was packed with people which is not so unusual because the Ultra Orthodox Jews seem to spend a lot of time outside late at night. (It is not uncommon to see whole families with small children walking the streets at 1:00 AM). When we arrived at the wall we were amused at a group of young men signing a dancing together. Most of them were clearly fulfilling their requirement to be drunk.

You can see what we saw here:

This morning as I made my way to class I noticed how everyone seemed very tired and how they didn't look so good. People were sleeping on the buses and the campus was virtually empty due to the hangovers. I love the expressiveness of the Jewish culture and have no problem with loud celebrations (I think Christians should celebrate more joyfully like they did here on Palm and Easter Sundays) but I just can't figure out how excessive drinking and impaired judgment helps remember God's goodness and deliverance. All I could do is shake my head and wish everyone a Happy Holiday (even though I was referring to a different Holiday of Liberation).

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