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Masks & Costumes: Purim 2021

Israelis today donned costumes for the Purim holiday, this year with the required addition of face masks amid coronavirus fears.

Purim, which is marked between yesterday and this coming Sunday according to this year’s Hebrew calendar, is a celebration of the Jews’ salvation from genocide in ancient Persia.

Jews also celebrate the holiday with festive meals, recitation of Chapter 9, Verse 28  of the biblical Scroll of Esther known as the “reading of the Megillah,” the exchange of gifts of food, donations to charity and additional prayers to those normally performed after meals and throughout the day.

Children have been arriving at class since Wednesday ahead of the festival dressed up and full of cheer. Many appeared in traditional outfits such as biblical characters, IDF soldiers, superheroes, princesses, brides, monsters or FBI agents. More creative disguises spotted this year included one little girl dressed as the Middle Eastern food of shwarma, and another as a more modern bowl of cereal.

The global coronavirus pandemic made a special appearance this year, with both students and teachers dressed up in related clothing. One little boy was outfitted as a ZOOM call screen, and one child was clad as a life-sized COVID-19 shot.

“This year I think it’s much more important to celebrate with a real mask – the real happiness of Purim. The corona will end, in the end, but the Purim festival and the real mask will last forever,” Jerusalem parent Barak Cha commented to Reuters.

Government-imposed restrictions as a precaution after last year’s festivities became a coronavirus super-spreader event has curtailed traditional adult enjoyment of the occasion with revelry, dancing and late-night parties. While the public is allowed outdoors during the daytime hours, an 8:30 PM to 5 AM curfew is in effect for the duration of the 3-day holiday.

“Last Purim there was a dangerous outbreak with mass infection and you remember we had to shut down the country. This must not repeat itself,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We can be happy, we can put on costumes, but we have to follow the rules.”

Violators caught more than 1,000 meters from their own residences will face a hefty ₪ 500 shekels ($152.34) fines. Businesses considered essential are allowed remain open, and the curfew is also not applicable to Arab-majority cities or villages.

Israel has been gradually reopening its economy after a third lockdown and its rapid COVID-19 vaccination roll out is showing the first signs of turning the tide on the pandemic. At least one dose of imported Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines has been administered to almost 50% of its 9 million population, in one of the world’s swiftest campaigns.

In the orthodox Jewish community, it is customary that the story of Purim should be read and heard in person. Attendance at houses of worship is limited to 10 people indoors and 20 outside, so congregations are hosting numerous small events so the observant can gather without becoming part of a large crowd. More liberal branches of Judaism are reading the Megillah in online services.