In Search of Queen Esther in Rishon Letzion

Families, toddlers and Haman are spotted in the local mall, but not everyone is getting into the Purim spirit. Mardi Gras it ain't.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Purim could have been a happy and carnival-esque costume holiday, a celebration of people who emerge from their usual attire and, for a few seconds, can look like a duck or Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. But doing the rounds of the malls in Rishon Letzion Sunday showed that the holiday is mainly just a continuation of Jewish hysteria.

My single Tel Aviv friends warned me against traveling to the kingdom of families and toddlers in Rishon Letzion’s malls. “It’s really going behind enemy lines. I’m afraid you won’t come back in one piece,” one warned me. Another spoke as though my destination were Marjayoun in Lebanon rather than quiet Rishon Letzion.

A group of children were running on the escalators, and almost knocked me over. “There’s [an actor] who plays with the children in the back,” a waitress told me. And there was another actor who gave the children who had trampled me an assignment: Run to the fourth floor, near the Aroma coffeehouse, and give a message to the evil Haman who was there.

I moved aside in order not to be trampled again and the group of sweet children rushed to the stairs and destroyed everything in their path. I asked the actor if he was King Ahasuerus, because of his fancy outfit, and I discovered that he was also Mordechai the Jew. I think I saw Queen Esther on the way, with too much makeup, or maybe it was Haman’s wife, Zeresh.

Outside the mall, near a café that sells coffee and a pastry for 5 shekels, I met a 19-year-old with several piercings. Shani Tzedaka was dressed as an Israeli flag. She had painted a blue Star of David on her face with makeup, and was wearing a very short white skirt over jeans. “I love this country and wanted to show everyone that it’s our country,” she said. “Everyone said, ‘Very nice, good for you.’”

I asked why she was wearing jeans, which symbolize America – especially at a time like now, when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wants to destroy us. She explained that she had simply come from the cosmetics store where she works and had to wear something.

On the advice of the locals, I took the No. 14 bus. I was thinking of going to Hazahav Mall, but I gave up and got off at the local branch of Cinema City. A group of six children sat next to me, not one of them dressed up except for a single girl who had a gold ribbon on her head. I scolded them for not joining in with the holiday atmosphere. “I’m Cleopatra,” said the girl with the ribbon, exposing an impressive set of braces. “There was nothing to dress up as,” the other children complained.

Next door to Cinema City, I visited the Red Pirate toy store. The salesman, Yanir, was wearing a flowered necklace and told me there were no adult costumes left. It turned out they were all sold out by last Thursday. Yanir reported that the most popular costume for children this year was Fireman Sam, and that many adults dress up as policemen – maybe because of the police force’s impressive accomplishments in recent months.

I wondered what he made of claims that girls' costumes were too revealing this year, trying to sell him my thesis that the claim is misogyny and xenophobia disguised as feminism. “The girls want revealing. They choose it themselves. And you can always buy that type of costume and wear jeans,” Yanir said.

At the entrance to Cinema City, one of the mothers who was rushing with children almost dropped her pizza on me, and then a boy who was riding in a toy car almost ran me over. What a ridiculous death! I tried interviewing another family, but they were busy shouting at each other because the child didn’t want yellow or pink ice cream.

I hid in the branded complex of a series called “The Geeks Club” that airs on the Zoom channel. Gili Toledo, whose shirt announced that she was the “chief producer,” explained that they turn children into geeks with a hairdo and makeup, and then the kids get a fridge magnet and picture posted on Instagram.

Outside, next to the large plastic dinosaurs, a Chabadnik named Avraham – sporting a heavy American accent – forced me to take a bag of mishloah manot (Purim goodies) and give it to someone. “Just exchange it, it’s a mitzvah," he told me. I gave it to the woman behind me. Then he took it away from her, and I saw him doing that repeatedly. One of the women, who may have been poor and hungry, really wanted to keep the bag, but he took it away from her. I asked why. “Because I have only two bags,” he explained sadly. “You observe the mitzvah simply by exchanging.”