Purim Games / Only the Haredim Are Really Joyful

A group of ultra-Orthodox men, black silk coats shining, fur shtreimels on their heads, stood yesterday on the corner of one of Tel Aviv's bastions of secular life - Ahad Ha'am and Sheinkin streets - formed a circle and broke out in Hassidic dance. They pulled a secular man into the circle with them, singing at the top of their lungs, perhaps a bit tipsy. I had not seen such true joy in a long time.

My eldest son was just then on his way back to Tel Aviv from a trance party at Hamat Gader in the north, which had begun at dawn and ended with last light. Six thousand young people, 28 arrests for possession of narcotics, and on the phone my son said it had been great. And yet the ultra-Orthodox dancing was more memorable for me. The day before I was thrown out with threats from Jerusalem's Mea She'arim quarter. Visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial yesterday, someone called out to me acerbically: "Are you interested in our sorrow, too?"

Apparently, yesterday, true joy could only be found among the ultra-Orthodox on Sheinkin.

Purim is not what it used to be. My little nephew dressed up as a digital space-man, while my childhood album shows my first costume: Age three, wrapped in Dad's checked woolen robe, a pipe clenched in my painted mustachioed lip. Purim 1956, my late mother carefully noted. Another page in the album: "City kindergarten, 1959." Yossi Shamir and I dressed as Indians, feathered headdresses, bow and arrow at the ready, faces painted. Shamir has been living in Italy for years. Sometimes we meet. I once showed the picture to his wife and daughters, who speak no Hebrew and to whom Purim is a murky concept. Then there was a picture of my mother's last Purim, at the sanitorium, wearing a strange feathered hat and looking terribly lost.

Only on Purim and Independence Day could we come home as late as we wanted. Now my son comes home after 24 hours of dancing himself into oblivion.

In the morning the Adloyadah Purim parade was held, the civilian version of the military parade on Independence Day. In both, we would take our place on the roof of the Ben-Yehuda Street apartment of grandfather's friend and we would watch, once a year in Purim costume and once a year in army fatigues. Both a little ludicrous, and of both, nothing is left.

And yesterday in Tel Aviv, with no parking spot in sight, with overcrowded malls and cafes bursting at the seams, only the ultra-Orthodox were really joyful.