Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The schools here in Israel certainly know how to celebrate Adar. There were Purim movies with popcorn, face-painting and magic shows, daily dress-up themes, aznei haman (hamentashen) tastings, and mishloach manot swaps.

In Israel, Purim apparently is not a one-day, or even two-day vacation. For kids in the public school system, it extends from the day before Taanit Esther all the way through Shushan Purim. So after finally returning to school after months of lockdown, kids across the country were home once again. Following the Adar excitement of school, being home seemed even more boring than before.

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And Purim this year was certainly less exciting than past years. While my son Adi joined me for one of the outdoor megillah readings arranged by our shul, our small capsule couldn’t quite muster up the chaos and excitement of bustling children’s megillah readings.

With our social circles still slowly expanding and Corona safety concerns still present, we delivered only a handful of mishloach manot and, in most cases, left them in front of closed doors. Even our Purim seudah – which we ordered from our favorite restaurant – felt a little flat, as we couldn’t share it with friends and family as we always have in past years.

While the chag was still nice, it just wasn’t the Adar excitement we had expected. Reflecting on this over Shabbat, my husband and I decided we still had time to make this holiday special. Prior to our aliyah, we had spoken at length with Adi about all the tiyulim (trips) we hoped to take around our new home, but in the almost one year(!) that we’ve been here, we haven’t managed to see anything.

On Masada on Shushan Purim.

So we decided to change that and take a Shushan Purim trip to Masada. After dropping my daughter off (private daycares don’t enjoy the same vacations), the rest of us settled into the car for the long ride.

The two-hour ride was almost an adventure in itself! From our car, we watched the lush flowered Judaean mountains transform into the sandy, cavernous Judean desert. We spotted sheep, goats, donkeys, and even camels along the highway. We excitedly pointed out the signs indicating how many meters below sea level we were traveling (ultimately 420 meters). And finally, we stared in awe as the majesty of the fortress came into view.

I had only been to Masada once before, back in my seminary days. I honestly don’t remember too much from that trip, except wondering how we could possibly survive the hike down the mountain after barely managing to make it all the way up. Needless to say, this time around, I opted to conquer the mountain in the comfort of a cable car.

Unlike many Israeli sites that my son has learned about in his Tanach studies, Masada was a whole new terrain. Walking around the fortress, my husband and I recounted to him the history of King Herod and his legacy as a builder king, responsible not only for Masada, but the expansion and beautification of Bayit Sheni. We shared with him the tale of Eliezer ben Yair and his followers and their tragic end.

Intriguing as these lessons were, my son was more excited to explore the fortress himself. He roamed through the extensive ruins and imagined what may have been there thousands of years ago. While his theories didn’t always line up with the professional archeologists’ conclusions, looking around, I too could see the fractured stone buildings transforming into grand desert palaces and army camps.

(My son’s favorite building may have been the ancient “small palace,” which now features modern day public bathrooms – a luxury even King Herod didn’t have!)

We ended our trip with a visit to the southern end of Masada, which features an “echo balcony.” Standing there, facing out into the abyss, visitors can shout and hear their voices echo back. According to historians, the rebels may have yelled from this spot to trick the Romans into believing their forces were larger than their actual numbers. (We on the other hand, took advantage of the spot to let out cheers for our favorite sports teams.)

While our initial Purim celebrations this year may have been disappointing, I hope our trip helped turn this year’s Shushan Purim into a cherished family memory. In any case, I’ve certainly whetted my son’s sense of adventure, and we are already brainstorming for our next family excursion.

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Aviva Karoly made aliyah to Israel with her husband and two children on March 19, with Nefesh B’Nefesh, in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel, and JNF-USA. She can be reached at myaliyah2020@gmail.com.