I went as a soldier for Purim. A popular costume in my neighborhood, considering I spent the holiday on base. Though to be fair, dressing in civilian clothes, and observing Purim on the "outside," would have been far preferable. While the IDF goes to great lengths to respect religious traditions--and while shabbat in the army is rarely a disappointment--holidays in green leave much to be desired. Minor holidays like Purim and Hannukah, lacking any of the restrictions of shabbat or the major holidays (like Pessah or Rosh Hashana), are regular days on base. In other words, the army does not set aside time for a Purim spiel or hamantash baking party. So it is up to religious soldiers to retain the day's spirituality while covering the necessary rituals.
For Purim this means listening to the Megillah, eating a festive meal, charity, and giving another two food items (mish'loah manot). My charity obligation was easy to satisfy en route to base. The Megillah reading was satisfied by rabbis from Habad whom, with the permission of the IDF, had set up a ritual reading station for soldiers at the main transit station in Beersheva. Lunch on base served as both my festive meal and source for mish'loach manot. Following the instructions of an army rabbi, I fulfilled my food giving requirement by giving another guy the plate of food I received at lunch. The halachic logic going that once I receive the food is placed on my plate it becomes my property and hence when I give it to someone else I am truly giving him something of mine rather than simply passing him food owned by the army.
The rest of the day took place nary the sound of a groger or the sight of any costumed Queen Esthers. The one exception came mid-afternoon when a caravan of Habad fellows appeared out of nowhere on my base. As my guys raced in and out of our tent on some aimless task from our commander, the Habad fellows did as well. The difference was they were running through the base placing bags of chocolate and 'Call 1-800-Habad for spiritual help' cards on the beds of every soldier. While I won't be calling the number anytime soon, this year's Purim left me craving some of the holiday's spirituality that I recall from yesteryear.
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