Joy of Purim explodes into anger and rage in Israel

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Israeli kids wait all year for Purim.

For a few months before it is celebrated, they dream about the costume they will be wearing and the parties they will be attending.

And when their costume is finally ready, they try it on for their parents and siblings.

While all Israelis are in shock about the blood spilled in the latest Hamas bombings, Israeli children have an extra reason to be angry, for the terrorists deprived them of a joyous Purim. An hour after news of Sunday's Jerusalem bus bombing, the Ministry of Education ordered the cancellation of all Purim parties in the country's kindergartens and schools.

Fortunately — from my point of view — the directive was ignored in the Kiryat Shmoneh kindergarten my grandson Yuval attends. On Sunday, after my daughter dressed him in his Power Ranger outfit, I took him to a classroom brimming with other Power Rangers, Batmen, Spidermen, hula dancers, clowns and even a Queen Esther or two.

The kids had a great time, though there was a surrealistic note to the proceedings. While the little boys and girls were whooping it up, the few adults present were crowding around a radio that carried reports of the carnage in Jerusalem.

There were certainly no adult Purim parties this year, for no one was in the mood to celebrate. People did what they had to do, even if this involved riding a bus (which most Israelis tried to avoid).

Bus rides were particularly paranoid experiences in Jerusalem.

Every time somebody got onto a bus, he was scrutinized by all the other passengers. If he was a little swarthy, people suspected that he might be an Arab. And even if he wasn't dark, there were suspicious glances. "After all," one passenger said to another, "some of the Arabs look like Ashkenazim."

But paranoia reached its height when a person boarded with a briefcase in his hand or a knapsack on his back. People wondered if he carried a bomb.

Likud leaders have shown enormous restraint this joyless Purim week, refraining almost completely from their usual attacks on "Labor Party ineptitude." Of course, they have good reason to be restrained; the Hamas outrages will almost certainly bring Likud back to office when — and if — elections are held in May (or if Likud and Labor form a unity government first).

Some on the right have been less restrained. They are on the streets shouting insults at the police and using a tone that one thought had disappeared after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

One group of rightists was belting out a parody of a song that was popular on the eve of the Six Day War, when Rabin was the army's chief of staff. Then, in an attempt to boost our morale, we were all singing "Rabin is Waiting for Nasser," the thrust of this ditty being that Rabin would beat the pants off Egypt's Gamel Abdul Nasser if a war erupted.

Now, in a macabre twist on the original song, anti-government demonstrators are singing: "Rabin is waiting for Peres."

Next Purim, one hopes, everybody will once again be singing again about Esther and Mordechai.