Two of Our Tel Aviv Staff Tell of the Opportunities This Holiday Presents
In Israel the festival of Purim (which falls on March 7 this year) is a truly joyous time. While it is a religious holiday, it is not commanded in the Law of Moses so it does not have the serious overtones of the other festivals. Based on the Book of Esther, it tells how God delivered Israel from the evil plans of wicked Haman.
During this festival adults give gifts to one another as way to celebrate that God spared our people from the cruel fate our oppressors had designed for us. For the children it is an occasion to eat lots of the special three-cornered cookies sometimes called Haman's Ears."
This festival is a feast for the eyes as well, as children dress up as the various biblical characters and parade around in their colorful costumes. It is a school holiday and parents take their children out for a day of fun. In Tel Aviv this means that the already busy shopping district of Dizengoff Center is overflowing with people.
Our Tel Aviv team has found Purim to be a good time to hand out gospel tracts and to talk to people about Y'shua (Jesus). One year we used surveys to have conversations with people, and we also passed out books. Most were willing to answer the questions we asked, and for some the questionnaire led to further conversations. Some open young Israelis who wanted to hear more about Y'shua gave us their names and addresses for further follow-up.
Please pray for us this Purim, that despite fewer crowds on the streets this year, God will provide opportunities to meet people who want to know how He still wants to deliver His people today.
What we would consider "Jewish holidays" in the United States are national holidays in Israel. Children learn all about these holidays in the public schools and have special assemblies to commemorate them. Everywhere you look stores are selling costumes, ozna haman (triangle-shaped cookies with chocolate or date filling—called hamantaschen in America) and similarly-shaped boxes filled with good things to eat. All the children (from babies to adults!) love to dress up—many of the costumes are homemade and very creative.
So what can I say to the children who attend my Bible Clubs to "compete" with all this gaiety? How can I show what the holiday means to us as believers?
Last year I decided to point out specific instances in which God controlled situations in Mordecai's and Esther's lives to ultimately save the Jewish people from destruction.
I wrote a short play of six scenes based on the Book of Esther. I wrote the scenes without dialogue, since all the children knew the story well enough to improvise their own. Before I told the children about the play I pointed out to them that God is in charge and can use the circumstances of our lives to bless us: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).
As we discussed the play, some of the children immediately grasped the connection between what was happening in each scene and what would happen at the end of the story. They began to see how everything led up to Esther's opportunity to speak to King Ashasuerus about the terrible law that would have obliterated the Jewish people.
We all had fun, sometimes playing different characters by trading props, but the message was clear.
At the end of each Bible lesson I give a one- or two-sentence summary that the children can "take home." Purim is a great opportunity to tell the children (and remind ourselves) that God knows what is going to happen, and that as we look to Him we can trust Him to protect and guide us in every situation.