Rabbi Eldad Zamir
Former shaliach in Cape Town (1997 -1998)
Currently Senior Instructor at the Nativ ’Giyur” program in the IDF


Memories of an African Purim

Although Purim is not a regular school day, it’s also not a vacation day in the Theodore Herzl Jewish School in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

During the preceding weeks, each class prepares their costumes and decorates the entranceway to the school’s inner courtyard. Each age group – from the nursery school to the high school and even the teachers – performs in a play. Yet, out of the school’s 400 students, only about 40 are Jewish according to Halachah!

One is reminded of the words of the Megillah: “it was reversed (vinahafoch hu); the Jews prevailed…” (Esther 9:1) In this case, a Jewish minority dictates to an entire school – where the vast majority of the students are non-Jews!

But non-Jews have their own red lines. When Port Elizabeth was going to be hosting an international cricket match and the lot (pur) fell on Purim, it was time for some creative thinking. We began by renting a giant screen TV – so that the children would do us a favor and show up to school that day. But we soon realized that our plan was doomed to failure and that I was going to be judging a costume contest involving my own three kids and another Israeli or two. So, we decided to “shorten” Purim and to make sure that everyone – including the teachers and even the principal – would be able to get to the big game by 10:30 AM. (The whole idea of making such a fuss about the world’s longest and most boring game is rather strange, but this wasn’t the time to try and improve their taste and characters.)

Actually, there’s another vinahafoch hu aspect to Purim in Port Elizabeth. Not only do non-Jews don costumes on Purim, but I noticed that many Jews dress up throughout the year as well. In Port Elizabeth, I finally understood the real purpose of that small compartment located on the passenger side of the car. Most people erroneously refer to it as a “ta k’fafot” (glove compartment), but no one puts their gloves there. A more accurate name would be “ta kippot” (kippah compartment)!

Practically every Jew in that southern city walks around bareheaded; meanwhile, the kippot are kept in the glove compartments – just in case. However, as to be expected with a rarely used item, the “yarmulke” is frequently left behind. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that many people own more than one car. (Some have more cars than kippot…) Thus, upon occasion, a congregant would arrive in shul in time for his weekly morning – or maybe afternoon – visit without a kippah. This forgetfulness was even more pronounced among the schoolchildren, who were only required to wear kippot during davening and Judaic studies classes.

Mindful of the adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – that is, I wanted to “precede the cure to the plague” – I made a point of always having a spare kippah on me. But more than once, the borrower would forget to return the kippah. My solution was to search for a kippah that no one would want to wear for very long. In fact, I managed to collect three such kippot, and they always made their way back to me.

The first one was emblazoned with the words, “Bad Boy”; the second was a shiny black which read, “Chevra Kadisha” (burial society – apparently, some well-meaning individual once hoped to instill pride or bring honor to that selfless group of volunteers and thought that this type of kippah would do the trick). And the third kippah – which no one in their right mind would want to keep – was oddly cut and made its wearer look like a cross between a chef and a clown with something colorful protruding from his head.

Thus, we heeded Esther’s request (see Esther 9:31) “to confirm these days of Purim” even when it wasn’t during “their appointed times”.