Why Israelis like dressing as Zombies, and how Purim became globalised
CUTE CLOWNS and pretty Esthers were outnumbered by the walking dead near Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Mall for Purim on Saturday, as dozens of people congregated for the annual Zombie Walk.
Some of them were wearing the items that supposedly ended their lives, including daggers and barbed wire.
All over Israel, gory outfits are popular. Every party seems to have its bloodied doctors and patients with drips. And Israeli trauma experts believe that there may be something slightly deeper going on than simple Purim fun.
“We have all sorts of ways of dealing with death, and maybe this is one of the ways,” said Soly Dreman, professor emeritus at Ben Gurion University and a leading thinker on trauma and family life in Israel. “Maybe Purim gives people a cathartic opportunity.”
Dr Dreman noted that gory outfits and zombie gatherings are not only popular in Israel, but said that they do appeal to a particular strand of the Israeli psyche, which is forced by war
and terror to confront the reality of tragic death.
Dr Dreman stressed this was just one of several factors that influence Israeli dressing up styles.
Jeffrey Woolf, a historian and expert on religious observance in Israel, suggests another: Purim dressing up is becoming less and less uniquely Jewish. He remembers a day “when most people dressed as figures from the Purim story or as soldiers or Charedim, or as contemporary local figures like little Moshe Dayans and Menachem Begins”.
But the default dressing-up style for anyone today who watches American films and soaps is Halloweenstyle, which is by nature gory. “It’s the side of globalisation that doesn’t respect local culture,” said Professor Woolf, of Bar Ilan University.
Another Bar Ilan scholar, sociologist Nissan Rubin, goes as far as to say that “there’s almost no connection” between most outfits and Purim.
He said: “It’s becoming more and more international and you seldom see any of the symbols of Purim.” Professor Rubin said that to find a good clutch of Queen Esthers, Ahasueruses, or even Vashtis these days, you need to travel to a Charedi stronghold like Bnei Brak.
He does not identify any process of Israelis dealing with the harsh realities of their region, just a combination of most people buying their outfits in stores instead of making them and the fact that most of these outfits on sale are foreign imports, many of which are designed for the Halloween market. Some people still make costumes, but when they do the style is led by the imports.
Dr Woolf, who is a rabbi as well as a professor, takes a slightly less detached view, saying that with the Halloween-isation of Purim, “the tsunami of Western society is basically washing away our own memories”.
The gore-fest in Tel Aviv last weekend