Third-Place Winner, 2103 Boulder Writers’ Workshop Comedy Writers’ Contest, Judge Gene Perret
Before heading to the Purim party, I look in the mirror again. My princess costume is sexy, not slutty – the perfect combination for an ancient Jewish holiday. Tonight marks the Jews of Shushan surviving Haman’s attempt to kill them a millennium ago. With so many holidays marking someone trying to annihilate us, it’s hard to keep track.
Since I arrived in Israel a few months ago, I’ve anticipated celebrating Purim Israeli style – in costume and incapacitated. I’m on this trip because it promised a real Israeli experience. But because of the Intifada, I’ve been shielded and sheltered. Forbidden from taking buses – they explode. Living in isolated locations – they’re safer. Surrounded by Americans – they’re boring. I could’ve done all this at home.
As I place the sparkling tiara on my head to complete my look, someone bangs on the door. One of my roommates from the program opens the door to our frantic counselor. Before we have a chance to wish him a happy holiday, he screams, “The war is starting tonight! You have ten minutes to pack and get to the bomb shelter!”
“What!” one girl screams, “Only ten minutes to pack?!”
Even if the missiles were mid-air, Jewish American women couldn’t pack that fast. I, however, am disappointed that we’ll miss the celebrations, unless we actually receive our gas masks. Getting them would make up for missing Purim. This past month, the entire country has prepared gas masks and bomb shelters for this war – everybody except us. I thought when the war started we’d be shipped out of the country and I’d miss yet another Israeli experience. I’d been more scared that I wouldn’t experience the war than I was of the missile threat. Now that we’ll be receiving our masks, I don’t feel excluded.
Packing takes longer than a High Holiday sermon. We can’t decide on an appropriate outfit for a bomb shelter. It took a month to plan our costumes. Should we wear them or change into something comfortable? What earrings best accentuate a gas mask?
Once we squeeze into a small van to flee, our counselor floors the gas. It’s like we’re repeating ancestors’ stories – Israelites fleeing Egypt, Jews running from the Spanish Inquisition, and the past generation escaping the Holocaust. I feel so courageous. I don’t even wear my seat belt!
During the First Gulf War scud missiles rained down on Tel Aviv. As I wonder what will happen during this war, the car slams to a stop in front of the building next door and our counselor yells, “Out!”
The two-minute trip was much shorter than forty years wandering the desert. When I question if we’ve escaped the 1,500-mile range of a scud missile, our counselor explains that this building has a bomb shelter. Disappointed in our less-than-dramatic escape, I’m still excited to get a gas mask. It’ll be like my badge of courage. A sorority pin. A Birkin Bag.
After settling down in the musty bomb shelter, we’re handed boxes like its snack time at kindergarten. As if it could be a bomb, I carefully place the box in my lap, even though I want to shake it – like a kid before Christmas. But I’m Jewish and in my twenties, so I restrain myself.
Our counselor updates us that the U.S. military is invading Iraq tonight and Sadam is threatening to fire chemical weapons at Israel. Yep, another Arab ruler trying to exterminate us. In thousands of years, they haven’t learned that we can’t be exterminated. We’ll have to create another holiday to celebrate our survival. And we’re starting to run out of days – today is already taken.
Like a militant flight attendant, our counselor demonstrates how to wear the masks. We then take turns trying them on like we’re playing a high-stakes board game. At my turn, I tear open the box and remove the gas mask. A few days ago, our counselor soothed us by saying, “Since you haven’t gotten your gas masks yet, there is no need to worry. Once you get them, then you should be scared.”
That line of reasoning might kill a Jewish grandmother, but I’m not worried, even if I should be. I feel like I’m trying on a new wardrobe after a shopping spree. I discard my tiara for my newest accessory – the gas mask. Even though I look like a deranged Disney character, I take a picture of myself to prove I celebrated Purim Israeli style. Our counselor wraps things up by saying that we can sleep in our beds, but if we hear a siren to immediately run back to the bomb shelter with our gas masks.
The first night we barely sleep, cuddled with our gas masks, but by the second day of the war we’re allowed to attend our classes in Jerusalem’s city center. In the U.S., they cancel school for a few inches of snow, but in Israel during a war, everything carries on as normal – except that we’re carrying gas masks. Even if I hadn’t been ordered to, I wanted to bring my gas mask – more as a trophy than for protection.
I head to class with my gas mask, which the fashion-forward Israeli Ministry of Defense supplied in a box with a strap so it can be worn like a purse. Carrying it proudly, like a Jew wears Prada, I stand taller, knowing that I’m braving danger like all of the Israelis. As I’m staking out bomb shelter locations in case of a missile attack, I notice that I’m the only person carrying a gas mask. It makes me stick out like a tourist wearing a fanny pack.
This gas mask was supposed to symbolize my Israeli experience, but Israelis, used to war and terrorism, left their masks collecting dust in closets. After being jealous of everyone who got gas masks, I look around to ensure nobody is watching and quickly stuff my gas mask into my backpack.
When Jessica Fishman, who grew in a Midwestern Jewish and Zionistic family, graduated from college, she headed to Israel. She served in the Israel Defense Forces, learned the language and fell in and out of love. She has written a number of articles about Israel and her story has been featured in leading Israeli and Jewish Media. The success of her popular Aliyah Survival Blog, which is an irreverent portrayal of an immigrant in Israel, she wrote her memoir, Chutzpah and High Heels: The Search for Love and Identity in the Holy Land. It is a deeply personal, witty account of the difficulties, absurdities and excitement of making a home in a new country. For more information, visit www.jessicafishmanauthor.com.