Playing dress-up in the Old City
Jerusalem’s Old City always boasts some amazing sartorial sights. Hasidic men wear towering fur shtreimels which, when the rains come, they cover with plastic bags. Ashkenazi men sport the brightest and whitest of suits and hats, mimicking what well-dressed Sephardi men in the Old City wore in the eighteenth century. You occasionally see Arab boys in kilts playing the bagpipes (sometimes quite badly, it must be said) while the range of Christian clerical fashions on display is quite remarkable.
Things have got wackier still since Guy opened Live The Bible where you dress up as your favorite biblical character. You can be David or Goliath, Ruth and Boaz in the gleaning fields, or Abraham about to sacrifice his son Isaac. Those dressed as the High Priest seem to feel a particularly powerful connection. Some leave the shop in the fine robes, charging around the Old City while bestowing blessings and feeling “like a king,” says Guy. “One man from a Cohen family burst into tears,” when he put on the priestly garments. With the remains of the Temple so nearby, “he felt a closeness and a pain that the Temple is missing.”
Guy came up with the Live The Bible idea in Holland while having his photo taken dressed in clogs and a traditional Dutch outfit. After his army service and a degree in Jewish history, he researched biblical clothing and worked with an artist and designer to create the costumes. He reports that the propensity to dress up crosses barriers and cultures. “We get Jewish and Christian tourists, secular and religious Israelis, lots of ultra-Orthodox, even Muslims.”
With Purim approaching, the Old City’s fashion scene will soon hit high gear. There’ll be plenty of Donald Trump masks and people resembling Wonder Woman as played by Israel’s Gal Gadot but also a “very creative” mix of historical and contemporary costumes. The custom of Purim costumes may have begun in fifteenth century Italy as a Jewish version of the pre-Lent carnival. Some rabbis were less than enthusiastic, fearing that the widespread practice of men dressing in women’s clothing for the day was violating a biblical prohibition. But, as Guy suggests. masquerading and merry-making took hold because they reflect the wildness of the Purim story, where “v’nahafoch hu”, everything was suddenly turned around and the Jews of Persia were powerful enough to avenge themselves against their persecutors.
And that‘s why Guy thinks there is “no doubt” that Purim is the best holiday and Jerusalem is the best place for it. It’s a day when the normal rules don’t apply and the holy city gets loose. “Everyone is in the street in costumes, there’s drinking and food and parties. Religious and non-religious are together, everybody loves each other.” So don’t be alarmed if you see David and Goliath running around the Old City, arm in arm. It’s just how Jerusalem rolls.