Shushan Purim marked by traffic jams, illegal gatherings, maskless meals

Hundreds of people have begun walking with their families to Jerusalem on foot along the edges of the highway, after being turned away at checkpoints.

COVID curbs dampen carousing on Jewish costume festival Purim/ Reuters
The ancient tradition of Jews making their way on foot to Jerusalem for the three pilgrimage holidays – Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot – was inadvertently renewed Sunday for Shushan Purim.
Police stationed themselves throughout the city and at entrance ways  to prevent large gatherings and tisches (festive gatherings around a rebbe’s table) and on intercity roads and highways to stop buses of partygoers from entering the city.
But according to a Police Traffic Division spokesperson, dozens if not hundreds of people exited their vehicles  when they saw police stopping cars and turning them back, and circumvented barriers on foot  
The spokesperson said buses and minibuses carried large families and groups of yeshiva students, who were asked their purpose and then sent back to where they came from. The checkpoints caused extended delays for anyone trying to get to Jerusalem.
When people couldn’t get in, they walked up the side of the road, an act that the police spokesperson described as dangerous to the pedestrians and for the drivers who legitimately needed to enter the city.
“If they wanted to get in, they would find a way,” the spokesperson told the Jerusalem Post. “They tried [to enter Jerusalem] from every direction.”
One driver described told the Post the scene from Mevasseret to Jerusalem looked  like a “parade of yeshiva boys marching like ants” dressed in Purim costumes. 
After chaotic scenes of Tel Aviv party-goers crammed the social networks over Shabbat, police on Sunday  were adamant about curbing gatherings in violation of coronavirus restrictions in  Jerusalem.
“The goal was to prevent the kind of parties we saw over the weekend in Jaffa and Tel Aviv and Haifa as much as possible,” the spokesperson told the Jerusalem Post.  
Prof. Hagai Levine,  a Hebrew University of Jerusalem epidemiologist,  traveled to Jerusalem to deliver his sister a medical device and was stuck in heavy traffic. 
“It is insane,” he told the Post. “There is no logic. Imagine if you were in an ambulance trying to get to Hadassah-University Medical Center. You may die because of the traffic,” he said in frustration.
The police said, though, it was not just travelers who challenged the police. 
“The local community was part of these parties,” he said. “The locals took park in plenty of illegal gatherings.”
Police said they dispersed several parties that were held in violation of the law, including street parties held throughout the City Center and in the Mahane Yehuda open air market, and late in the afternoon, on Bar Ilan Street.
In the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhood of Mea Shearim, police removed giant policemen and soldier effigies that were on a porch. One person was brought in for questioning. 
Earlier in the day, Bar Ilan Street was nowhere near as crowded as the Jaffa Flea Market the day before, but based on the activity at Bar Ilan Street in the early afternoon, hundreds of people were walking quickly, headed somewhere.
After a year of lockdowns, closures and being inside, many seemed somewhere between thrilled and relieved just to be outside.
"Hey Moshe, where are you? We're headed to Shmuel Hanavi [Street]," a yeshiva student yelled into his phone as he walked/ran in the middle of the street with five friends. "Meet us there. Yankele is coming too."
A candy and beverage store had set up a folding table outside and within minutes, the complimentary bottles of wine and whiskey were empty and the tiny plastic cups were strewn on the ground.
The crowds were a mixture of haredi families with children in adorable costumes, raucous yeshiva students singing and some drinking from open bottles of wine, and a group of teenage women in matching black cat outfits that would have put Eartha Kitt and Julie Newmar to shame.
Around a third of the celebrants wore masks on their face, another third had masks under their chin and the remainder were maskless.
"We're just trying to enjoy the holiday and show our children some fun," said one father who was holding hands with a panda bear on one side and a pirate on the other.
"We're all outside – there's no need to wear a mask. Tomorrow we'll be more careful."