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Purim in Israel Under Austerity

While Israel as a start-up nation is the latest rage, people shouldn’t forget that for a number of years after the founding of the state, Israeli citizens lived under a regime of austerity and rationing, in Hebrew the צנע (Tzena). The amount of food and clothing that a person could buy was limited and determined by official government edicts. (The image is from this website which has many similar examples of ephemera.)

91תקופת הצנע

(Trans.: See to it that you aren’t surprised by the limits on food. From now on remember to register your name with the butcher, the baker, and the corner market. [From] The Supervisor on Food)

Lines at stores were a fact of life.


I am currently reading Orit Rozin’s book The Rise of the Individual in 1950s Israel: A Challenge to Collectivism, and I came across the following letter to editor that was written by a mother to the magazine La-Ishah (For the Woman) in 1950: (my translation)

I was embarrassed in front of my children on the day before Purim. They were told in school about the meal that is eaten on this holiday, on the hamantashen that are filled with poppy seeds, on the fish for the holiday, etc. And here, the holiday is approaching. I wasn’t able to get poppy seeds, because there aren’t any. Dr. Dov Yosef (the Minister of Supply and Budgeting-MM) thinks because this is a luxury. For the meal there wasn’t even fish fillet. They didn’t taste the taste of hamantashen and the meal was not served. I ask a very simple question: Don’t those who are dealing with the supply of food have a heart? Don’t they think that at least for the holiday they need to compensate the children for their pain during the week?

After looking through some newspapers on the Jewish Historical Press website, I was able to find some contemporary newspaper items that spoke in similar terms.

In the March 2, 1950 edition of Maariv there is a description of complaints about shortages of hamantashen.

Screenshot 3 14 14 3 58 PM

Despite the reality that the War of Independence had ended only a year earlier, some people were upset that there were even more festivities. They felt that there had to be an extra effort to help people celebrate. The following article from the March 5, 1950 edition of Al ha-Mishmar provided an interesting commentary on the day:

Screenshot 3 14 14 4 06 PM 2

But the children, they celebrated in the correct way and even did it successfully. First of all, they had two days of vacation from school in order to celebrate this holiday. Second of all, they dressed up tastefully as “Cossaks,” “infiltrators” (Arabs), and this time even as soldiers, and unlike other years [when they dressed up] as soldiers of foreign armies, rather, they dressed up as Israeli soldiers with Israeli insignia. During the day the sounds of shots could be heard and “ambushes” were set up on all of the side streets, in order to “steal” the pistols of other children and passersby. The holiday was even celebrated in the schools with parties, especially in the kindergartens.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the opposition Herut newspaper focused on the difficult economic situation.


The article emphasized how this year Purim was celebrated against the background of the Tzena.

The masses went out into the streets and searched for a release in order to celebrate the holiday, but from above (i.e. the government) it was decreed that there would also be austerity on the holiday festivities…And what was the present from the Department of Supervision and Budgeting to the citizens for holiday?…The stalls in the market were empty…There were no fish. The meat ration was smaller. To sum it up, there was nothing…

As an opposition newspaper, it was clear that it was all the government’s fault.

2 Responses to “Purim in Israel Under Austerity”

  1. 1

    Great stuff, thank you. A necessary reminder of how things used to be.

  2. 2

    I went to that ephemera website you linked, “[Israeli] nostalgia online.” The editor, of this Hebrew site, spells his name, in Hebrew, as “David”, with the aleph and yuds, and not “Dovid”. How sad is that.




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