Wednesday, February 18, 2009

This Purim, Let’s Take a Look at the Country Where the Holiday Began

Iran and its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are making headlines all the time. Having a modern-day Haman bent on the destruction of the Jewish State feels like déjà vu. It also makes me curious as to how Iranian Jews celebrate Purim. Here’s what I’ve found:

When Israel was established in 1948 the Jewish population in Iran numbered 100,000. By 2006 that number had dwindled down to a little under 11,000. For obvious reasons, I can’t tell you exactly how Jews in Iran observe Purim today, but I can tell you what happened in the past.

While Purim provided Iranian Jews with a reason to celebrate, by and large it was considered a serious holiday. The story of Purim was so much a part of the Jews' consciousness, that they traveled to Esther and Mordechai’s tomb throughout the year. The tomb – located in the city of Hamadan – still stands and is considered an important shrine thanks to Esther’s status as Queen of Persia. Want to see the tomb?

If Iranian Jews couldn’t make it to Israel and the Kotel HaMaaravi (Western Wall), this was the place to go to cry and pray.

For the Jews of Iran, Purim was very much a part of their persona. Religious and secular Jews kept “Ta’anit Esther” – the Fast of Esther observed the day before she revealed her Jewish identity to Akhashveirosh and told him about Haman’s plot to kill the Jews.

Jewish children in Iran did not get dressed up in carnival costumes. They did make a Haman puppet with a triangular hat and pull the puppet on the floor behind them, as though he were their slave. Since the date of Purim was very close to that of the Iranian New Year, children often received gifts and coins. That certainly sounds like the same influence Christmas customs have had on the way we celebrate Hanukkah!

What about Hamentaschen? That’s another Western invention. The favorite Purim dessert for Iranian Jews is halva with the consistency of a Mexican flan. Halva is associated with events of happiness – such as weddings – and sadness, such as a shiva. Purim is the perfect bridge. It begins with the misery of Haman’s evil intentions but ends with the merriment of victory. Nothing honors the holiday better than mouth-watering halva carved into different theme designs and decorated with almonds, saffron, pistachios and other goodies.

If you want to go all the way, do a web search for an Iranian Halva recipe. Here's one I found.

Try whipping it up with the kids in your class; have them also make a Haman puppet and enjoy an Iranian-style Purim!

In the meantime, don’t forget to take advantage of this exclusive offer for Tami Lehman-Wilzig Kids Books readers. Kar-Ben Publishing is offering 10% off your next order at their online store: Use coupon code TAMI when checking out. Offer expires August 10, 2009. One use per customer. Offer not valid with any other discounts.

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