Monday, March 28, 2011

For Libyan and Tunisian Jews Rosh Chodesh Nissan Commemorates the Start of a New Life

There’s nothing like connecting current events to our rich Jewish heritage. All of us are waiting to see how the Arab Spring will play out. Regardless of the outcome one thing is certain – the yearning for freedom marks the start of a new awakening. And isn’t that precisely what Rosh Chodesh Nissan and Passover are all about?

According to the Book of Exodus (12:2) the month of Nissan is the first month of the year. Certainly it is the month when Moses and the Children of Israel sprang into action, going from a daring escape to freedom, to building the mishkan – a portable synagogue for housing Hashem – in the desert. The men were the construction workers and the women recyclers, donating their gold jewelry to the building process. To commemorate this process Libyan Jews put together a sweet mixture called a “bsisa”. A concoction of roasted grain seeds, almonds, nuts and raisins, they also add pieces of gold jewelry and oil, knead it together with a key to the house and recite a blessing of thanks. This ceremony, that many Jews of Libyan origin continue today, was created to give the sense of a new beginning.

From Libya we go to Tunisia where Jews marked Rosh Chodesh Nissan by placing a single candle wick into a cup of oil, toss a coin into the cup and say a blessing for the new year.

While only a handful of Jews remain in Tunisia and none are left in Libya, these countries are part of the Jewish Mosaic as well as today’s headlines. Rosh Chodesh Nissan is neatly tucked into that mosaic as well. This year it falls on Tuesday, April 5th. Make this Rosh Chodesh Nissan an opportunity to combine your Social Studies Current Events lesson plan with your Jewish studies curriculum – and connect the dots.

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