Posted on March 27, 2018 Many people hear about the country of Iran in the context of nuclear proliferation, the ayatollah, and Middle Eastern politics. However, the Iranian people possess a vibrant culture and are known for their delicious cuisine and deep respect for the arts. Many celebrated poets and filmmakers are from Iran. Jewish Iranians, in particular, have merged the best of Iranian customs and Jewish tradition. For example, next week Iranian Jewish families will gather to celebrate Passover. You won't see brisket or gefilte fish on the table. Instead, you'll see significant bowls of rice and large scallions next to every place setting.
By way of background, Iranian Jews can trace back their roots in the Middle East and Iran for two-and-a-half millennia and are known as Mizrahi Jews. However, they practice the Sephardic communities' laws and customs. (Sephardic Jews originate from Spain and Portugal) Therefore, their list of Kosher-for-Passover foods differs somewhat from that of the Ashkenazi, central and Eastern European tradition. For example, rice, a staple in Iran, is among the permitted foods, and it is no wonder that a Persian Passover table presents an array of specialty foods, including saffron rice with barberry, and the crispy golden tahdig, the crust of rice left to scorch at the bottom of the pan.
But the highlight of the evening is when the traditional Passover song, "Dayenu" is read from the English, Hebrew, and Farsi haggadot (Passover Seder book). There is no time to spare as everyone springs up to get their hands on the scallions arranged on a tray set on the table. Before the song begins, each person gets ready for an attack position to "whip" the other participants. Much laughter and animation ensue as everyone stands and goes around the room identifying the "enemy." This custom is to imitate the lashes the Israelite slaves received from their Egyptian masters.
Persian Jews mark the end of Passover, known as "Shab-e Sal" with a meal composed of dairy products featuring a variety of yogurt and herb dishes. The day after the end of Passover, known as "Ruz-e Sal," is spent picnicking in the outdoors. This custom is adopted from the Persian new year, Nowruz holiday, which usually coincides with Passover at the beginning of Spring. Or one can argue that it is just another occasion to eat food and be joyful! Passover is about celebrating our freedom with family and the community. So why don't you find yourself a Persian family and celebrate Passover with a twist?