Jewish and Persian Connections Mission

In response to statements emanating from the Middle East regarding nuclear threat to both the Jewish and Persian peoples, we seek to project an alternative voice on Jewish- Persian relations that disseminates knowledge about the historical and cultural ties between these two peoples, fosters friendship and openings for creative exchange, and contributes to the identity of adults and children of mixed Jewish and Persian ancestry.

Seeking Your Personal Stories and Intellectual Contributions!

Please submit your personal writings on the following topics:
a) Relationships between Persians and Jews
b) Raising a Persian Jewish child
C) Historical and/or current affairs between Persians and Jews/ Iran and Israel
D) Current Debate: Is the current conflict between Iran and Israel inherently tied into the Israeli- Palestinian conflict?

All submissions welcome including poetry, links and other recommendations. Please email any submissions to Authors are responsible for providing respectful, factually accurate, and fully citated submissions as a pre-requisite for inclusion. Articles should be a minimum of 2 paragraphs in length up to a maximum of 10 pages. Please use proper citation when referencing another writer or speaker. Assume no specific religious knowledge and explain all references to any religions. Translate all non-English words used, including Farsi, Hebrew, Arabic, Ladino or Yiddish. Writers wishing to anonymously post may use their first name only. Please send all submissions to All information outside of your submission will remain strictly confidential including your email and contact information. Thank you for your contributions!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Purim: Conscious Re-enactments of Collective Memory

February 23, 2007/ 6 AdarI 5767
Tiffany Collins

When I first started the Jewish Persian connections project, there was a subject that kept gnawing at my conscience. Why do we Jews eat Haman ears to celebrate Purim? For those of you that need a refresher, let’s start with some history.

Purim is a festive Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of all the Jews under the authority of the Persian Empire from Haman's plot to exterminate them, as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther. The king of Persia chooses Esther, from among hundreds of applicants, to be his bride but is unaware of her Jewish heritage. The King's Prime Minister Haman initiates an edict to destroy all the Jews of the land. Esther, at the risk of her own life, reveals her Jewish identity to the King and successfully convinces him to terminate Haman's plot.

Traditionally at Purim, Jews publicly recite the Book of Esther, give mutual gifts of food and drink, provide charity to the poor, and eat a celebratory meal (Esther 9:22). It is one of the most festive Jewish holidays and one of my personal favorites. Jews around the world throw parties and even carnavals and disguise themselves with colorful masks and costumes. Drinking alcohol on this holiday is a Mitzvah or benediction. Another enjoyable Purim custom is the sending of the mishloach manot, wrapped baskets of sweets, snacks and other foods given to family members, friends and even the poor. According to the Halakha, each Jew over the age of bar/bat mitzvah must send two different, ready made foods to one friend, and two charitable donations (either money or food) to two poor people.

For all of its celebratory traditions, the holiday also expresses more aggressive rites. It is customary to use a "ra'ashan" noisemaker which is spun by hand, often made of wood, when Haman's name is mentioned. In many synagogues, congregants stamp and rattle at the mention of Haman during the reading of the Megillah (which occurs 54 times). Although some rabbis protested the excessive practice historically, ra’ashans are still in widespread use in synagogues. Through my research, I have come to learn that other practices included writing Haman’s name on shoe soles and stomping ones' feet at the sound of his name in contempt, burning his effigy, pelting and burning a doll in his form and setting fire to his wax figure.

During Purim it is traditional to serve triangular pastries called hamantaschen ("Haman's pockets") in Yiddish and oznei Haman ("Haman's ears") in Hebrew. These sweet cookies are shaped in the form of trangles and are filled with poppyseed, prunes, dates, apricots, and even chocolate. The pastry's triangular shape is said to either represent the tri-cornered hat which Haman wore, or the alleged shape of his ears.

Ironically, Esther’s Megillah (story) never mentions God. This is one of the explanations for Purim costumes, we dress up to remind ourselves how God remained “hidden”. Growing up I remember being told in Jewish school that we drink because the Jews of Persia were so ecstatic about being saved from mass extermination that they drank until they could no longer recognize one another.

Purim has come to symbolically represent any sort of deliverance from an anti-semitic ruler or group. Some families have even had "family Purims" throughout the centuries, celebrated at home, whereby they celebrate their escape from persecution, an accident, or any other type of misfortune. What a beautiful message, the human spirit can be saved through courage and bravery!

Through the story of Purim we teach our children about triumph in the face of adversity and about the power of perseverance over hatred. We can also interpret the story of Purim to show the power of compromise, forgiveness, and honest communication. The emphasis on the human capacity to create positive change prevails in this story. Additionally, God encourages the heroine to act without overt intervention.

Esther, the Jewish heroine of the story is married to the Persian King Ahasueras (who is a gentile). Therefore, the story of Purim is also a positive message about the triumph of an interfaith marriage. Esther was not the first. Among others Moses had a wife who was most probably Ethiopian or Sudanese. Esther did not feel that she was compromising her Jewish identity by marrying the Persian king. And she did not fail to assert that identity in a time of crisis. Purim can be seen as a celebration of Jewish solidarity in a time of danger, but also as one of reaching out to someone with a different background.

So in light of the multiple positive messages intertwined in the story of Purm, why not change the name of Haman’s ears to something more inspiring? Why not teach our children compassion through our tradition as opposed to teaching them to eat enemies’ears? Today, more then ever, as the war drums beat and we are bombarded with conflict by the media, our children need symbols of courage and communicative action. As Jews we are instructed that even the way we eat should be moral as symbolized by Kashrut (Kosher eating). It is time we had the courage to reconstruct the collective memory of hatred into one of true courage and catalyze our power of choice towards a future of peace.