Pessah, Persian style, has both ancient and modern traditions that resonate anew every year. Pessah has special meaning to Persian Jews, who have historically lived in the region of modern Iran and the further Middle East for over two and a half millennia. Some traditions are unique, from both Ashkenazi and Sepharadi customs. Additionally, Pessah usually coincides with Persian New Year, Nowruz, which symbolizes the first day of spring; as a result, Persian Jewish communities have, over the years, synthesised these customs as well into their Pessah traditions over the years.
Preparations for Pessah are extensive. Spring for Persians signifies a renewal, wherein homes are cleaned from top to bottom, and new clothes are purchased for the entire family. Persian Jews, like Jews everywhere, rid their homes of Chametz and prepare new clothes to see in the festival. Historically in Iran, Persian Jews used crushed bricks to scrub copper pots, and washed all curtains and carpets. This is a dual symbol of Pessah and regeneration while celebrating our freedom.
Another corner-stone of the Persian Pessah is the haroset, which has its big debut on the Seder night. The Persian haroset, or haleq, has a unique configuration, and each family has its own recipe. All nuts are washed and put in blender with dates and wine. In Iran, the wine was homemade, prepared especially for the haroset, the Pessah Seder, and kiddush.
At the center of the beautifully decorated table sits the haft pialeh (seven cups)- a large silver bowl with small silver cups filled with water. Each diner takes a little silver chalice after drinking the obligatory cup of wine and then returns the cup to the large bowl. It was thought by old tradition, that the water had special powers.
A very special part of the Seder is Magid, when the Pessah story is retold. Every participant has a part to play in a Persian Seder. Both the ordered list of the Pessah Seder (Kadesh, Urhats, Karpas ,Yakhat,s etc.), and Ha Lakhma is recited by each guest individually while holding up the Seder plate to signify the historic meaning of the evening. After marking the historic meaning of the evening, a lavish Persian meal follows, including rice and kitniyot (legumes).
By far the most famous tradition of a Persian Pessah is the song Dayenu. All guests re-enact the affliction of the Israelite slaves by the Egyptians by hitting one another with spring onions. We relate with the Israelite slaves, and have a lot of fun! We simulate how the Egyptians whipped the Israelites, and how the Almighty saved the Jewish people.
Another beautiful tradition fused with a Nowruz custom is everyone visiting each other at home called eid-sidani. Regular and less regular acquaintances and family pay visits to each other in an ‘open house style’ throughout Pessah. In Iran, some Jewish homes had an especially designated reception room for this very purpose. The room with a majestic table is filled with delicacies including nuts, almond biscuits, walnut cookies and citrus cakes.
This celebration of togetherness and freedom continues today. Nusheh jan - May, your soul, enjoy it! Hag sameʾah.