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Chag Purim Sameach, Happy Purim!

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

Purim is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people by Esther (the secretly Jewish Queen) from Haman, vizier of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, who was planning to kill all its Jews. It is celebrated by reading the Book of Esther, reciting additional prayers, exchanging gifts of food and drink, donating to charity, fancy dress and partying.

In the Middle East, North Africa and Iran, Purim was often a highlight of the religious and social calendar, with big parties and excited children celebrating the festival joyously.

In his interview, Yeshooa Samuel told us about putting on school plays for Purim in Aden, and street parades that celebrated the festival,

"For Purim in Aden, after the synagogue, after the Megillat and all that, we used to walk along the streets. They used to fill up something like a figure or something, a tall thing, a Haman. And they used to walk over and say, 'Arur Haman, Arur Haman' [curse Haman]. We used to walk in the streets, and... something to you know to rejoice.

The next thing that we used to do, during the day - you see a lot of children carrying a bag with a string around their neck, and they used to go from shop to shop or house to house, only Jewish people, to get a mishloach manot [gifts, usually of food, given on Purim]. We didn’t have send mishloach manot [parcels]. The kids used to go around and they used to put a penny in the bag and at the end of the day we used to go and , "Mam, Mam, look how much money I collected!"

Yeshooa Samuel as Haman in the Selim Jewish School in Aden, 1955

In her interview Paari Ebrahimoff remembered the sweet foods prepared for Purim in Iran, a tradition she carried on,

"For Purim we make halva. [...] I used to do it in kilos in the synagogue with all my friends - two, three saucepans, big, big saucepans of halva. And after the fast [before Purim] we used to bring it [to the synagogue]. It’s not the halva that you know, that they sell in the shop. It’s made from rice, almonds, cinnamon, saffron, and rosewater. And believe it or not, all three big saucepans, every teaspoon of them went [laughs].

Jack Tamman and his friends in fancy dress for Purim in Khartoum, Sudan, mid-1950s

In her interview Nadia Nathan told us about Purim traditions she remembered growing up in Iraq.

"On Purim, I loved it because they used to make lots of baklava. My mother used to go to a pastry maker and they made it kosher for her. We used to go from one house to the next, just giving it to the old people, and relatives. Distant relatives, for example, that we used to see once a year - me and my brother, we used to go and give the baklava to them. And it was – you feel it’s chag [festival]. [...] And then we used to play cards, with petty money, and go from one party to the other. It was a real high thing".

Yeshooa Samuel's sisters and their friends dressed up for Purim in Aden, mid 1950s

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