Muslim Kurds visit Jerusalem festival

 Israelis do a traditional Kurdish dance (photo: Hemi Itz)

Kurdish Muslims were among the unlikely guests this year at the celebrations for Saharane, an annual Kurdish Jewish holiday, held in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park. The Times of Israel reports:

Saharane is the annual Kurdish Jewish holiday,
now celebrated during Sukkot, when the ancient community gathers to
sing, dance, eat, and trade stories from the old country in their
traditional Aramaic tongue.

Last Sunday, Israel’s Kurds marked Saharane in
Israel’s capital. Over 13,000 Israeli Kurds attended this year,
according to Yehuda Ben Yosef, leader of the community in Israel.
Smaller Saharane events were also subsequently held in Yokneam,
Mevasseret Zion, and Yardena.

Jews in Kurdistan historically marked the
beginning of spring with the Saharane festival, while at the same time
their Muslim neighbors celebrated the Newroz holiday. They would head to
the river banks and host mass picnics, complete with traditional garb
and music competitions.

When the community emigrated to Israel in the
early 1950s, they continued to celebrate Saharane during the
intermediate days of Passover. However, the relatively small community
felt their holiday was in danger of being swallowed up by Mimouna, the
post-Passover holiday of the much larger Moroccan community. Ben Yosef’s
uncle, Aviv Shimoni, the leader of the community at the time, decided
to move the celebration to Sukkot in 1975. Unfortunately, this
disconnected Saharane from its roots as a celebration of the blossoming
of nature after a cold winter.

As ties deepen between Kurds in Israel and
those in the Kurdish heartland, more Muslim Kurds are making their way
to Israel to visit their former neighbors.

Darwish, whose extended family is still in
war-torn Syria, came to Israel from the Netherlands especially for the
festival. She found Ben-Yosef online, and contacted him before her trip.

“Yehuda is a special person,” she said. “I
don’t feel that I was a guest. I feel directly that I was home. This
feeling is not easy to get from everywhere. Because I know he’s a Kurd,
I’m a Kurd — I cannot explain it.”

It was Darwish’s second visit to Israel. She
also came in July with three Kurdish friends living in Sweden, but
seeing the Israeli community gather left a powerful impression on her.

“I was walking from the parking garage to the
park, I heard the music and I said, ‘Wow, it is so beautiful to hear the
Kurdish music,’” she recalled.

“The Kurdish people you know are in four
lands, and you go to Israel, a country like Israel — a powerful country,
a big country — and you see Kurdish people there, and they are
powerful, it makes you very very happy. I thought I will go and see old
people, but I saw young people dancing, singing, it was really great.”

Seeing an immigrant Kurdish community thrive was especially exciting for Darwish.

I came to Israel, I thought, no, nobody helps us, no one gives us
anything. But now that I was there, and I saw the people, I say why not,
these people are Kurdish, and they are strong, and they get help from
Israel. And I think that between Kurdistan and Israel the relation is
very good.”

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  • Is "Newroz" the same thing as "Nowruz", i.e. Persian New Year? I know that some other peoples in the Levant/Near East celebrate it, such as Yazidis, Druze and I believe Zoroastrians and possibly Mandaeans. Keep up the good work, this is a very interesting site!


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