When the State of Israel was founded and its gates were opened to Jews from around the world, the wave of Olim (new immigrants) which had been rising since the end of the 19th century became a virtual flood. Entire communities from around the globe gathered their belongings and made their way to the Land of their ancestors. Each community brought its customary garb, special language, traditions and all of the other cultural components it had developed over centuries in the Diaspora.
In the early years of the State, Israel’s leaders had to cope with the huge challenge of formulating a new society, one that would incorporate people from Jewish communities around the globe. As part of the “melting pot” concept the new immigrants were expected to abandon the traditions they brought from their native lands and embrace the image and traditions of the new Israeli. This attitude changed over the years and was replaced by one that honored and cherished the immense cultural wealth brought by the Olim. Israeli cuisine adopted diverse flavors and foods originating around the world, Israeli music enriched its work with a broad range of tones and the Israeli calendar integrated holidays and festivals celebrated by the different ethnic groups. Some of these festivals have spread beyond their original ethnicity and are celebrated by Israeli society as a whole.
The Sehrane Festival
The Sehrane Festival stems from the Jewish community in Kurdistan, where it was celebrated annually in the springtime, on the day after the last day of Passover. It is a celebration of renewal and joy meant to bring the Jewish community together and typically included joint festive meals held outdoors, singing contests and music played on instruments such as the daula (a large drum with skins stretched over both ends of a wooden cylinder and the zorana (a traditional wooden wind instrument) as well as communal gatherings.
Traditional dances were a significant part of the celebrations. It was customary to have mixed dancing, where single men and women were free to meet and get to know each other, as well as dances for all ages in which young and old alike could participate. This strengthened ties among members of the community and was a window of opportunity for heads of families to conclude matchmaking deals.
Along with the social events, it was customary to say special Sehrane prayers and to hold religious ceremonies such as brining a new Torah scroll into the synagogue or conducting an engagement ceremony as part of the festivities.
The festival events allowed members of the Jewish community to strengthen their social relationships, their friendships and their cooperation with members of nearby Muslim tribes and villages. As a symbol of friendship, Muslim neighbors brought the Jews new supplies of food, and considered this to be a good sign for the year to come.
In the early years after coming to Israel, Olim from Kurdistan did not celebrate the Sehrane festival. In 1971, the National Organization of the Jews from Kurdistan in Israel was founded and sought to revive the old traditions, including the Sehrane. In order to avoid clashing with the traditional Moroccan Mimouna festival they decided to move the festive event and the Sehrane festival is now celebrated each year in Israel during the intermediate days of the Sukkoth holiday.
Photos of the dancing, the drummer and the flute player – courtesy of Mordechai Yona; photo of the Sea of Galilee landscape – Shutterstock; photo featured on the stamp tab - wooden Torah scroll case decorated with metal plaques and rivets in floral designs from Kurdistan: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.