An Iraqi Purim Tradition Lives On — Courtesy of a Granddaughter
Shared by: Ayelet Izraeli
Recipe Roots: Baghdad > Akko, Israel > Ramat Aviv
When Ilana Itzhak was 9-years-old, her family fled Baghdad for Israel in the middle of the night. It was her mother, Marcel Batzri’s idea. “I don’t know how she persuaded my father,” she says. They were already a family of four children and Marcel was pregnant. It was a journey filled with uncertainty. But, to Ilana, the two month voyage to Israel, which involved a boat, walking through an orchard, a bus, a train, staying with relatives in Iran, and finally a flight to Israel, felt like vacation. “It was very exciting and interesting. We didn’t understand the danger,” she says.
Once they arrived in Israel in 1950, two years after the founding of the state, “they tried to cling to things in the past whenever they could,” Ilana explains. That included the tradition of a large Purim party. In Baghdad, her family home was the center of the celebration. Preparations would start weeks before with cousins and other family members coming by to help make Iraqi treats like date filled b’ebe b’tamer, ring-shaped cookies called k’aakat, savory cheese sambusak, and coconut-based hadgi badah. On the holiday, the entire extended family gathered to eat, sip tea, and play card games — with a table for the adults and another for the children.
In Israel, “my mother saw to it, that the custom wasn’t lost," Ilana says. “Even before we had a house to live in, when we were in an immigrant camp,” the family’s Purim party continued.
“For us [as Iraqi Jews] the main tradition was Purim,” her granddaughter Ayelet Izraeli and Ilana’s niece explained, comparing the holiday to the way Ashkenazi families celebrate Hanukkah. She and her siblings were given pocket money to play the card game Dosa, which she explains is “like war with a dealer and you bet on the cards.” The grandchildren were also sent home with mishloach manot, or edible gifts for the holiday, a mix of what Marcel had made and Iraqi sweets she purchased.
Over the years, the party went unchanged (but for the costumes, Ayelet jokes). Always the same pastries, oranges and tea, the same games, and the same circular wooden table top, made for the family by a carpenter in Jerusalem that was tucked under Marcel’s bed for most of the year. She hosted the party until she died in her mid-90s in 2010.
Marcel never wrote down her recipes. Fortunately, Ayelet, who studied pastry, was able to capture them. “She had the recipes in her head and I had to fish them out,” she says. Since her grandmother passed away, she and her sister are the ones who make the Purim pastries, leaning on their mother to host, setting out the wooden table top she inherited from Marcel.
“I make everything and [my mom] tries to motivate everyone to come,” Ayelet explains. “We’re trying to keep it going.”
Marcel's Iraqi Purim Treats
Marcel’s recipes, which use just one dough (but for the coconut cookies), are excellent for a party, or to make mishloach manot for friends and family.