Purim and Nowruz: Spring Into My Identity

March 20, 2019

We talk about the word “authenticity” now more than ever. We live in a society that demands that we constantly ask ourselves who we really are, and feeds us answers as to whom we should be. I remember as a seventh-grader, my middle school assigned my class a yearlong project titled “Who Am I?” 

Since I was a little girl, I had a concept of self that was based on two major identities that could feel closely related and strongly contradictory: being an Iranian and being a Jew.

Every spring, the Jewish holiday of Purim and the Persian New Year, called Nowruz, fall close together on the calendar, giving Persian Jews a chance to first feel gratitude for our people’s survival (Purim), and then stuff our faces with various Persian pastries and welcome the spring with Nowruz, a nondenominational holiday marking the spring equinox, and one which millions of Persians, Afghans and some Indians, celebrate with warm joy and distinct customs. But this year, the holidays fell on the same day: March 21.

Growing up in an Iranian-American Jewish family in Los Angeles, I always celebrated Purim — dressing in costume, hearing a reading of the Megillah and, of course, eating hamantashen. Most Persian Jews will attest that Purim is our holiday — when we not only identify strongly with being Jewish but also with being Persian, since the narrative took place in ancient Persia and the leading figures, good and bad, were Persian. 

This past year, I’ve been striving to find ways to connect with my Persian and Jewish roots.

As a fashion blogger for www.fashionlaine.com,  I use my platform to celebrate all types of holidays, ranging from Purim to Thanksgiving, through unique photoshoot concepts that I create. This year, when I realized that Purim and Nowruz would occur on the same day, I found the seventh grader in me asking, “Who Am I?” I was conflicted between creating a post dedicated to Nowruz and my Iranian identity, or instead honoring Purim and my Jewish identity. 

I’m blessed to have more than 100,000 followers on Instagram (@iamfashionlaine) and use my platform to share posts that define who I am. So in thinking this year about whether I wanted to create a photoshoot dedicated to Purim or to Nowruz, I understood that the holiday I would pick would ultimately show my followers which part of my identity was a bigger priority for me. And it wasn’t easy to decide how I would reflect myself to all those followers, most of whom are neither Persian nor Jewish. 

This past year, I’ve been on a road to identity and self-discovery, striving to find ways to connect with my Persian and Jewish roots. This has ranged from participating in 30 Years After’s Maher Fellowship, which introduced me to other young Iranian-American Jewish leaders, to writing “Monday Motivation” posts on my Instagram with lessons from the week’s Torah portion. Whether all those followers care to read reflections about the weekly parasha from a fashion blogger is a matter for another column. 

I’m beginning to understand that what’s beautiful about trying to define oneself is the realization that we don’t need to box ourselves into being just one thing — or one person. The secret to learning who you are is knowing that you give ultimate meaning to what that means. 

So, who am I? I’m an Iranian-American Jew, a female, a blogger, an aficionado of rainbows and unicorns, who eats Persian food with my family every Friday night, attends synagogue every Saturday, and keeps kosher.

This year, I won’t simply celebrate “Iranian Elaine” or “Jewish Elaine” — but the whole of Elaine, paying homage to the customary tradition of dressing up on Purim, alongside my Iranian roots. I like to call my decision for the final look: “If Queen Esther was a modern day rainbow millennial fashion blogger.” As you can imagine, it will involve a lot of rainbow fabric!

Elaine Daneshrad is the co-creator of 30 Years After’s annual Taboo Summit, which addresses controversial issues within the Iranian-American Jewish community. 

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