Reading with Be’chol Lashon: A Persian Princess
Be’chol Lashon Review
A Persian Princess is a charming, modern Purim story that highlights the legacy of Persian Jewry. Raya, a young Persian American Jewish girl, is happily baking cookies for Purim with her grandmother, Maman joon. They are called koloocheh and are from the family’s Persian Jewish heritage. Maman joon recounts eating the crunchy cookies shaped like little Hamans, (the Purim villain) when she was a child in Hamadan, Iran.
Raya is disappointed that she is not old enough to be in the Purim play like her older brother, Nati. She wants to be a sparkly princess for Purim just like Queen Esther. To cheer her up, her grandmother, Maman joon, takes her up to her bedroom and wraps Raya in colorful Persian scarves that she brought with her when she fled from her home in Iran. Raya is ecstatic about her costume and wears it as she and Maman joon go out to perform the Purim tradition of delivering mishloach manot, Purim treats, to their neighbors.
When recounting the story of Queen Esther’s bravery to a young girl in the neighborhood, Raya decides to put on her own Purim play. Raya’s Persian princess outfit becomes a Queen Esther costume. With the help of Maman joon and her brother, the festive trio successfully put on a play for their family and neighborhood friends.
Although Jews lived in the area that is now Iran for over 2500 years, the climate changed after 1979, and about two-thirds of the Jewish population of 80,000 left and settled in other countries, including the US. According to the biblical telling, the Persian Empire stretched over 70 nations, from India to the Kush—or modern day Africa. It included many peoples, tribes and cultures, languages, religions, and races. The planned eradication of the Jews was a potential threat not only to this one group, but to the whole concept of diversity—the proverbial canary in the coal mine. The triumph of the Jews should serve as a reminder that every group has their place in a complex, multicultural world. It offers us an opportunity not only to celebrate the diversity of the Jewish people, but diversity more generally.
Barbara Diamond Goldin has written picture books, story collections, non-fiction, retellings, and historical fiction. In 1997, she received the prestigious Sydney Taylor Body-of-Work Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries. This award is presented to the author whose collected works are a distinguished contribution to Jewish literature for children. “Goldin’s consistently commendable and recommendable books combine talented writing, solid research, personal commitment and deep caring.”
The illustrator Steliyana Doneva lives in Sofia, Bulgaria with her husband, a violinist and three children, who provide her with continuous inspiration. Her love of painting and drawing started from early childhood, when she would imitate her grandfather drawing horses in his notebook. Stela studied at the School for Applied Arts in Sofia with the specialty in “children’s toys”. She also graduated at St. Cyril and St. Methodius University in Veliko Tarnovo in 1998 with an MA degree in Graphic Arts.
In our daily lives, we learn to navigate different social and cultural settings by showing or hiding elements of who we are. Additionally, we all have elements of our identities that are immediately visible to others and elements of our identities that are hidden. For example, some elements, like the color of your skin, are harder to hide than others.
Hidden identities can be powerful, protective and sometimes painful. Esther concealing her Judaism allowed her to navigate the politics of the palace community, and save the Jewish people. At times, Jews from all over the world have had to hide their Judaism in order to survive.
Want to learn more about Queen Esther’s Persian-Iranian heritage? Celebrate the Jewish history of ancient Persia and modern Iran, and discover the continuing relevance of the story of Purim. Sign up for Be’chol Lashon’s new Passport to Peoplehood educational resources.
- When people see you, what do they know about you? What don’t they know about you?
- What makes someone Jewish?” Is it about how you “look” or what you “do”?
- Why is it fun to wear crowns and other costumes? Do you feel different inside when you pretend? When you wear a crown?
Purim Crown Art Project
This activity uses the making of crowns to engage children in questions of identity. Download/print the instructions here.
- Paper or Foam
- Hole punch (optional)
- Stickers or stick-on jewels (optional)
- Feathers (optional)
- Pipe cleaners (optional)
- Arrange the materials on a table
- Depending on the size of the paper or foam, cut in half as two pieces might be needed to staple together to fit around a child’s head. Fit the crown to the head size and staple the two pieces of paper or foam together.
- Using paper or foam, allow children to cut the top to create their own crowns
- Decorate with markers, stickers, and self‐stick jewels. staple on feathers, pipe cleaners, etc.