Last week, I was very fortunate to have been invited to a special observance. My friend, Saleh Damiger, announcer for the Washington bureau of the Voice of America in Kurdistan, invited me to a local traditional Newroz or new year’s celebration. Newroz means “new day” and it is celebrated as in ancient times, at the vernal equinox—otherwise known as “spring.” I think this is the most logical time to celebrate the new year on the planet. What better time to renew hope, faith and ourselves than at that time of year when plants are flowering and the earth is ripe for planting new crops?
There are hundreds of thousands of Kurds and Kurdish ancestors in America and close to a quarter of a million Kurdish Jews in the State of Israel. Feel free to seek them out and befriend them. They remind me so much of our own people it is shocking. Since ancient Kurdish areas incorporate parts of the ancient “Silk Road” and since Jews were heavily invested in trade throughout the ancient world, they settled in areas known today as parts of Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Armenia, Iraq and Turkey. I met Kurds in Virginia last week who traveled from as far away as Connecticut and Erbil to attend the festivities. Ironically enough, they strongly resembled my Israeli Iraqi and Persian friends. And no wonder. I met women and men from Bagdhad and Kobani in Syria, Qamishli and Istanbul. The food served was good enough to make me homesick for Tel Aviv. Many of the women were in their traditional Kurdish floor-length gowns which flowed and sparkled with sequins and vivid clashing colors. The music and dancing which began after a moment of silence for the Kurds lost in the past year due to Daesh and the Turks was continuous throughout the evening. Kurdish halparke dancing strongly resembles our horah. I always thought that Israeli Jews were the party animals of the world until I saw how Kurds party.
There is something that Kurds have on the rest of the world. They are true environmentalists. The Kurds in the PKK and its related political and military factions such as the YPG, now engaged in fighting Daesh and Syrian armies in Syria and Iraq, have political platforms which call for the respect of nature. They report widely on the abuse of animals in videos online and are often seen releasing wild animals captured and abused by Daesh and Turkish soldiers. As part of their new year celebrations, parks and forests are visited and camping out and bonfires are all part of the traditions. I am reminded of the Lag BaOmer pilgrimages up to Mount Meron to light bonfires while celebrating the life of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. The only difference is that the Kurds clean up after themselves and would never leave trash sitting on a mountain so revered.
Just as I am struck by the survival of our people through much of the world’s history, Kurds have played a part in this history and their own survival today matches ours and is likewise, nothing short of miraculous. While many Kurds today are Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Zoroastrian, they have had to endure centuries of abuse and slaughter while remaining true to their ancestry and people. Their diaspora is not unlike our own, with millions of Kurds living throughout the world. They are largely secular which is why we have the same enemies– from Hamas to Hezbollah to the current leaders of Iran. Thousands of Kurds are fighting the Revolutionary Guard today. Even without modern weaponry, they inflict a great deal of damage to opposing forces. Like the IDF, their women fight alongside the men and are as competent. Unlike American fighting forces, the Kurds do not need 130 pounds of heavy equipment slung on their backs to wage a successful military campaign against their foes. They have their guns and bullets and something to sleep on and that is about all they take into battle. They eat communally and their morning meals have everything any good Israeli would recognize and serve for breakfast, right down to the labneh.
With so many similarities between Jews and Kurds, it behooves us to learn more about them and our shared history and to acknowledge that our future, particularly of the State of Israel, is intertwined with theirs. With true friends in the Middle East so few, I can think of 48 million reasons to align ourselves with the Kurds. May your year be filled with prosperity and good health. Newroz piroz be!