Starting The Persian New Year By Helping

Kosher wine expert Micah Halpern is flanked by hosts Jacqueline and Maurice Harounian. (Photo by Sheri ArbitalJacoby)

The UJA-Federation of New York’s Jewish Life Committee held Purim Unmasked at the Kings Point home of Jacqueline “Jackie” and Maurice Harounian on Tuesday, Feb. 26.

The evening celebrated Purim as Jackie explained the Persian New Year, Temple Israel of Great Neck’s Senior Rabbi Howard A. Stecker discussed the tradition’s beginnings in ancient Persian, UJA Jewish Life Committee Chairs Jonathan Satovsky and Genia Taub explained the organization’s life-changing work and the only exclusively kosher wine reviewer in the Western world shared his expertise with a tasting of a white, red, pomegranate and passion fruit. The fruit wines were donated by Great Neck residents Karen and Gershon Bodner, who own the Morad Winery in Israel.

Temple Israel of Great Neck’s Senior Rabbi Howard A. Stecker discusses the Purim holiday. (Photo by Sheri ArbitalJacoby)

Jackie expressed how being active with UJA has enriched her, her family and her community.

“I see friends here from the UJA Hope Committee, which has raised significant funds and awareness for Jewish victims of Domestic Violence, friends from the UJA Long Island Business and Professional Committee, which I chair, and other familiar faces from Witness Project, an amazing activity my 14-year-old son, Joey, is involved with, which will culminate in a multimedia performance on April 15, when 20 high school students from all over Long Island interact with Holocaust survivors at the Tilles Center for this fundraiser,” said Jackie, who explained that of the approximately 40,000 Holocaust survivors living in New York, 40 percent live in poverty. Learn more about the event by contacting

No-Ruz, the Persian New Year

Jackie also talked about how in a few weeks, the vernal equinox will be upon us—and it will be time to begin another trip around the sun.

“For hundreds of millions of people around the world, the first day of spring heralds the celebration of the new year, No-Ruz, which means ‘new day’ in Farsi,” she explained. “The holiday has been celebrated by Persians of all religions and throughout the Middle East and Asia for more than 3,000 years. The holiday coincides with the advent of spring, the rejuvenation of nature and the beginning of new life.”

No-Ruz originated in ancient Zoroastrian religion and culture, which predates other well-known religions, including Christianity and Islam. Probably the most well known Persian Zoroastrian was Freddy Mercury, about whom this year’s hit movie Bohemian Rhapsody was based.

Each item on the Haft Seen Ceremonial Table symbolizes abundance in nature, including health, wisdom, prosperity, beauty and age, to express thanks for abundance in the past or a wish for abundance in the future. (Photo by Sheri ArbitalJacoby)

“From the time I was a small child, No-Ruz was a highly anticipated holiday, because each year, my father’s sister Mahin invited my entire extended family to her beautiful house to celebrate,” explained Jackie. “Those memories were lasting and meaningful, especially the mysterious and exotic Haft Seen display that we only ever saw at her house.”

Jackie set up her very first Haft Seen Ceremonial Table for the event, with each item symbolizing abundance in nature—health, wisdom, prosperity, beauty and age—to express thanks either for the abundance in the past or a wish for abundance in the future.

“In ancient times, that is what people prayed for in the new year,” said Jackie. “Speaking for myself and probably most of you, not much has changed in terms of what we pray and wish for.”

Great Neck’s Persian Community

Interestingly, the Jewish community in Iran is the oldest in the world, also going back 3,000 years. Locally, to commemorate that this month marks 40 years since the 1979 Iranian Revolution which led to the influx of Persian Jews in Great Neck, Sephardic Heritage Alliance Inc. (SHAI) will present weekly events on the peninsula throughout the month. View our weekly calendar for details on these fascinating and helpful happenings.

UJA Touches 4.5 Million People Each Year

UJA Jewish Life Committee Chairs Genia Taub and Jonathan Satovsky receive a citation from Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey. (Photo by Sheri ArbitalJacoby)

For more than 100 years, UJA-Federation has brought New Yorkers together to solve some of the most pressing problems facing its community. To impact the issues that matter most to them, more than 50,000 donors pool their resources to care for Jews everywhere as New Yorkers of all backgrounds respond to crises close to home and far away. Working with a network of hundreds of nonprofits, UJA extends its reach from New York to Israel to nearly 70 other countries around the world, touching 4.5 million people each year.

UJA’s Jewish Life committee was created to help Long Islanders establish a deeper connection to the Jewish community through educational—and fun—events like this.

“The organization strengthens Jewish life and identity and instills a lifelong connection to Jewish community from camps to campuses to congregations,” explained Taub. “For thousands of local children, Jewish summer day camp is the entry point into the Jewish community—and sometimes their only Jewish experience. So, we’re renovating more than 500 acres of campgrounds, known as the Henry Kaufmann Campgrounds, on Long Island, in Staten Island and Rockland County. These grounds house day camps from 15 JCCs across the NY area, and the Sunrise Association, which provides free camp for children with cancer and their siblings. We’re so excited to start upgrading these grounds—which are more than 50 years old—so we can nurture the next generation of Jewish leaders.”

Micah Halpern, a network news analyst, best-selling author, columnist and the only exclusively kosher wine reviewer in the Western world, shares his knowledge at the wine tasting. (Photo by Sheri ArbitalJacoby)

Taub said that the group is also helping thousands of local college students stay connected to the Jewish community through 15 campus Hillels, and its partner Sid Jacobson JCC has a Center for Israel that promotes awareness, engagement and education of Israeli history, culture and society on Long Island, which has touched the lives of nearly 10,000 children and teens since the center’s inception. The center is also the driving force behind Israelfest, an annual event that brings thousands together for Long Island’s largest celebration of Israel, which will be held at North Hempstead Beach on May 5.

“We’re always looking for new people to join us,” said Taub, who welcomes those interested in helping create enriching Jewish experiences.

Learn more by contacting Connections Director Orna Sheena at 516-762-5832 or


  1. I am curious why you refer to Micha as “the only exclusively kosher wine reviewer in the Western world”? With numerous journalists doing so, it is simply not true (besides the fact that I have been writing exclusively about kosher wine for over 15 years).

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