Every spring since I was a child, the end of the eighth night of Pesach (Passover) meant that our crispy matzo was instantly replaced with a celebratory treat called nishalawh. In my Bukharian (Central Asian Jewish) community in Brooklyn, NY, everyone knew about this treat: an egg-based creamy marshmallowy spread served with fresh homemade bread.
As Pesach ended my home would immediately begin to smell like fresh homemade bread as my mother spent time beating eggs, sugar, and other ingredients to make the marshmallow spread. As we gathered around the table my mom would pass around the bread and bowls of marshmallow fluff so that we could dip the bread and enjoy the gooey goodness together. It didn't take long for us to end up with our noses and cheeks completely sticky.
What does marshmallow fluff and fresh bread have to do with escorting Pesach out the door and resuming a bread-ful life? I never thought to ask growing up. But recently, I spent nearly two hours on FaceTime with my mom and aunt — the two most powerful Bukharian women I know — to ask this question.
My aunt Sofi piped up and said that we eat nishalawh to celebrate a sweet new year. At first, I was stumped. Isn't the new year Rosh Hashanah, in the fall? With some research and with the help of my mom I came to learn that in Jewish tradition there are actually four new years celebrations throughout the year.
So let's start with the obvious one, Rosh Hashanah which literally means “the head of the year.” This is a time of year that is about reflection and introspection and basically marks the first day of humanity.
But even before that there’s Elul, the month right before Rosh Hashanah. This is its own new year, a time for preparation before we enter the High Holidays.
Now we move on to Tu B’Shevat, a time of year that celebrates the birthday of the trees. It’s our Jewish calendar’s “Earth Day.” I love that, since ancient times, our calendar has held a special time for the trees. This is the new year for trees everywhere.
Lastly, the first of Nissan — this springtime month that is known to be “head of months.” We see this as a new year because it marks the beginning of the formation of the Jewish peoplehood after escaping Egypt.
What is usually done with a new year’s celebration is to eat something sweet as a ritual that we merit a sweet new year. And what is more sweet than some delicious nishalawh, marshmallow fluff on fresh airy homemade bread?
My aunt concluded by saying that right after Passover, all they had immediate access to, in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, was lots of eggs, flour, sugar, and water — and with some creativity and determination, the long Bukharian tradition of nishalawh was born. This practice marks a new year celebrating Jewish peoplehood as we are sent off on a sweet new year.
Learning all this has brought a new sense of pride and love for my Bukharian heritage and culture. I am so blessed to learn from the generations before me how Bukharian Jews practice their traditions and formed their rituals as it relates to their Jewish identity. This has highlighted for me the rich diversity of Jewish practice and is representative of just one of the many post-Pesach traditions that are practiced every year among our peoplehood.
I look forward to passing on the nishalawh torch that I feel is one of the many traditions that will link me and generations to come to our ancestry and our people.
P.S. The easiest way to incorporate this practice in your homes is to simply pick up some fresh bread and marshmallow fluff at your local grocery store. Bon appetit!
At The Well uplifts many approaches to Jewish practice. Our community draws on ancient Jewish wisdom, sometimes adapting longstanding practices to more deeply support the well-being of women and nonbinary people. See this article’s sources below. We believe Torah (sacred teachings) are always unfolding to help answer the needs of the present moment.
How Many Jewish New Years?, My Jewish Learning
Bukharian Passover Traditions and Recipes, My Jewish Learning