On the eve of Rosh Chodesh Nisan, between Purim and Passover, the Jews of Libya and Tunisia, as well as Jews from certain parts of Algeria, hold the Bsisa ceremony: a ceremony to mark the foundation of the Temple, the construction of which was completed in the month of Nisan. The word bsisa is derived from the word “base”, and it is also held for the inauguration of a new house or business.
On this evening the family gathers at the family home. The woman of the house prepares a mixture of roasted wheat and barley (or roasted chickpeas or roasted flour), spices, almonds and dried fruits. The head of the family takes a key in his right hand, and in his left hand he pours oil into the mixture, stirs it with the key and blesses:
“Ya Petah Blaa Mepetah (the opener, without a key)
Ya Attai bla mana (open your hands without any reward)
Tarzakna and Tarzak Manna (Show us your goodness and we will give of it to all)”
During the prayer and while pouring of the oil, family members dip their fingers in the bowl, bless and taste, and some pour a bit of the mixture into the foundations of the new house.
Bsisa is made in Greece
“Rami’s parents made sure to hold the ceremony every year on the first day of Nissan, and it was always a significant moment for us. When Rami’s father passed away, the ceremony came to an end.
When we built our house 15 years ago, I told Nonna (my grandmother, the late Esther Raphael), who was actually Greek, born in Corfu and a Holocaust survivor, about the bsisa ceremony. It was a moment before the contractor laid the floor, and I felt that without Rami’s father to conduct the ceremony – there wouldn’t really be a blessing. Nonna, with whom I shared all the stages of construction, immediately said: ‘Then I will prepare such a mixture for you and bless you.’ I answered her: ‘But Nonna, it’s a Tripolitanian ceremony’, and Nonna (who was born in Corfu, Greece) said: ‘Yes, but you can always bless. What does it matter who does the blessing? I want you to teach me how to make the bsisa, and I’ll bless you.’
And so it was: a few days later I arrived at her house with the groceries and taught her to make her bsisa. Nonna devoted herself excitedly to her new custom, and the hours we worked together turned into hours of kindness, conversation and blessing. On Friday at noon we drove together to the street where we were going to live. Nonna had difficulty walking, so we got as close as we could to the scaffolding of the house and she waited for us outside, to see us enter the construction site and spread the base mixture on the foundations, and greeted us with great excitement.
Unfortunately Nona passed away before we moved to the new house and did not get to inaugurate it with us, but her blessing continued to guide us in our new life, and the bsisa ceremony remains a sweet memory. Every year, on the first day of Nissan, we hold the ceremony. The experience of the joint ceremony and the blessing makes our hearts happy. And the bsisa? Simple to prepare and very very tasty.
If there are leftovers, I add an egg to them and bake perfect anise cookies for coffee or tea. Because that’s how Nonna taught me: food is not thrown away, certainly not one that is made with love and instilled with a blessing.”
Bake the cookies in an oven preheated to 180 degrees, until they are golden.
Ingredients for Bsisa
- 2 cups flour
- ½ cup Sugar
- ⅓ cup Sesame seeds
- ⅓ cup Anise seed
- handful almonds chopped
- handful walnuts chopped
- handful raisins
- handful pitted dates (vacuum pack) chopped
- canola oil to drizzle
1. Toast the flour in a pan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it starts to turn golden. Add sugar, sesame, anise seeds, almonds and walnuts and continue to toast while mixing, until the flour, sesame, and nuts are beautifully golden and there is a pleasant smell of sesame and toasted nuts.
2. Add raisins and dates and mix.
3. During the bsisa ceremony, canola oil is sprinkled into the mixture while stirring, until the mixture becomes a uniform paste with a thick texture and is ready to be tasted.