Tonight begins the eight day celebration of Passover. A friend asked if you wish someone a “Happy Passover” and I said yes! Unlike Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when you want to wish someone an easy fast.
For me, Passover is the ultimate of storytelling, well, Purim is a good story too, but Passover is my favorite story and ritual. In this Bible story, I feel God was most generous. He asked Moses to speak on his behalf and Moses refused, over and over again….thank goodness God persisted in his generosity of spirit or the Jews would not have escaped slavery from the Egyptian Pharaoh. Passover is the story of the Jews escape from Egyptian slavery. God sent the ten plagues on Egypt to convince the Pharoah to “Let my People Go” the ultimate Passover song. God allowed death to pass-over the Jewish homes and only killed the first born male in Egyptian homes. God parted the Red Sea so the Jews good escape from the Egyptians. So many stories within stories.
The Haggadah is a story in and of itself. This is the “order of the (Seder) service” and the ultimate story we share around the dinner table during Passover. In my 50+ years, I have so enjoyed watching and reading the creativity of the Haggadot. As a young girl we read the traditional Haggadah as provided by our synagogue. My Mother wrote many a Haggadah with us and her students when she taught at our Temple. My uncle has published a Haggadah that is a piece of art and order of the service in one. As an adult, I have been honored to share many a Seder with friends and family.
Each Seder is different with Haggadot from a women’s point of view, a review of slavery in America, contemporary and traditional editions of Haggadot. Ultimately, for me, Passover and order of the service are about how and why we need to remember, look back and move forward with an understanding from where we came. I guess this is the history major in me. We have to retell stories over and over, generation to generation – so we don’t repeat the same mistakes….that’s the idea of history I cling to with every fiber of my being – despite the news.
And all of the food around Passover is different for a reason and has its own story. Jews escaped from slavery – unexpectedly and quickly. The Seder plate literally holds the story of Passover via food! This is a picture of my Seder plate. My Uncle designed this with Villeroy and Boch and gave it to me on my wedding day. It remains one of my most cherished pieces. Like Haggadot, there are many versions of a Seder plate but all are represented below:
- Bread didn’t have time to rise – thus the matzah.
- Maror or bitter herb to represent the bitterness of slavery (usually horseradish)
- Haroset is a mixture of apples, cinnamon, sweet wine and nuts is reminding us of the mortar Jews mixed as slaves to build the Egyptian storehouses (some say Pyramids). This is my favorite on matzah with horseradish.
- Karpas are bitter herbs, usually represented by parsley. As part of the Seder they are dipped in very salty water, representing the tears of the Jewish slaves and bitterness of that time.
- Zeroah or shank bone is the sacrifice the Jews offered at the Temple and is a reminder of this ceremony and ritual
- Beitzah is a hardboiled egg which represents mourning at the destruction of the Temple during slavery
The story of Passover has many more details and nuances. At our family table, the Seder always included friends, family, Jews and non-Jews because sharing this story and the food is part of our tradition.
I wish you and your family a happy Passover and Easter. Both holidays herald the beginning of Spring, always a good time for renewal, forgiveness and food!