Tonight begins Passover or as some of my Christian friends refer to it Jewish Easter.
Eh, I’m used to it. Hanukkah is Jewish Christmas to them and Rosh Hashanah is Jewish, well, New Year but it is to just about everyone. Most Jewish holidays are summed up as “They tried to kill us, we beat them, let’s eat”.
Passover of course is eight days of unleavened bread, reminders that we were once slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the knowledge that spring has sprung and it’s time to get the horseradish to clear out your allergy stuffed head. It’s filled with symbolic foods like the egg for spring, the salt water for the bitter tears of the slaves, the haroset that looks like the mortar the slaves had to use to build the pyramids (but is now sweet and delicious), a green vegetable (usually celery) as a reminder of hope, a roasted shank bone to honor the sacrifices we make to be free, and of course the horseradish to remind of the bitterness of slavery.
All Jewish holidays traditionally begin on the evening before the official holiday start which can get confusing. For me this year it’s doubly so because the Seder for the first night (the traditional feast given on the first two nights) has been moved to Thursday night so traveling family members can attend. Better to have them there and be a day off then to be a strict constructionist and not have them there. Besides, they have all the young kids in the family and Passover is nothing if not for the kids.
No, we don’t have balloon animals and clowns and certainly don’t have super sugary frosted cake. It’s a holiday for kids because it’s the opportunity for the kids to experience their history and to have it told to them by their elders. In other words, a chance to make a direct connection between history and today. Everyone has their part to play. The parents and grandparents as narrators of the story, the children as enthusiastic audience.
It is also a tradition that you invite someone to your Seder who is not Jewish or who does not know the story. It’s a chance to teach, to show that for all our differences we are underneath all the same. And it all goes down better with wine and brisket.
There is even a manual to go by called the Haggadah. It tells you what to do and when to do it, from the ritual washing of hands to the ritual eating of bitter herbs, to the ritual breaking of the matzah to well you get the idea.
There is a comfort to that.
If you have been reading me for the past year or so you have probably figured out that I’m not big on religion, but Passover is a little different. It’s different because as much as it is a religious holiday, it’s an historical holiday. Think of it as Christmas and the Fourth of July rolled into one.
It’s the chance to remind everyone, but the kids especially, of “why this night is different from all others”. It sits as a reminder that while you may be living a comfortable life, others are not and that once your ancestors were some of those others.
And you can quickly become one of them again.
It is also a time to stand in solidarity with those around the world who, just as the Israelites of old, are oppressed by evil forces. I am part of the generation that added the Jews of the Soviet Union to the Seder, as my parents added the memories of the six million, and as I fear we will now have to add the Ukrainians of today. People just living their lives, raising their kids, enjoying the simple joys of being human and having connections to those we love and then to have all of that stolen by evil men who crave nothing but power over others.
And so we recite the story again. We hand it down to the next generation so they will learn it’s lessons and draw inspiration from it and eventually hand it down to their next generation. We learn that in the darkest night, when you must flee with only unleavened bread to eat, whether from Egypt or Mariupol, that one day there will be freedom and the safety of a world without evil. Yeah, it’s a prayer, but it’s a prayer I can get completely behind.
Everyone have a great Passover, Easter, Ramadan, pagan rite of spring, whatever you celebrate. We’ll go out with Igor, Walt, and Leopold doing what they all did best to celebrate the arrival of spring.