By Edith Morgan
Could the miraculous survival of my people, the Jewish people, against all odds, be partly due to the ability of Jews everywhere to adapt and grow, while still maintaining the core of a nearly 7,000-year-old set of beliefs?
Practice of rituals and practices vary greatly, not only from century to century, but also from nation to nation. Because we were so frequently displaced by war and persecution, in my family, traditions were observed within the family. And because my mother was a convert to Judaism, she added some touches of her own to my father’s religious practices. But despite all these influences, our Passover celebrations were remarkably like those we found wherever we lived in our wanderings through Germany, France and America.
And so, as spring begins, once again we begin the obligatory thorough cleaning – getting the house ready for the Seder and removing all traces of leavened breads. I took the Seder platter out from the cupboard, found some horseradish, hunted up the lamb shank bone, collected all the symbolic foods for the Seder platter, and hunted for a good ceremonial red wine. (I am not a great connoisseur of wines, so I have to rely on the clerks at the liquor store!)
This year the first night of Passover falls on Good Friday, and the days of Passover extend through Easter. So we will all be celebrating on some of the same days! And we will be celebrating the coming of spring, too – in some rather similar ways … with eggs, ceremonies and, of course, food and drink and families around us.
But unlike other holidays at this time, Passover celebrates freedom from slavery and the liberation of a people from bondage.
That story never grows old and is told every time – making the Passover celebration sometimes very long. It can run for up to four hours, if all the Scriptures are read, the questions answered, the rituals observed. There have been attempts to “streamline” the rituals, to select parts of the Haggadah (the Passover book of rituals and observances), to cater to the short attention span of today’s celebrants – to abridge the story of the Exodus from Egypt, to use mostly English, rather than the old Hebrew texts. And even to follow the rabbinically approved version called “The 30-minute Seder”!
But whatever modern adaptations are made some things never change. And so we still have the Seder platter with its symbolic displays reminding us of bondage and hope and sacrifice. And of course everyone fills a wine cup for the Prophet Elijah, who is believed to visit every Jewish home during Passover. Children get to ask the questions, and in one form or another represent the four major approaches to these rituals: the wise son, asking and really wanting to know; the wicked son, cynical and materialistic in these times; the simple son, and the one who does not yet know how to ask the questions. It is an opportunity to explain Passover on four different levels, adapted to the ability of the children to comprehend.
A joyous Passover to all our Jewish friends and CECELIA/incitytimesworcester.org readers!
Hopefully, all of us will have a chance to partake of a Seder in our communities. Passover is still so particularly appropriate in these troubled times, when so many are seeking to be free!