Category Archives: Passover

Light

I’ve been off from work this past week, and it was a wise move, taking off for Holy Week. The days were spent on projects and in preparation. I got to spend time with Seth and with the cat as I finished binding a book that someone had ordered and got to work in earnest once more on the book proposal for the Convivio Book of Days. I started fresh, fresh like spring, and I feel better about the proposal I’ve begun this week, much better than the one I began last fall. My friend Cricket gave me a bag of coffee as inspiration for my writing, and all that’s left is enough for one cup: the cup of coffee I will have when I send her the finished proposal.

We also got to help my mom and sister with Easter baking and we got to go on our annual Holy Thursday night pilgrimage of three churches. It was Seth and me on that pilgrimage and we were out late into the moonlit night. So beautiful. And this year I got to do something I had never done before: I went to church for Good Friday. And that was fine, church was. But the sermon made me uncomfortable and I felt a bit disconnected, until it was all over, when we all left the old church in silence, as we are to do on Good Friday. But as we left, I could hear the sounds of the Creole choir, also from our church. The Creole congregation were in the midst of the Stations of the Cross, outdoors on the sidewalk in front of the older church building, the one from the late 1800s. Their music drew me in and I gathered round the old church with them, leaning up against a live oak tree. They were at the final station. There was wailing and sorrow and there was singing I had never heard before but which sounded so familiar. They made their way then to the main church, the larger, newer one, the one built in 1913. They entered, singing, and I went on my way, content, happier for having run into this extension of myself.

Saturday night, I’ll be back, for the Easter Vigil. It is the hours-long Mass that brings in Eastertide. It can begin only after darkness has fallen, for it is then the third day, which used to confuse me a lot until I realized that different cultures have different ways of reckoning time. No one way is right, for time is such a fluid thing and yet an invention of our making. It will be the beginning of Easter and the second night of Passover, too. We will be there, sitting, standing, kneeling, singing, praying, in a service that will begin in darkness and end in light––a central theme to the Easter Vigil. A fire is kindled and the one light is the source that illuminates all the candles in the church: the candles on the altar, the candles we hold cupped in our hands. We are reminded that light overcomes darkness. We are invited to be that light.

 

Next Year in Jerusalem

Digitized by the Gruss Lipper Digital Laboratory at the Center for Jewish History - www.cjh.org

With tonight’s setting sun comes Passover. A friend explains it best: “We are traveling through the desert with our ancestors via a table filled with metaphor and symbolism.” This moveable springtime holiday in the Jewish calendar commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. The celebration of Passover (or Pesach in Hebrew) is a meal, the seder. Unleavened bread is a central part of the celebration, for the Israelites had to leave Egypt so quickly there was no time to let the bread rise. Instead, it had to be baked immediately. There is traditionally a place at the table reserved for Elijah, the prophet, and the words “Next year in Jerusalem” are a common refrain.

At the table is a book, the Haggadah, which tells the Passover story. Those gathered around the table read from the book in the midst of the seder plate, filled with foods rich with symbolic meaning. They say you can’t celebrate the holiday without a haroseth, which is a mixture of chopped nuts and apples, wine, and spices. It sounds like a celebratory part of an autumnal meal, but it is here in the springtime, symbolic of the mortar used by the Israelites when they were slaves in Egypt.

Family and food, rich in meaning, celebrated since time immemorial: these are the roots of Pesach, a festival of freedom.

Image: Preparing for the Seder in the Kitchen of the Community House, Biloxi, Miss., April 13, 1949. Digitized by the Gruss Lipper Digital Laboratory at the Center for Jewish History.

 

Pesach

Pesach

We enter Holy Week now and always hand in hand with Easter is the Jewish celebration of Passover. This year, Passover, or in Hebrew Pesach, with the setting sun tonight, April 14. The holiday commemorates the freeing of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt, and is celebrated with a meal, the seder. A friend explains it thusly: “We are traveling through the desert with our ancestors via a table filled with metaphor and symbolism.” Unleavened bread is a central part of the celebration, for the Israelites had to leave Egypt so quickly there was no time to let the bread rise. Instead, it had to be baked immediately.

The Italians call Passover Pasqua Ebraica, which you might translate as “Jewish Easter,” but in fact in many languages the names of both Easter and Passover are the same. Pesach informs the name given to Easter in Italian: Pasqua. The English word “Easter” does not share this etymological relation to Pesach. It is related more to the the Old English “Eostre,” which is the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess whose feast day was celebrated around the Spring Equinox.

Among the questions asked at the seder table is this one: Why is this night different from all other nights? And I actually cannot tell you. I’ve never attended a seder. But I will join all who are in spirit tonight and wish you abundant blessings.

 

The image above is taken from a 19th century Haggadah by an anonymous Russian folk artist [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.