Tag Archives: Exodus

Thanksgiving and Passover: Celebrations of freedom and new beginnings

Matzah_Cranberries_Thanksgiving

Yesterday a friend asked me if I would be posting something in my blog about Thanksgiving, and my immediate response was no. (After all, it’s only about Passover.) But then I got to thinking and realized that not only could I write something that linked the two celebrations together, but that I absolutely should. (See an earlier post about creating a Thanksgiving Seder plate.)

Like Passover, the Thanksgiving festival itself takes place not in a temple of worship, but directly at the dinner table amongst family and friends. One of the nicest things about Thanksgiving is that it is a national holiday (specifically American/Canadian), celebrated by all faiths and backgrounds. While Passover may be a Jewish holiday, it is probably the only one celebrated by all levels of Jewish observance, from the most secular to the most traditional.

Each celebration coincides with the harvest — Passover in the spring, and Thanksgiving in the fall — where special foods available during each particular season are central to the meal. During Thanksgiving we go out of our way to prepare dishes that utilize foods native to the Americas, such as corn, cranberries, turkey, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and pecans, which over time have become symbols of the holiday itself. During Passover, varying Jewish communities make a special effort to prepare foods using fresh spring produce, such as a variety of greens, herbs, vegetables, and fruits, while matzah (the unleavened bread symbolic of Passover), is often incorporated into dishes as well.

Finally (and most significantly) each of these two holidays is an opportunity for us to teach our children (and remind ourselves) about important moments in our history when people were persecuted for their differences and forced to flee for a better, more open life. For the Pilgrims it meant traveling for two treacherous months by sea from Europe, to an unknown life in the New World, for the chance to to worship freely and live life in a new way. And for the Israelites the Bible tells of how enslavement in Egypt forced them to wander through the “wilderness” or desert for forty years just to escape the wrath of the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, in hopes of rebuilding their lives in the Promised Land.

In summary, Thanksgiving as well as Passover represents the will to free oneself from an oppressed life, as well as the strength to start anew, despite the many obstacles and difficulties that might be encountered along the way. During this holiday season when we think about what we are thankful for, let us remember not only those in the past who have succeeded in finding and building a freer life,
but for those today who who have only started their journey.

Advertisements

Cleansing your sins for Passover? It’s time to start preparing.

“My mother never wanted a cleaning lady to help (for Passover) because she believed that wherever you were cleaning your chametz, you were also cleaning your avonot — your sins. She used to tell my older sister who was not yet married, ‘Clean more, more, more and the chattan (groom) will come faster.'”

— Sonia Arusy (Tunisian)

MorgueFile_sunset2_blogThe holiday of Passover in truth begins today, when we sweep up fallen Hamantaschen crumbs from Purim and start the methodical process of cleaning out our homes from top to bottom. Back a few generations ago, the act of cleaning was taken very seriously in eastern countries. In wealthy homes in Morocco (where hiring help was affordable), individuals were paid to remove ALL of the stuffing from every pillow and mattress, pick it clean, stuff it back in, and sew the cases back up. Some individuals from India noted that their walls were all freshly painted, and their floors stained, while in Ethiopia it was commonplace to break all of the pottery (including bowls, cups, plates, and pots) from the past year and buy new ones beginning with Passover. In Egypt and Lebanon, copper pots were brought to specialists who would clean and polish them until they became almost white in appearance, a process called imbay’yid (meaning, “to whiten” in Arabic). And overall in many of these communities, it was essential for the whole family to go to a seamstress or tailor a few weeks before the Seder to get measured for new clothing, which was often made of a white cloth.

What is most interesting is the connection of cleaning one’s house to cleansing one’s soul. As with most Jewish rituals, the physical act of observance is often tied to something deeper, higher, and more spiritual. There is an old saying, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” which is derived from a basic principle mentioned throughout the Bible. In the passage Exodus 19:10 (Oxford Annotated Bible), the Lord tells Moses: “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready by the third day; for on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” From this we learn that in order to receive God, it is important to cleanse oneself on the outside as a step towards spiritual purification (for the inside). During the weeks and days leading up to Passover we take the time to cleanse our homes and ourselves so that by the eve of the Seder we are ready to receive God once again, and remember how our ancestors were once freed to start anew.

Question: How do you prepare for the coming holiday?  

The Paschal Sacrifice: Going in on the whole lamb

Lamb_BW_blogRecently a good friend of mine emailed me a photo of a lamb with only the subject line: “Want to share one with me?” My first thought was she wanted it as a pet, but after a few emails I understood that she needed to know if I would share half of it with her (the meat, that is). My first reaction was one of discomfort. A whole lamb reserved just for us? It felt wrong and sad (and the cute and fuzzy photo she had sent didn’t help). But then I thought about God’s commandment to the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb the night before their big exodus from Egypt, and how since then its consumption has become such an integral, even holy part of the Seder meal. I also thought about the stories from several individuals who recalled their traumatic experiences as children: “One spring my father brought home a lamb, who then became our pet. We would feed it and play with it in the backyard. But then one month later (the day before the Seder) the shochet arrived at our door and we knew what was going to happen. It was a terrible experience,” shared one individual from Iran. “My sisters, and brothers and I used to keep him on our terrace and feed and pet it. Then one day it was gone and it wasn’t until the Seder meal that we understood. It was very hard for us,” shared another from Morocco. In fact it was not uncommon in the Middle East for several family members to go “wholesale” and order an entire lamb that they could share for the holiday week, while others in poorer communities might have shared one between several families. The main thing was that you ate some amount of lamb to fulfill this mitzvah of the sacrifice (and remember our ancestors’ freedom from Egypt).

Now that Passover is upon us, and my freezer is filled with half of a lamb, I feel more pressure to find and develop appropriate recipes for each piece. It’s not the same thing as simply going to your local butcher and purchasing a few (“anonymous”) pounds of the same cut. There is some responsibility now in using every piece and not letting any go to waste. Corny as it sounds, going in on the whole lamb feels much more personal.

Afgani Proverb: “Be Content with Such Things as You Have.”

Matzah_Onions1During my ongoing research into the Central Asian Jewish community I came across this
supposedly well-known Afghani proverb mentioned in several sites:

If there is only bread and onions,
still have a happy face.

The meaning?:
“Be content with such things
as you have.”

This made me think about the Jews during the Exodus from Egypt, as well as those who have had to leave their homes during various persecutions throughout the world over time. If one were to substitute “bread” for matzah, it would make just as much sense, if not more:

If there is only matzah and onions, still have a happy face.
The meaning?:
“Make the most of what you have when you have it —
(especially during Pesach!)”

The Sacrificial Egg and the Paschal Lamb: When Passover and Easter Cross Paths

Egg_Brown_Korban

The “Korban Chagigah,” or Festival Sacrifice
(Made with Coffee Grounds and Onion Skins)

According to the Torah, the Paschal (or Passover) lamb (also known as the Korban) was first sacrificed and then offered to God the night that the Israelites began their Exodus out of Egypt. The blood from this lamb was then used to paint a marker on the door posts of the home of each Israelite as a sign to God that he should pass over their home as he went to slay each firstborn Egyptian boy. It is for this reason we eat lamb on Passover, and according to this direct translation in the New Oxford Annotated Bible, even the instructions on how to prepare the lamb (“roasted,” NOT boiled please!)  is very clearly commanded by God:

Exodus 12: The Lord said to Moses
and Aaron in the land of Egypt,

“This month (Nisan) shall be for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month they shall take every man a lamb according to their father’s houses, a lamb for a household… and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month (Passover), when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs in the evening. Then they shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat them. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled with water, but roasted… It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.”

According to one source (History.com) many of those Jews who later converted to Christianity continued this Passover ritual of roasted lamb for Easter (the day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ), referring to it as the “Lamb of God”. Easter takes place around the same time as Passover does each year, and some scholars believe that the Last Supper, which supposedly took place the night before Jesus’s crucifixion, was in fact a Passover dinner.

Egg_Painted_BlogAs a symbol for life, rebirth, renewal, spring, and eternity since ancient times, the art of egg decoration predates Christianity. According to some sources (see History.com), Mesopotamian Christians began dying eggs red for Easter to recall the blood of Christ, a tradition which carried on to Eastern Europe and evolved into painting the eggs in decorative colors and patterns. Eggs also play an important role on the Seder plate for Passover. This roasted egg is known as the Korban Chagigah (“festival sacrifice;” see photo at top of post) to symbolize the mourning over the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (by the Romans in
70 C.E./A.D.), and our inability to make a proper lamb/meat sacrifice to God since then. The egg (representing life) is dipped into salt water symbolizing our tears of mourning, as well as those of our ancestors.

For those of you celebrating Easter or Passover:
Do you serve lamb for the holiday? If so, how do you prepare it?
Do you have any special traditions that use eggs (such as hiding them or decorating them)?
What do you know about the meaning of eggs and lamb during this holiday?

Purim is over and the countdown has begun: Time to start that spring cleaning!

Broom_MorgueFileNow that Purim has ended the official countdown to Passover has begun folks! This is the time when many Jews begin the step-by-step process of cleaning their house, or apartment (or even office) from top to bottom. Some might take this very seriously by cleaning one room at a time and then closing it off until the first Seder night, while others who have the possibility to go away for the whole week of Passover try to avoid the process entirely. While growing up in New York City in the late ’60s/early ’70s, my parents didn’t really adhere to any particular cleaning ritual. Instead we just tried to finish off whatever bread products we still had in the house by the time the first Seder began, and then allowed only matzah into the kitchen for the duration of the holiday week. But whether it is because I have always been somewhat of a compulsive cleaner, or because I just happen to find some kind of peace in tradition, I have always been fascinated by the ritual of cleaning for this holiday.

As I conducting interviews with Sephardic Jews about their overall memories of Passover while growing up, I was struck by how early their families had begun to prepare for the holiday, and how committed they were to every cleaning detail. Their childhood memories of Passover in the Old Country were vivid and nostalgic, and they appeared to literally light up as they described to me what they and their family did at home. But what was most interesting was that while they didn’t really want to continue the effort it would take to keep up these traditions, they recognized at the same time that something had been lost. They missed the feeling that they once got from the cleaning rituals that made the holiday more special. They also missed knowing that it was something that they shared with others who were doing the same thing in their community. By the time the first night of the Seder arrived, they were more than ready, perhaps as if they had earned it in some way. The Seder itself marked the separation between “old” and “new,” or more significantly, before the Exodus from Egypt and after. In fact the more I spoke to them I realized that the Passover holiday didn’t really begin with the first Seder at all, but rather with the first day of cleaning — the day after Purim — which culminated in the Passover holiday one month later. Without this period of cleaning, organizing, and planning for the Seder, the Passover holiday itself would have been less meaningful to them.

Here is some of what Renée, a Moroccan-born Jew living in Queens, shared with me regarding her memories for the preparations of the holiday:

“My mother used to start koshering the house a month before. We had three bedrooms, so she used to start always with our bedroom, then her bedroom, then the dining room, and the kitchen was the last thing that she used to kosher. A man would come to redo all the mattresses in the house, like the wool that was inside. We used to pay him and I remember the wool, it was like spring cleaning. He would sew them back together with a big needle. It was beautiful, everything was new. The dishes were new, the tablecloth was new — you felt the holiday. The last day, before the holiday, we almost ate outside — almost in the stairs because the bread was out of the house. We used to have a big hallway, and three bedrooms. The toilet was in front, and in back you had the kitchen and three bedrooms, so we were almost at the door or at the stairs by the last day. And every neighbor used to do the same, so you really felt the holiday. The cooking…”

The Seder

A Simple Passover Haggadah

Eshkol HaKofer

Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Seder Menus and Memories from Africa, Asia and Europe!

too GOOD to PASSOVER

Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Seder Menus and Memories from Africa, Asia and Europe!

In my Iraqi Kitchen: Recipes, History and Culture, by Nawal Nasrallah

Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Seder Menus and Memories from Africa, Asia and Europe!

Bendichas Manos

a blog about living, cooking and caring in the Ladino tradition

KOSHER LIKE ME

COMING SOON

my madeleine

Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Seder Menus and Memories from Africa, Asia and Europe!

A Kosher Christmas

'Tis the Season to be Jewish

%d bloggers like this: