Saturday 1 April 2023

The Adventures of L-Plate Bubbe: Wine & Tears

This month (April) marks the festival of Passover (Pesakh in Yiddish), when Jewish communities and families remember the story of how the Jews, led by Moses, escaped from slavery under the Egyptian ruler Pharoah. It is a festival of joy at liberation, but sorrow at the suffering that preceded it. Passover always comes before Easter. There is a reason for this and I'll explain it shortly.

The festival is celebrated by a special family meal, called a Seder, which consists of prayers, blessings, songs, giving thanks for deliverance and looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. The photo shows my Passover plate: each of the little bowls represents some symbolic item relevant to the biblical story, which is told over the course of the evening, culminating in a lovely meal. 

(You can find out more about the plate and its symbolic contents here )

The Passover meal was the one Yeshua (Jesus) took part in and is referred to in the Christian New Testament as 'The Last Supper'. This is where the two religions (or the extension of one by the other) coalesce. Christianity focuses on what happened AFTER the meal, but it is clear from reading the text, that it was a traditional Seder.

My family always used to attend synagogue for the Seder meal, which meant we kids had to behave better, couldn't leave the table for any reason whatsoever, and we got ribena instead of wine (such a disappointment). 

The whole concept of the Seder is not only to recall a very grim period in Jewish history, but to make sure the memory is passed on to future generations. Thus there is a point, early on in the celebration, when the youngest child asks 4 questions. They're called the Ma Nishtana, and revolve around querying why this night is different from other nights in food, in the way people sit at table etc. 

Every Jewish child in a religious household HAS to learn it, in case they end up being the youngest. I remember the sheer terror of realising one year that I was that child and I was going to be called upon to perform. I think being able to recite the Ma Nishtana is another of those Jewish identifiers, along with possessing your mother's recipe for chicken soup. 

It is also something that never leaves you. Even at the great age of 72, I can still, if prompted, recite the Ma Nishtana. If you are Jewish and reading this, I bet you can too!