One question some Jews undoubtedly posed at their Seders last Monday and Tuesday nights is, “Why are we here? Why, after 3,300 years, do Jews still observe Passover?”
Pesach is the most observed or noted holiday on the Jewish calendar. American Jews with no other connection to religion—and perhaps a dwindling identity with Jewish culture—mark Passover with a Seder of some sort or another. A National Jewish Population Survey (2000-01) put that figure at 79 percent. Family tradition plays a strong role, of course. But perhaps the events of the Exodus and its message of redemption and hope are so compelling that this holiday—one of three ancient chagim (pilgrimages) along with Shavuot (spring) and Sukkot (fall)—exerts a formidable gravitational force.
The Seder meal and telling of the Passover—some Jews only eat—can be accomplished in many ways. A Haggadah (literally, the telling)—a book filled with commentary, blessings and prayers—guides the Seder (literally, order). Many versions of the Haggadah exist, and Seder leaders may use them however they wish. Call it structured anarchy if you like. I call it creative and meaningful. Jews can tailor the Seder to their needs.
Granted, not every participant at a Seder is religious or believes in God. No worries. Judaism emphasizes actions rather than belief, although the First Commandment makes clear that God is. Just what God is remains a subject for discussion.
But the Seder, and Passover in its seven- (in Israel and for Reform Jews) or eight-day duration (for Orthodox and Conservative Jews outside Israel) holds a power of its own. Thus my wife Carolyn begins collecting onionskins as soon as Passover concludes. She keeps them in a crystal bowl that used to be my mother’s. To what purpose? For boiling Sephardi eggs the next Passover. This traditional treat of Jews descended from those who fled Spain after the expulsion of 1492 is part of our Passover each year. I love Sephardi eggs. They link me, as an Ashkenazi (European) Jew with my Sephardi cousins. As the saying goes, am Yisrael echad—the people of Israel are one. And no less important, they are the best tasting hardboiled eggs I have ever eaten with an oniony, smoky flavor produced by a minimum of six hours in the water. A non-Jew from Senegal works at a local grocery. Carolyn gave him the recipe.
Of course, Carolyn scouts supermarkets and other stores at least a month in advance for the right matzah (including chocolate-covered), gefilte fish and horseradish (she’s a mavinah—an expert), macaroons and other treats.
The power of Passover? Carolyn was raised Catholic and is not drawn to formal religion of any kind. But being embraced by my New York Jewish family and having one of her own—Seth, Yosi and Aaron, all b’nai mitzvah, confirmands and visitors to Israel—have made her a Jewish mother of whom my own mother and sister have always been proud. And this, I suggest, constitutes yet another sign and wonder in the Passover tradition.
New post most Fridays. Previous post appears after this one; scroll down to read more. Want to respond? Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article. And of course, Happy Passover! And Happy Easter if you’re celebrating that holiday!