Thu 13 Apr 2006
I attended the Asbell Center’s Seder for Passover on Thursday, April 13th. At 6 pm, we went over to the center. There were a few kids running around outside, they belonged to a professor who was attending. We took our seats around white tablecloth-covered tables in a U shape. Every few seats there was a large plate with an egg which look like it had some brown liquid sprinkled on it, sprigs of parsley, a bone, and a cup of diced apples and nuts with sugar. There were also plates of matzah covered with napkins, bowls of saltwater, and plates of celery, olives and pickles. Every seat had a book, which was used to follow the ceremony.
The ceremony itself was basic and informal. I ate the bitter herbs before I was supposed to, and without dipping them in the salt water, but I caught on fairly quickly. For some of the recitations we would drink a sip of wine, and at other times we would simply lift the glass and set it down again, without drinking. Then, the story of Passover was told. Normally, it would have been recited from the book, but a particularly energetic youth wanted to relate how Moses (or Mosha, as the storyteller referred to him) in storyteller form, complete with audience participation. Every once in a while he would stop telling the story and ask us to tell him what happened next. Most of the time, people were able to answer him, but a few times no one knew what he was getting at. Or he didn’t know the answer himself. And he said that Moses parted the Nile River to allow the Jews to escape their slavery in Egypt. Nile River, Red Sea, no big difference, right? No one corrected him. We drank the wine or grape juice, ate the bitter herbs dipped in salt water to represent the suffering and tears of the Jews in Egypt, and ate matzah, which was the bread that the Jews made as they were chased out of Egypt, and they did not have enough time to let the dough rise to make leavened bread. The ceremony was simple and informal, because many of the people present, from what I understood, were not regularly practicing Jews, or like me, were not Jewish at all. We talked about the 7 plagues, including the last one which gave Passover its name, where God sent the angel of death to Egypt to kill all of the Egyptian first born. The Jews were protected, passed over by the angel of death, by putting the mark of lambs blood over their doors.
The meal was great. There were traditional kosher Passover foods, like matzah soup, more matzah bread, chicken and beef, potato kugel, spinach kugel, gefilte fish, and traditional vegetable dishes (carrots with raisins mixed in). Nothing could be made with leavened dough, so the desserts were made with special ingredients. I think I heard one of the women who prepared the food say potato flour, but I’m not sure.
When we were finished eating, a piece of the matzah (possibly called afokoman?) which had been hidden by the person conducting the ceremony (a student) was hidden, and one of the little girls found it. She won a prize, and in turn hid the matzah again. Then the adults searched for it, and the person who found it won a $20 gift certificate to Starbucks. It was a nice activity in an informal setting.
I enjoyed myself. The tradition of Passover is very important to the Jewish people, as it is a way to remember their deliverance from slavery and their journey to the promised land. It is also an important institution within the Jewish faith to reaffirm family and community ties.