April 18, 2019

Passover: a Reminder of our Fragile yet Ferocious Human Spirit.


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There’s going to be an awful lot of “fressing” happening over the coming weekend!

Both Easter and Passover are falling on the same dates this year, and both of these faith-fueled festivals involve the ritual of eating: or rather, I should say, eating as ritual.

Eggs, in the form of the chocolate variety, for the Christian minded (though let’s just ignore the blatant pagan nature of that one for now!), and the hard-boiled version for those of Jewish blood, are taken into the body as symbols for something deeper.

We are being asked to gobble, swallow, and ultimately digest our faith.

As a woman born Jewish, but like so many folk, having turned away from my religion many years ago, there is something about the celebration of Passover that ignites my curiosity, and calls me back, even if said call is a whisper, to touch base with a faith that runs deep in my ancestral bones.

I like it. It holds memories for me.

Fond memories of sitting at the kid’s table with my siblings and the children of family friends. Sweet memories of all of the assembled grandparents. Prayerful memories of fathers holding court and trying their best to keep a kind of order. And predictable memories of mothers, and gossiping chat, occasionally hushed by the menfolk who are adamant that this year, the women will listen and take it all as seriously as they did!

Other Passover night memories include the preparations for the central table dishes, which, as a child, seemed complicated and included not only the aforementioned eggs, but a paste made of almonds and red wine, grated horseradish and bitter herbs, salted water, lamb bones, and carefully layered matzah (large crackers). Ordinary ingredients and raw materials that, as the Seder night progressed and the Haggadah was read, were transformed into tangible and edible reminders of the plight the Jews went through as the fantastical tale of their flight from slavery to freedom was retold.

Let’s not forget the endless cups of wine drunk (mainly whilst leaning to the left) and refilled, on order, as the night unfolded.

Songs and celebration. Bitter tears and unleavened bread. The 10 plagues, and the parting of the red sea. Ritual after ritual after ritual. A passage. A voyage. A journey. From the old to the new via the grace of God, miracles and seeming impossibilities. Wizardry a la “Harry Potter,” and an expedition worthy of “Lord of the Rings.” Moses (for sure a yogi!), who just happened to be touched by spirit, or maybe one could say madness.

The night was an epic performance art that the whole family, hell, the whole Jewish nation, was wholly involved in.

One of the most defining parts of the story is when the youngest person in the room begins asking of questions, which would always begin, as all good, and innocent ones do, with the word, “why.”

So, in homage to this tradition, though I’m far from the youngest in the room anymore, here’s a few questions that linger for the adult me as I once again prepare to sit with my family, in a new configuration of generations, this Saturday eve. These questions hold more gravitas for me now, and a tenderness of their enquiry.

1) What does it mean to journey from slavery into freedom?

What are we enslaved to in our modern day civility and so called “freedom?”

Perhaps we now worship the false idols, all celebrity hyped and reality TV driven. Or the seductive golden gild of fame and digital fortune, which flashes us with its illusions of being somebody, an influencer, a social media gangsta! Technological slaves to the belief that if it wasn’t photographed, it never happened. That the more we are seen and “liked,” then the more we are loved.

Are we living, not from our own truths, but to the “truths” that our jaded world is flashing at us 24 hours a day, through celluloid advertising and photo-shopped grins? Are we a slave to the device that in all irony, you’re probably reading these words from?!

2) Do we have to have faith? (Thanks, George Michael!)

The show “American Gods” (now excitedly showing up for its second season), foretells of such prophesy, though ’twas written 18 years ago by the genius that is Mister Neil Gaiman. The falling away and forgetting of our old Gods, of nature and honour, of respect and mystery.

Where do we place our faith these days? Who do we pray to or seek to glorify?

Surely, for the masses of our Westernised living, ’tis the false gods of Kardashian, soaps stars, and footballers. Perhaps “faith” is a dirty word, muddied by war, grief, power, and corruption. Can we reclaim it? Dust it down and hold it closer to our hungry hearts? To wonder, with willingness, what it might be like to pause, and to listen to nature and our own breath. To ask the clay of our own bodies how we are, who we are, and how can we be reminded of where we once came from, and to tell those stories once more to our children, and to our children’s children too. To see with reverence the wisdom held in a leaf, the sky, our world, our breath, and our very soul.

When did we stop believing in miracles? In stories and tales? It’s never too late to still believe in magic and wonder, and in the glorious technicolour madness of it all.

3) Should we still believe in hope?

Maybe Passover reminds us that we can, and must, still have hope. That we may move from devastation and death, toward new life and freedom. In a world ever seeking to divide by race and religion, we see saddening parallels of the story we tell being relived in the daily harsh reality of those who have to flee their homes from persecution and disaster, having to roam without belonging for, perhaps, “40 days and 40 nights,” gypsies, nomads, refugees. Wondering and wandering, seeking for where to belong once more.

It’s no coincidence that it’s also spring. And that Easter weekend signals the end of Lent. The time of hope, of new life, regeneration, and of the resurrection.

What do we need to sacrifice for us to start afresh, lighter and unburdened, our hearts lifted to Spirit? We are reminded of life’s cycles over this period of time. Of how spring follows winter, of how rebirth and new life follows death, the never-ending dance between creativity and destruction. Are we ready to let go in order to rise up, to start all over again?

In the words of the fabulously fashionable Marie Kondo, maybe this is the time of the year to hold carefully each fragment of our lives and ask ourselves, “does this spark joy?”

4) When did we stop celebrating?

Oh this one! This one. Appreciation and celebration, forgotten often on the constant treadmill of our ever increasingly busy to-do list lives!

On this night, we can celebrate and give thanks for our freedom. For our families. For those we are born into, those we birth, and those we create: our tribe. We can appreciate the richness of our lives no matter how complicated it might all seem. And sing loud the songs, so many songs, that don’t need anything from us other than our yes to now, to here, just here! Remember to sing your song, with others if you can—shout the words and tune to God, especially on those grey, drab, fallen days of despair and fear, those days that seem more and more familiar in our lunatic world.

Ask those important questions, like innocent fools, as opposed to cynical weary human souls:

When did we stop observing rituals and prayer? When did we turn away from faith, from something much grander, much bigger, and much simpler than how we’ve made it all? When did we separate magic from our hearts?

Passover will always be my favourite Jewish festival, and not just for what it makes me reflect upon. Even if it’s just for watching the faces of the little ones as we open the front door and wait, excitedly, to see if Angel Elijah has taken a drink from the silver goblet of wine from the centre of the table. He always does, of course. He’s a mensch!

Perhaps Passover is a reminder of life itself?

Marker of the sacred. Of time. Of the timeless. Of the bridge between human and divine. Between the brutality, cruelty, and horror, and of joy, celebration, song, wine, and laughter. Always so much laughter. Of the strength of our fragile yet ferocious human spirit, of what’s important, and of choice. Lest we forget. Choice, in that at the end of the day, no matter how many matzah crumbs one finds on one’s lap, it is our choice that takes us from slavery to freedom. And that we can always, always, start all over again.

P.S. Whichever way you choose to celebrate this weekend, may it be a healthy and happy one for you and your family!

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