The annual Jewish festival of Passover, also known as Pesach, begins today at sunset and lasts until 13 April. During this time, Jews across the world come together to commemorate the emancipation of their people from slavery in Ancient Egypt. We spoke to Wales Leadership Magistrate, Lisa, about her experience of observing Passover and what the festival means to her.
It’s Passover time again and Jewish people around the world will be asking the same question: “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
As I look around my kitchen on the morning before Passover starts, sipping my coffee, I have a foreboding sense of the ‘calm before the storm’. My normally immaculate kitchen with all crockery, gadgets, pots and pans neatly stowed away in their cupboards is in a state of complete disarray!
Why? Well tonight I am hosting the traditional Passover meal, the ‘Seder’. Seder means “order” in Hebrew – not something that can be said about my kitchen at the moment…Tonight, with a houseful of family and friends, we will tell the Passover story; the story of the exodus from Egypt, everything from the 10 plagues to the splitting of the Red Sea. We will eat commemorative foods such as bitter horseradish and eggs in salt water. All of my family from far and wide are coming, so the pressure is on to make their Passover favourites, from chicken soup with matzo balls to a festive main course and sweet treats.
Why is this night different from all other nights? Why the pandemonium? Well, firstly we change over all our crockery and cutlery – and then of course we have the main challenge of Passover: that for the duration of Passover (eight days), we may not consume any leavened foods which have risen in the course of baking or cooking. This is because when the Jewish people left slavery in Egypt, they had to leave in a hurry and there was no time for their dough to rise. This means that there will be no fluffy dinner rolls or fresh pasta tonight. Instead, we will eat flat matzo crackers (which I’ve been buying in bulk from the supermarket for the last few weeks).
I will be going to the Synagogue for the special Passover services with my family, dressed in our fineries with (obviously) more food to follow. Although the family coming together for Passover feels a bit like Easter or Christmas, Passover lasts for eight days and on the final two days I’ll be attending the Synagogue once again.
If you’re in Cardiff Magistrates’ court over the next week and wonder why there’s a magistrate sitting in the corner, trying to spread jam on an oversized cream cracker and spreading crumbs all over the assembly room floor, that will be me!
Some people think I’m crazy to go to the extremes that I do to observe all of the commandments of Passover so meticulously. For me though, the rewards far outweigh all the effort and, just as my parents prepared our family home for Passover when I was younger, in the same way, I’m delighted to see my two married children doing exactly the same thing, two generations on.
So, to answer this question ‘why?’, I can think of no better response than the one-word quote of the late, great Topol in Fiddler on the Roof: “tradition!”