By the time I arrived at the ultra-orthodox synagogue for Passover, it was dark outside. The gymnasium had been completely transformed for the feast. Fluorescent lights blazed over four long tables already populated with an odd assortment of individuals, men down one side and women down the other. Most of the guests did not appear Hassidic. They were a little bit of everything, Jews from every background and country. The rabbis and their families occupied tables on either side of the four main tables, whether to protect us from the world or themselves from us, I couldn’t be sure. As I entered the room, I froze to take it all in. I spotted the rabbi’s wife, Rachel, and waved; she smiled and waved back. I noticed that the corner of the room where there had been an assortment of liquor bottles the week before was now wiped clean, the spirits nowhere to seen.

I found a seat in one of the last available spaces, to the left of a cluster of Iranian-American Jews, one of whom sported a platinum hair do and ample bosom like a Persian Dolly Parton. Across the table was a young couple visiting from Israel and, to their right, a guy who appeared completely out of place. He looked like a biker or a Vietnam vet with an American flag bandana tied around his head and a scraggily white beard. I thought he must be a homeless man who had come for a free meal.

Long sheets of Saran Wrap covered each table and atop this waterproof layer sat a jumble of plastic plates, cutlery, and cups punctuated by bottles of wine and stacks of matzah bread.  Within reaching distance of my seat, a small platter had been set with the Passover elements. I understood that minor variations might be found within each category, but here we had: a hunk of cooked meat with the bone still in, a single peeled hard-boiled egg, a blob of horseradish, a lump of apple cinnamon mush, and several sprigs of parsley. Next to this was a small Styrofoam bowl of water that I knew had been salted. As the proceedings officially began, I turned my attention to my old friend and new acquaintance, the head rabbi, who was standing at his table holding on elaborate oversized wine glass. He pronounced this the “Cup of Elijah,” the prophet whose arrival is supposed to herald the coming of the messiah. Tonight Elijah’s drink awaits him and the door is left ajar in anticipation of his grand entrance.

If you allow it, something happens on this night of storytelling and symbolic reenactment. I chewed a bit of parsley dipped in saltwater and I let it take me back. Passover isn’t meant as a memorial to the events of a long-dead group of people; the Jewish sages wrote, “In every generation a man is obligated to regard himself as having personally come out of Egypt…” Just as the living give voice to expressions of gratitude for the dead with the Mourner’s Kaddish, we are to make their memories of being enslaved our own. Judaism collapses past and present: time is only an ever-changing now and what we think of as different generations are merely a single people evolving and surviving.

Tonight, I let the sages’ words ring true for a woman, as well as a non-Jew. The taste of salty water on the parsley is the sweat dripping into my mouth from the physical exertion in brutal heat, and my angry tears at having my freedom taken. But my reverie of hardship is interrupted by the lively crunch of the parsley, freshness as vibrant as the color green itself floods my mouth, filled with life and hope.

13 thoughts on “Passover

  1. Ah yes….For some it’s the crunch of the parsely and for others the small white host and a sip of wine unless, of course, one insists that it should be grape juice. Ritual and its story, a part of most religious history that seems to bring comfort and consistency to their path.

  2. Yes, Frank, as you suggest, a more appropriate connection could not be found between Passover and the Lord’s Supper. Jesus and the disciples were celebrating Passover that night of the first Lord’s Supper, just as Corinna celebrated it two thousand years later. That fact is stunning to me, and as you say, its consistency brings a great deal of comfort. The importance, though, lies beyond the rituals to the God who offers Himself personally so that we can know Him. It’s the personal relationship that the ritual is built on that matters. A principle or a ritual draws us close but the hope and life come from the God behind and underneath, whose life is the center of the meaning of the ritual.

    • Janice,
      I don’t know exactly what Corinna experienced, but this is what I know about it. Each item of food represented something about the story. Every bit is symbolic, to help the people remember what God has done, and to pass on the story to their children. Corinna talked about the bitter herbs; life brings its bitterness but God gives us the sweetness of redemption (brings us out of our own Egypt). The bread without leaven points to leaving sin behind as we walk into freedom with God. The shank bone of the lamb represents that none of the lamb’s bones were to be broken. The entire lamb was consumed by the family, thus it was completely given. The Israelites didn’t have to give part of it back to God; it was entirely God’s gift. The people, covered by its blood, nourished by its meat, were marked as God’s. This lamb protected the people the night God’s messenger “passed over” Egypt.

      Twelve hundred years later, John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29) Jesus celebrated this very meal with these very elements His last night. The story is one big story from OT to NT. Thus, the Christian is connected. We continue to be in that fold in 2013, knowing life brings its bitterness, but God gives the sweetness of redemption; knowing God breaks the power of sin as we walk into freedom with God. The lamb for the Christian is Jesus Christ, who gave himself fully for us to have life. Those who believe are marked by His blood, and we look forward to life.

      To be in that fold, to be one of God’s children, is to be in a very, very secure place. No matter how unstable you might feel things are in our world today, no matter how much you may worry about tomorrow, if you belong to God, you are part of that ancient, steady, consistent plan that will not end.

      To be in that fold of God’s people is to be loved. You get there by simple faith. Corinna said it so beautifully: “I let the words ring true . . .” She was then filled with life and hope.

  3. not sure but i get the impression that the blog has moved from sampling of a wide range of religions traditions/orientations toward centering on judaism like maybe that’s where Corinnna’s quest is leading her

  4. Corinna, if you get a chance, I hope you can take in a Messianic Jewish celebration of Passover. Much of the continuity between OT and NT is explained and the consistency is certainly reassuring.
    The Exodus for the Jew is not simply celebrated as an event, but yes, as a present experience. Throughout the Jewish Scriptures (OT), the Jews are urged to remember it (whether there or not) and its lessons for present life.

    • Hi Walt, When you say “Messianic Jews” do you mean Jews who believe Jesus was the first messiah? If so, I haven’t explored them, but it would be interesting to do so. I think regular Jews could also be considered “messianic” in that they are awaiting a human messiah or a messianic era (some on the Reform side of the spectrum think of it more as a new time that will be ushered in as opposed to an individual).

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