For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive Millard
Hinei mah tov umah nayim, shevet achim gam yahad!
How rare it is, how lovely, this fellowship of those who meet together!
— Psalm 133
The house was alive with activity, from elders catching up on their news to children chasing one another through the doorways. Those not assisting in the preparations would be shooed out of the kitchen, where the cooks were in a state of frenzy getting everything ready. There were bowls of appetizers everywhere, to try to delay some of the impatience of hunger; olives were particularly popular. And in what was otherwise the living room, every table and chair in the house had been gathered to make a long dining table with enough space for the whole family to sit down together. It was Passover at my grandmother-in-law’s house in Philadelphia.
Soon after Allison and I were dating, she explained that my main introduction to her extended family would be in the Spring, at Passover. We’d make the four hour drive, converging with others coming from New York and Massachusetts, from North Carolina and California. There were aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, making the trip for this annual event that had been a family tradition for generations. It reminded me of the best of the holidays I’d enjoyed as a child, with a house full of life and love. It even featured horseradish!
I’d first experienced a Passover seder at the Unitarian Society of Hartford, using a Unitarian Universalist version of the Haggadah, the text that is read to retell the story of the Hebrew’s liberation from Egypt. The seder includes a communal meal, but specific foods are part of the ritual that accompanies the reading of the text, too: matzah, a cracker-like unleavened bread; hard-boiled eggs; green herbs like parsley; horseradish; and charoset, a chutney-like mixture of chopped fruits and nuts. All of these have symbolic meanings that are drawn upon as the story is related, from the bread that the Hebrews didn’t have time to finish as they fled Egypt, to the clay they were forced in slavery to make into bricks. Candles are lit and wine or grape juice is sipped in recognition of our blessings; songs are sung in both Hebrew and English; and children ask questions to find out the meaning of the seder. Toward the end of the seder, the children play a game in which they try to find a hidden piece of matzah, and are then rewarded with dessert.
In an orthodox household, of course, there are many strict requirements to prepare for and observe Passover. The house itself is to be cleaned thoroughly, which some suggest is the origin of “Spring cleaning”, and all leavened bread is to be removed. Dietary rules go beyond the usual laws of kashrut, which is why you’ll see some products in the supermarket at this time of year specifically labeled as “kosher for Passover”. Most non-orthodox Jewish households do not go to such lengths, but the seder is still important, not only as a chance to reconnect with loved ones, but as a way to remember an ancient story of liberation and hope and to recommit to a future of freedom, justice and peace for all.
We’ll observe Passover with a seder at the Fellowship this month. It takes place the afternoon of Sunday, April 20th, starting at 4pm. (We’ll begin reading the Haggadah, Oranges and Olives by UU Nancy Cronk, around five, with the meal itself about six, finishing everything by seven.) We’ll provide the traditional Seder plate items, including matzoh, charoset and grape juice, but the meal itself is potluck, so please sign up at http://bit.ly/UUFPS14 to let us know what you plan to bring or otherwise get in touch with me. (We also need RSVPs to know how big a table to set for the communal meal!) This is a family-friendly event, and everyone is welcome, so come be a part of this modern celebration of an ancient tradition!