The Passover Table

Among my prized possessions is a book, gifted by my daughter for the Jewish festival of Passover. Known as Haggadah, it is the story of the Exodus, read during Passover.The book is illustrated with paintings by Marc Chagall in his distinct style and tells the story of the Exodus or the crossing of the Red Sea, when the Jews fled to safety from the persecution of their Egyptian masters, as seen in the film Ten Commandments. Since Moses received enlightenment to cross the sea and later received the Ten Commandments,he is shown with two rays of light emitting from his head — a metaphor of enlightenment. The Passover Seder is a ritualistic dinner that signifies order,arrangement and beauty.

As the ritualistic platter is spread on the table,the story of the liberation of Jews from ancient Egypt is retold.This is done year after year with the reading of the Haggadah with family and friends.Often, Indian Jews celebrate Passover together; at a hall or pavilion next to the synagogue, as our numbers are dwindling. Each person around the table participates in the revival of memory. A traditional Passover table in India is decorated with a fresh tablecloth,flowers, candles,a special platter of food symbolising the events,covered with a ceremonial textile, set with the best tableware. Unleavened bread is eaten during Passover,which is known as ‘bin-khameerchi- bhakri’ in Marathi by the Bene Israel Jews of western India. Passover is observed for seven days by eating unleavened bread in memory of the Exodus.This bhakri is hand rolled and roasted like a chapati and is different from matzo bread available in western countries, which is often factory- made.The Jews left Egypt in a hurry with unleavened dough wrapped in their meagre belongings.When they crossed the sea, they made bread with it and so it became symbolic of freedom from slavery and continues to be an integral part of the Passover Seder, as it is said,“He brought us forth from bondage to freedom, from grief to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to great light.”

The Passover platter has bitter herbs to remind us of the hardships suffered by Jews, lemon juice to symbolise tears and the sweet date, sheera, which is similar to the mortar used to build the pyramids. A roasted shank bone is kept in memory of the sacrificial lamb, along with a boiled egg and bottles of wine, which are all symbolic of the elements of the earth. The Kabala or ancient text of Jewish mysticism explains the connection between human beings and the cosmic law, as it explores the connection between simple objects from the daily life of human beings and God, like the mezuzahon,the door post,Shabbat candles on the table and unleavened bread on the Passover Seder. A special goblet of wine for Prophet Elijah is kept aside on the Seder table, as it is believed that the prophet visits our homes during Passover.When a prayer is recited for him,the main door of the house is opened as a welcome. In Gujarat, we make sherbet of black currant in the absence of wine. The festival of Passover is a constant source of inspiration for Jews all over the world, as they pray for deliverance from injustice, which also means liberation from all forms of persecution in a global sense.

Courtesy : Speaking Tree :


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