Thursday, April 1, 2010

Around Town: Passover in the Foothills

On Monday night, in true La Cañada Flintridge holiday tradition, the septic system went out a few hours before our Seder. Luckily, the cesspool pumping guy successfully pumped it, with moments to spare.

The septic system rebelled against the days of spring cleaning. Cupboards were emptied and cleaned. Dishes were removed and replaced with Passover dishes. The house was scrubbed within inches of sanity. All sorts of objects ended up in the garbage disposal, including garbage, which apparently is anathema, not only to the disposal itself, but also to the septic system. I’ve never understood why sinks come with a garbage disposal if we aren’t supposed to use it. But enough about our septic system.

Passover is an awesome holiday. Rabbi Elianna Yolkut, the junior rabbi at Adat Ari El, says that Passover is (apart from Shabbat) the most important Jewish holiday. Each year at Passover, we are commanded to remember the Exodus from Egypt as if each of us personally made the journey from slavery to freedom.

The story of freedom has a cross-cultural and inter-religious appeal, which is why President Obama, for the past three years, has celebrated Passover with his African American and Jewish staffers. The story of freedom sustained my grandparents who made the long journey from Zvenigorodka to America.

The story of freedom is repeated during the Passover. The holiday lasts seven days in the U.S., but only six days in Israel. It begins with a ritual meal called a “Seder” on the first night. During the Seder, the story of the Exodus is told and retold. There are ritual foods to remind us of the story, such as haroset, a mixture of apples, cinnamon and nuts, to remind us of the mortar used by the Israelite slaves to construct buildings for the Pharoah. During the holiday, observant Jews refrain from eating bread or other foods with leavening, a reminder of the escape from Egypt, when there was no time for the bread to rise.

The Passover observance can take many forms, from reflection on the true meaning of freedom, to recollection of the Holocaust, or encounters with personal struggles, but at the core of Judaism is the story of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt.

For our family, the holiday is bittersweet. We have many happy memories of this holiday, but after our son died during this season, his death overshadowed all other considerations. Last year, however, we took baby steps, with an in-home Seder for four.

This year, our daughter invited her friends. We got out our old homemade Hagada’s, the booklets that contain the Seder service. Our Seder plates are every color of Fiestaware. The food was modern, recipes courtesy of Mark Bittman. There was matzo ball soup, but no gefilte fish.

And then, we gathered together to tell the story of freedom.

La Cañada Valley Sun: La Cañada Flintridge, California

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