A Fulness of Joy - Passover in Jerusalem

Hello friends, this is Max. I have been woefully absent in my blog-making duties and I am here to remedy that with a description of the wonderful Passover Seder that Brooke and I attended last week. My graduate coordinator Ronen had sent an email asking if anyone wanted to attend a local family's Passover meal during our two-week vacation and I said that we would love to. So he had me call a man named Edi, a rabbi in the on-campus Conservative Movement. I'd actually attended one of Edi's 'Lunch and Learn' seminars and I looked forward to the first night of Passover when we would go with him to evening services at a synagogue just north of our dorms and then to his house for the Seder.

My knowledge of the Exodus story comes down thanks to many a Sunday School lesson, Bible reading and not a few television and movie adaptations. I also learned how to sing and accompany on guitar a song called "They Tried to Kill Us, We Survived, Let's Eat!" which has an irreverent, woefully inaccurate and hilarious take on the Passover story. In a nutshell, the Passover Seder is a way for Jews in every time and place to re-enact the hasty meal taken by the Hebrews in Egypt before fleeing into the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. As such, leavened bread is a no-no in Israel at this time, since only un-leaved bread (called Matza) can be eaten for the entire festival week. All of the stores in the Jewish neighborhoods have the equivalent of Kosher police tape around all of the "chametz" or products that are made with leaven.

So last week we walked up to the synagogue and found about two dozen people settling in for the evening services that include prayers and recitations of the Torah just as the sun is setting. Edi donned the tallit and led some of these prayers and before we knew it (and certainly before we could find our place in the prayer book) the services were over and we were walking back to Edi's apartment with two undergraduate students who also lived at the dorms and would be joining us for the seder as well.

At Edi's apartment, we were greeted by his wife, two daughters and his delightful dog, Max. I had to keep reminding myself that when anyone in the room squealed my name, it was almost certainly meant for the pooch and not for me. We sat down to the table and at each place there was a small wine glass (Edi most graciously provided some grape juice for me and Brooke) and a Passover Haggadah, the book from which all the Seder readings would be taken. Over the course of the Seder (a Hebrew word meaning "order" or "arrangement" in reference to the order of the foods and the cups of wine to be taken) we drank four cups of wine. Matza is broken and given to each participant after eating a bit of potato dipped in salt water. At this point, all who are hungry or alone are invited to come to the table to enjoy the Seder meal and hear the Magid, or retelling of the Passover story.

This part of the Seder includes the asking of four questions, each of them a theme on a greater question: why is this night different from all other nights? The answers revolve around how each specific characteristic of the Passover Seder reminds each person at the table how God liberated the Hebrews from slavery and visited the Egyptians with destruction. But this was the part that struck me most about the entire meal: before drinking the second full cup of wine, the plagues and sufferings of the Egyptians are remembered and with each plague, a drop of wine is taken from the full cup and removed from the "fulness of joy" experienced during the Seder. Edi explained it this way:
We cannot celebrate the suffering of the Egyptians nor the suffering of any other human. Our joy decreases because of the plagues they suffered and this is why we remove these drops from the wine.
For the rest of the evening, following a truly delicious feast of chicken, salads and other goodies, we sang and recited from the Haggadah songs of praise and I even helped recite some of the Hebrew verses in a delightful children's song at the end of the evening. We were shocked when we looked at our watches to find we had been at the dinner table for nearly four hours at this point! Time had simply flown away while we soaked up the loving and holy atmosphere of this sweet Jewish family that had brought us into their home to celebrate the miraculous deliverance of Exodus.


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