8th April, 2020
In Hebrew this festival is called the Festival of Freedom, Chag ha Herut. Strange really that this year we spend the Freedom Festival in seclusion! On the other hand the seclusion, while imposed, doesn’t prevent us from celebrating as our ancestors did.
This week also leads up to Good Friday and Palm Sunday, to Easter. The seclusion applies whatever one’s faith so no church services, no Easter Parades or Easter Bonnets; no pilgrimages to Jerusalem or anywhere else.
We have all been given a rare opportunity to really contemplate our traditions and religious obligations without the usual distractions. This year it is us and our religious beliefs, clean, pure and undisturbed. No-one else is going to see or judge our performance, it’s just us and, if we are lucky, our closest, nearest and dearest.
Our world has changed drastically and we none of us know what will be when we come out the other side, but in the meantime, let’s think about that past week, since Friday.
A 93 year old Monarch who has seen the world change drastically and served in a World War, spoke to her nation and the Commonwealth, words of condolence and encouragement. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wE4Cmr1j0tA
A young Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, ignored his own symptoms which were not particularly severe, ran the United Kingdom from seclusion, and is now in the ICU of St. Thomas’s Hospital, leaving his chosen replacement Dominic Raab, to make decisions of State.
The world’s Capital City, the heartbeat of the West, New York, is in distress, the virus having taken too many lives. The number of those killed by the virus is greater than the number killed on September 11th. I fear for my loved ones there, and indeed everywhere.
Here in Israel there has been enormous antipathy toward the Ultra-Orthodox community, a proportion of whom ignored the edicts to isolate, which prompted President Rivlin to make a public statement declaring that whenever he hears such atrocious comments, he wants to scream out loud. “We are brothers who are responsible for each other,” he said, “and it is wrong for any section of the population to heap needless blame on another. A whole community cannot be blamed for the misdeeds of a few individuals”
So, we enter this period of celebration with a heavy heart, but on the other hand, we have survived worse and thrived. If there is one thing I have learned from the recent months it is that despite the worst tragedy, one can continue living, loving and being the person you were when your heart was free.
Zvi just came in and brought me my morning cuppa, I have to say that for a Sabra he makes a stonking good cup of the golden brew. One of the joys of recent years is that Yorkshire Tea is “Kosher for Passover”!!
I can’t even begin to explain the rules of Passover, which basically stem from the fact that we don’t eat leavened (risen or yeast) bread, in recognition of the fact that when the Jews fled slavery in Egypt they didn’t have time to prove their dough so the resulting bread, cooking on their backs, came out flat and crispy. From that simple start we now have a myriad of rules and traditions. We Jews do like to complicate our own lives!! Today one changes dishes and utensils, after thoroughly cleaning and emptying all cupboards, creating a new and different atmosphere for the first night of Passover.
Actually, this is my favourite explanation of Passover by a London Cabbie in Cockney Rhyming Slang…… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjN2-U0G1tE
As so often happens, my cup of tea was accompanied by pearls of Zvi wisdom….. this time about the first night of Passover (Seder, literally the order) and the book from which we read. I hear you sigh, oh no, she’s going to tell us a load of things we already know, but think of this – the Haggadah, the book we read on the Seder Night, is, in fact, not a story as we always thought, but, in fact, it is an agenda of our meeting with history! Think about it. We start with blessings and then told that this is about the time we left slavery in Egypt. We ask questions, go into a bit of psychological analysis of 4 types of people, bless our luck at what we have received, read a few Rabbis opinions, spill wine in recognition of the 10 plagues and then we eat, say grace and sing songs, some in a strange language. There is no description of the 40 year travels through the wilderness, it’s up to us to teach the importance of freedom…………just a thought!
As a child, the Passover meals were extra special. My beautiful Zeidy (grandfather) always sat next to me, patiently explaining the proceedings, his large, square, freckled hands pointing to each word; my Daddy at the head of the table in our beautiful oak paneled dining room, the food set up on the big sideboard, ready to serve; my siblings, Aunts and Uncles all knew who the real star of the evening was – the beautiful lady with the big smile, never showing her exhaustion after cooking a huge meal, her pride in the exquisite table obvious, my Mummy. She would always set the table with a huge Madeira, hand embroidered, tablecloth, ironed within a breath of its life, and the smile would waver for a moment, knowing what came next, the moment Daddy would recite the first blessing from the book. We would all hold our breath……….. then, he would smile his wickedly wonderful smile and spill a little crimson wine onto the pristine tablecloth “OK now you can all relax, I’ve already made the first stain”.
It’s memories like those, memories that carry us through life and bring a smile to even our darkest moments, those memories are the reason behind traditions. I used to hold huge Seder Nights when my children were small, using the family Seder Plate – thinking nothing of having 45 people sitting down to the meal. It is just one of the many joys of living in a small community where we were each other’s family. So many thoughts race through my mind as I write, one of my favourites is Valerie and Martin gingerly walking down the 5 steps from the driveway to the front door, carrying huge saucepans and Pyrex’s full of her half of the meal, then helping me set up before lighting the festival candles together. My Daddy glowing with pride at his little girl’s welcoming table; the children asking any question the wished as long as it was pertinent to Passover – clearly good training for Gideon, today a fine lawyer, a Queen’s Counsel!
In recent years “Seder Night” evokes memories of our table in front of the view, Zvi’s Father, Saba Kalman, sitting in his cream silk jacket, proudly listening to Alla, Zvi’s Mother, reading from the Haggadah in dramatic voice, worthy of a performance in Habima, Habima Theatre which her family founded in Russia and brought to the nascent state. Tomer, today a soldier, standing on his chair aged 2, excitedly reciting “Ma Nishtana”. Throughout the years one thing is constant, apart from the traditions – my world famous Charoset (combining) made to Mummy’s recipe.
There is a deep moral to this year’s festival, a moral over and above the usual family get-togethers. If I may return to the beginning, it is a Passover that forces us to contemplate our world, our own little world and our place in it. Suddenly a plague is not only in the story of our escape from slavery but it is very real, in modern language, a clear and present danger. Perhaps this plague will free us of our preconceptions, our chasing bigger and better, perhaps it will free us too.
My musings have taken me to places that barely touch on politics; I think you all know that tolerance, teaching children to accept each other, children of every colour and creed living in a world where the full rainbow of diversity is part of their everyday education. Those thoughts, perhaps influenced by today’s lack of acceptance and the clear teachings of hatred in school curriculae, drew me to a special organisation which began as Hebrew University Professor Yochanan Manor’s dream and has grown into a force to be reckoned with in the world of education and tolerance. Impact-se is the epitome of how I want to see the world and two days ago, in a Zoom meeting, they honoured me by making me the Chairperson of the Vaad, of the guiding committee. Thank heaven I will be helped in the huge responsibility by Marcus Sheff, Nir Boms, David Lui and Jay Ruderman, as well as having our guiding light, Yochanan as our President. In addition Marcus announced that the library of Impact works, which will be in the Hebrew University, will be named “The Dr. Daniel J. Cammerman Library” which he would have loved as yet another expression of his love for all children.
Please take a look at the incredible work, expressed in reports as well as successes. Perhaps the greatest success is right here in Jerusalem where the school curriculum of East Jerusalem was changed, removing the extreme incitement, and the teachers retaught that either we learn to live together or we will die together. www.impact-se.org I am so proud of our work.
What music suits Passover, Easter and Ramadan?
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, all sequestered in their own homes, have made a glorious video for Passover https://www.afipo.org/backstage/video-gallery/
For my Christian friends, the exceptional Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote and Sarah Brightman sang Pia Jesu https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N12zCiY-xWk
We open the proceedings tonight with a series of four questions all based on one big one “Ma Nishtana” “Why is this night different to all other nights”. This year so many things are different it is difficult to count! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmabziV1LiY
Oh dear friends, we live in scary times but by staying positive, by performing our traditions, by being together while apart, we can get through it and meet the changed world the other side of the virus. I wish you a beautiful, kosher Pesach; a blessed Easter and a Ramadan Kareem.
Our little tiny orange tree is smothered in burgeoning buds, ready to burst into the most beautiful scent in the world; the view of Jerusalem spreads before us the moment we open the blinds and I try to remember that next year we can be with our children, sitting around the same table and telling stories of Grandpa Jack spilling wine on Grandma Betty’s tablecloth – a tradition happily followed by yours truly. I will shed a tear, or two or three, for my beautiful son Daniel, who can no longer sit at our table but will be there in spirit.
With much love from a silent, carless, locked down but still oh so beautiful, Jerusalem.