Communities around world sit together for Passover meal
Story told of miracle, survival, slavery, plagues, recalcitrant humans and retribution
Rabbi Zalman Lent, leader of the Jewish community of Dublin (left), and Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland at the Three Faiths Forum of Ireland, involving members of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities at the Mansion House. Photograph: Dave Meehan
As Christians worldwide were preparing for Easter, Jewish families and communities around the world were sitting together on Friday night for a Passover meal, commemorating the exodus of the ancient Hebrews from Egyptian servitude 3,000 years ago.
This meal is not just about food, but about the retelling of a story of miracle and survival, of slavery and plagues, of recalcitrant humans and divine retribution.
The meal comes way down the list, after a structured set of prayers, songs and symbolic foods. Because there is a list of steps to be performed at the meal, it is referred to as the Seder, meaning order, and the special text used to guide us through the steps is called a Haggadah.
We pass it down to the next generation as our parents and grandparents did. Key to this retelling are the children, and the Seder is really geared towards keeping them awake and involved.
To this end we eat some unusual foods, such as bitter herbs and saltwater, we recline for part of the meal, we eat matza crackers instead of bread . . . all things which pique their interest and keep them at the table. (The matza also symbolises the unleavened bread eaten in haste as the Hebrews fled Egypt. )
It is probably for all the above reasons that the Passover Seder meal remains the single most observed religious event across the Jewish spectrum.
The childhood memories of the large family gathering, getting lots of attention, eating unusual foods and staying up as late as we want makes for an experience that we look forward to even as adults when those things may no longer be as attractive.
Whether we are slaves to the rat-race, to financial constraints, to addictions or even to our own ego, there is always the hope of a better future, of a break from negativity and an escape to the land of our dreams. Zalman Lent is rabbi at Dublin’s Hebrew Congregation