Passover: another perspective

Passover: another perspective

18 Mar 2010

nick-herriman-thumbDr Nicholas Herriman

Yesterday I read Lawrie Zion’s piece in which he explained that in spite of his Jewish cultural background he won't be celebrating Passover. This is because he thinks the celebration and the climactic moment when everyone says "Next year in Jerusalem" is unpalatable in view of the expansions of Jewish settlements and mixed messages about peace from the Israeli government.

I am similarly unimpressed with some aspect of Israeli government policy (and might I add I am equally disappointed with aspects of Hamas/PLO policy) but I don't see what that has to do with Passover. As my background is so different to Lawrie’s I should explain. I am only part Jew and have celebrated Passover just 4-5 times in fits of nostalgia. Each time many non-Jews joined in. In recent years I have forgotten or couldn't be bothered, I'm very sad to say. So I would like to present another perspective on Passover perhaps a little out of guilt and a little out of professional concern. You see I am also an anthropologist and we anthropologists are wont to insist that the rituals we study have different meanings. For Lawrie, Passover is an approval of current Israeli govt policy on settlement and Palestinians. For other Jews (and even some Christians who are strict about their 'Old Testament', which commands you to celebrate Passover) it takes on other meanings.

What is Passover for me? I’m not sure if many non Jews know that it’s based on the story is that the Jews had been long enslaved in Egypt. Their leader Moses finally led them out of captivity and back to Israel, carving up the ocean smashing stone tablets and so on. Several thousand years later and Jesus like all other good Jews celebrated Passover only this year he went to Jerusalem for it and from there his last days unfolded. His Last Supper was a Passover celebration. This helps explain why Easter occurs every year after Passover.
A few decades after Jesus the world of the Jews in Israel was destroyed, so they started migrating out. Thus began the Diaspora. Celebrated in Diaspora, Passover expressed longing to return home and a freedom from suffering.
These days it's still a big deal for observant Jews. There is a lot of preparation, one huge taboo (things like yeast, baking powder etc have to cleared out of the house), and family and maybe some friends who cave no family to celebrate with are invited. The meal can take hours and involves pickled carp, straight horseradish and other atrocities, and even a dish which intentionally tastes bad (parsley dipped in salt water). For a people who pride themselves on their delicious food this hard to stomach--it's like putting boxing gloves on Jewish concert pianist Bernstein and asking him to play Chopin. Then there's a lot of matza (this basically large square water crackers). When you crush them you get crumbs from which (apparently) you can make anything from dumplings to souffles but it all tastes like soggy water cracker. Imagine a festival about redemption, but the food only causes suffering.
At the climax, participants say "next year in Jerusalem". What does this mean to me? Judaism has very little about after life after death. The redemption is here on earth when we are led by a just ruler seated in the capital (Jerusalem, Geneva, New York, or whatever it might be). Suffering, oppression, and inequality is brought to an end. Now that is a good sentiment for all people!
Anyway Lawrie's take on Passover is different to mine and that's OK. It just seems a bit rich to sit out Passover for his reason in a place like Melbourne. Our city was built on land from which local indigenous people were completely dispossessed. Forget about Jerusalem, there is no possibility of land rights let alone two state solution or even land sharing here. But I'll hopefully discuss that with Lawrie some other time.
Well I'm sorry to say that I probably won’t celebrate it yet again this year. I fear that out of sloth, I will be eating hot cross buns in front of So You Think You can Dance. If Lawrie sits it out—and if he does, he's welcome to join me and my family, I'll unwrap some Easter eggs too—it would be for my way of thinking for an equally poor reason. Passover doesn't have to be about approving Israeli govt policy. It can be about the end of suffering, peace and redemption.




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