Passover, the story of the ancient Israelites' exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt, is a great story. It's got larger-than-life heroes, enormous conflicts, mystery, universal symbolism, and resolution with redemption. It will be celebrated at traditional dinners in many Jewish households next Wednesday and Thursday, around Martha's Vineyard and around the world.
The Biblical instruction: "You shall tell your son on that day: It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came forth from Egypt" (Ex.13:8). And it is that directive that is carried out at the Passover Seder, an elaborately choreographed feast, during which the haggadah - the story of the exodus - is read in turn by all who are present.
Photo by JJ Gonson
The theme of the urgent exodus is symbolized by the eating of matzah (unleavened bread). Only matzah, rather than conventional bread made with yeast, is eaten for the eight days of the holiday in recognition of the fact that the Israelites had no time to let bread rise before leaving.
Last year, the universal theme of freedom from bonded slavery came across especially clearly for Judy Salosky, a Tisbury resident who with her husband, Jim Pepper, celebrated Passover in Uganda. Ms. Salosky said, "There we were on the other side of the world, but we were doing the same things we'd have been doing on the Vineyard. This may be a story about Jews, but it's really a story about all people everywhere who are oppressed."
Typical preparation for Passover is cleaning the house from top to bottom. There are rituals for making sure that all of the chametz (the leavening) has been removed before bringing in the traditional Passover foods.
While many families serve gefilte fish, a Passover staple, ready-made in a jar, Howie Bromberg and David Schechter, a friend of his from Providence, R.I., have been making their own for years. Gefilte fish is an amalgamation of fresh water fish bound with eggs, onions and matzah meal, formed into patties, boiled in a fish stock, and served chilled with horseradish.
Another tradition is that the youngest child at the Seder table recites the four questions that precede the telling of the story.
There are as many different haggadot, or books of "the telling," as there are Jewish communities worldwide. Tammy Hersh of West Tisbury explains, "We use a traditional haggadah, but we put many, beautiful, illustrated haggadot on the table for people to look at during the Seder."