Passover is a springtime holiday that celebrates the liberation of the Jewish people by recounting the story of the exodus from Egypt. The central themes are freedom, justice and lineage. Each year, Jews around the world gather to partake in this celebration – eating matzah (the bread of affliction), giving thanks for freedom, and sharing how we can contribute to freedom of all people.
Passover falls in the first month of the Hebrew Calendar year (the month of Nisan) and is one of the most important Jewish holidays. Because it is the first holiday of the Jewish year and it also celebrates the spring time, it is customary to view this holiday as a cleansing time – typically people clean their entire homes and meditate on what we are releasing from the year to enter anew into spring.
In preparation, we cleaned the house and prepared to purify our spirits. The night before Passover, we did the ritual of Bedikat Chametz, meaning a search for Chametz. Chametz refers to leaven or food mixed with leaven that is prohibited during Passover. Traditionally, this ritual entails hiding 10 pieces of bread throughout the house and searching for them in the darkness guided by a candle to spiritually signify the cleansing of the home. Hadar shared with us her practice of this ritual – instead of hiding bread, we hid spiritual chametz, that is anything that no longer serves us psychologically, emotionally, and mentally. Each of us wrote down 3 aspects we personally wanted to rid ourselves of as we move into spring, and then we collectively wrote what we wanted to detach from as a house. We crumpled the paper up into balls and hid them around the house. Together as a group we searched every room in the house with candles in one hand and smudge sticks (bundles of herbs that can be burned to cleanse the space) in the other, working together to find our chametz. Our mission was twofold: finding our chametz and cleansing our new home as we enter into spring.
Practicing this ritual prompted us to exercise physical intimacy with our new home. By searching every nook and cranny of our new space and seeking something we know is already there, we deepened our relationship with ourselves, each other, and our house.
We each appreciated the intentionality behind the ritual. It was interesting to learn about how this Jewish ritual is mostly celebrated in the home space, as opposed to a synagogue. This deepened our learnings about Judaism – Jewish history, ritual and the evolution of practices across time. This was Maya, Ala’, and Jonathan’s first time doing Bedikat chametz.
Passover is a holiday where you’re not supposed to have any chametz, or leavened food, in the home. To help observe this tradition, Jonathan, who typically makes weekly sourdough, stopped making bread. Hadar also sold our pre-existing chametz, which is a typical Jewish tradition where people sell their leavened goods to non-Jews before Passover and buy them back after the holiday.
Two nights later we participated in a Passover Seder, led by Hadar. She prepared an incredible, elaborate meal and walked us through each of the 15 steps of a traditional Seder. A Seder, meaning order, is a sit down ceremonial feast that commemorates a certain theme. Passover is all about celebrating lineage and family, so we began by acknowledging and sharing ancestors that we feel connected to and shared stories of our families.
We each led readings from the Haggadah, blessed each other’s food and drink, and talked about our conceptions of freedom. We learned that the Passover Seder is a spiritual journey that is embarked upon, and that you’re supposed to leave more elevated than you started. Hadar introduced a practice of understanding how we each transform through the experience of the Seder by bringing in tarot. We each pulled a tarot card at the beginning of the night and at the end, reflecting on our observations of how we have grown.
We were instructed to “dress like you are royalty,” and learned that during Passover you’re supposed to feel the most comfortable you’ve ever been. For this reason, we all dressed up, sat on comfy pillows and blankets, and leaned to the left as we sipped our drinks and ate our food. We discussed the slavery, exile, and freedom of the Jewish people, and how that relates to the ills our society faces today.
We were encouraged to ask questions during the dinner, which created an atmosphere of pause. It required us to stop, take account of where we are and encouraged our natural sense of curiosity. It was very inclusive of everyone’s varying levels of familiarity with Passover rituals.
As a part of the retelling of the Jewish exodus from Egypt, we recounted the 10 plagues that God sent to Egypt. As we named each plague, we dipped our fingers into our drink and placed a drop onto our plates. This felt extremely timely, as we were carrying out this ritual during a plague of our own.
As all four of us are experiencing our respective religious holidays in quarantine for the first time, the rituals and writings have an added level of depth and nuance. We’ve been put in positions to celebrate and commemorate in ways we have never done before. On top of that, we are all experiencing these holidays and this pandemic without anyone else of our own religion in the house. While this can feel isolating, we have all felt solace in sharing our traditions with each other: creating new memories and building new relationships.