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Passing over Pesach

Rachel Hoddes

Friday, 26 April 2024

Rachel discusses the traditions and history of Pesach (Passover) and shares her personal experiences growing up celebrating this religious holiday.

What is Pesach?

Pesach (pronounced p-AI-s-aa-kh), known as Passover in the UK, is one of the main Jewish festivals. It is determined by the luna calendar, so can fall anywhere between March and May, commemorating the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, as well as miracles like the splitting of the Red sea. It takes place over eight days, starting with two seders’, meaning ‘order’. Jewish families across the globe get together to read about the miracles of Pesach, punctuated with a large meal and prayers. Throughout the seder, children are encouraged to ask questions about the events of the story and the history of the Jewish people and we celebrate the past year all together.

Ashkenazi vs Sephardi – What Does This Mean?

The two main types of Judaism are Ashkenazi and Sephardi. Ashkenazim mainly originate from Central and Eastern European countries, for example France, Russia and Poland; whilst Sephardim tend to come from Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, as well as Spain and North Africa. The main thing that divides these two branches of Judaism over Pesach specifically are their dietary requirements. During this festival, Jewish people don’t eat anything containing wheat, barley, oats, rye or spelt, however Ashkenazim also don’t eat beans, peas, rice, corn, soy, chickpeas or lentils. (Its basically my vegetarian nightmare!) The only form of wheat we eat at this time of year is a sort of cracker called matzah, which is prepared and baked in a specific way. This is because, the Jewish people didn’t have enough time to wait for their bread to rise when they left Egypt and took unleavened bread with them. We have come up with some weird and wacky ways to prepare food at Pesach, from making mina (lasagna made with soaked pieces of matzah) to baking with almond flour (which really isn’t as nice as it sounds).

Fun Traditions

Pesach is full of fun traditions! It’s a genuine requirement to drink four cups of wine, or grape juice at a seder which always ends in a memorable evening. Here we highlight of a few fun Pesach traditions from Jewish people here at Nottingham!

Plagued by Plagues

Many families act out the 10 plagues to help the kids remember them. It’s our favourite part of the seder and we take it very seriously. We have a bag of plagues we take out each year complete with jumping frogs; fake blood and boil stickers; and my personal favourite, a bag of plastic cockroaches. These were banned in my family after I put one in my grandad’s soup and he almost ate it, so when I was 14, me and my cousins ordered another 50 more cockroaches and hid them round the house: to this day we are still finding them (and we got our stolen cockroaches back)!

There’s a Leek!

During ‘Dayenu’, a song which recites the miracles of the exodus of the Jewish people out of Egypt, many families hit each other with leeks. To this day, I don’t know why but we always end up having a sword fight with them across the table, often with one of my cousins singing a song from the prince of Egypt underneath. It gets very heated and the victor gets to have the first piece of matzah of the year!

The Horseradish Challenge

During the seder, we have to eat a bitter herb. Many families opt for horseradish due to its fiery taste and as a kid we used to compete to see who could eat the most without grimacing. Now if you’ve ever had the pleasure of eatinga whole, raw chunk of horseradish you will know that thing burns. But eight-year-old me decided that everyone at the table were wimps and that I could eat the whole thing… I got through two bites before my eyes were streaming so I grabbed the nearest water jug to down something to clear my throat. Little did I know it was the salt water to be used later in the meal with our eggs. Let's just say I didn’t drink water for a while after!

Welcome to the Zoo

By the end of the seder, everyone’s a little delirious. It can go long, as we can’t start until after sundown, and have long prayers and many cups of wine to get through. So by the final song, we are all more than done and ready to go to bed but, like all proper finales, we have to end on a high! We finish the night, as many families dowith an Aramaic-Hebrew song, ‘Chad Gadya’, which very much has ‘There was an old lady who swallowed a fly’ vibes with animals eating each other. We always do sound effects. This often ends in chaos with everyone mooing, barking and meowing at each other in fits of giggles: its honestly one of my favourite moments of the whole year!


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