What Was, Is



Searching through various rooms in my brain with a candle, I look for some small hidden crusts of memory of Passovers past that I might sweep up with a feather onto a wooden spoon I and then wrap up into an interesting, educational and edifying article for Oasis. Perhaps munching on a piece of Matzah and sipping from a small cup of Carmel Passover wine would help. I don’t want to offend any dear abstaining friends, but what would Passover be without thick and sweet kosher wine? For me, grape juice just doesn’t cut it. Probably the closest thing to kosher wine is cough syrup. I expect the French Jews have slightly more refined tastes, serving a dry red wine, perhaps a merlot or cabernet at their Seders II.

What about a spoonful of horseradish? Something to bring tears to my eyes, make my nose run and send me gasping for a glass of water. Ah, that’s the right stuff. Tastes and smells and sensations forever engraved on my consciousness, memories of seders from early childhood until today. My Bubbie and Zadie, my parents, my sister, a host of uncles, aunts and cousins, friends, assorted strangers, my wife and children, my grandchildren. Now I’m Zadie III and my wife is Bubbie IV, except we don’t use those terms. She is Safta (Hebrew for grandmother) and I’m Papa Moshe. Many outside my immediate family also call me Papa Moshe, not just my grandchildren.

New Life And Significance

What was, is, and continues, generation after generation. Critics said that believing in Yeshua would end the line, destroy our traditions and alienate us from our people. But contrary to the conventional wisdom, believing in Yeshua has only served to strengthen our tradition.

Passover, like all of our sacred seasons and festivals has been given new life and significance. Twenty-eight years ago I wrote in a testimony, that after finding Yeshua (more accurately, He found me since I was the one who was lost), I would have been willing to give up my heritage for Him if He so required. Instead, He drew me deeper into a greater connection and appreciation of my heritage. It is even more so today than it was nearly three decades ago.

Images flicker on the screen: My father and I taking grapes to my Zadie, so he could stomp barefoot on them in the old ball and claw-foot bathtub to make his own Passover wine. It was unique and potent. I never finished the obligatory four cups during the Seder; mostly because I never finished a Seder. The two cups that came during the ceremonial parts before the meal, plus the heaviness and quantity of food always put this young lad unconscious on the couch soon after the search for the afikoman V and the beginning of the after dinner prayers.

Different Seders

Years passed, Zadie was gone. I remember attending a few public seders held by various synagogues. I did not particularly enjoy sitting with so many strangers. I have only one strong memory from that time: my father complaining afterwards about how obnoxious some kid was whose family sat at the same table with us (I vaguely recall that he belched frequently during the entire evening). That was probably the last one of those seders we attended.

There were other Seders at the homes of various uncles, the first night on my father’s side of the family, the second at my mother’s side of the family. Passover in the Diaspora is celebrated for 8 days rather than the 7 mandated in the Torah. In Temple times, two Sanhedrin-approved witnesses testified to sighting the new moon from the Temple, assuring accuracy in establishing exactly when a festival began. Adding an extra day to holidays in the exile was to make sure the correct day was covered even if the precise information did not reach them in time I personally think it was done so that there could be two Seders (plus two Rosh Hashanah dinners, and two Shavuot VI dinners), thus avoiding massive fights over whose side of the family’s Seder one would attend. This became even more crucial in the light of rising divorce rates among Jewish families.

I’m Now Responsible

Thirty-five years ago, my parents divorced and my father remarried and moved 1500 miles away. I was now responsible for conducting the Seder in my mother’s home. I was in my mid-twenties, married with a baby daughter, and a new believer in Yeshua. I was very excited to discover that the event that we had commemorated at Passover each year, the deliverance from Egyptian bondage, was masterminded by a God who was still around and still doing great stuff.

Fast forward twenty years, Katya and I are living in Israel with 5 children, ages 2 to 22. Time continues to flow, but the story is still fresh because the mercies of God are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:23) Children continue to grow. Leora married and grandchildren are now the welcome addition to our Passover table. Our special joy is inviting families that have no past memories of Passover. Now, because of the Lamb of God, they have a desire to participate and learn here in this land of God to which they’ve returned.

Our seders are becoming more creative while still retaining their traditional feel and structure; water in a pitcher on the table turns red as Moses (me) dips his staff in it (with a little help from a hidden container of food coloring). A plague of frogs swarms over the table as gummy candy critters are tossed hither and thither. An eight-inch black locust leaps off the bookshelf and whirls around over the table. Celebrants duck and children squeal as this representative of the seventh plague circles above us by a cord attached to the ceiling-fan.

We recline at the table, as has been our tradition for thousands of years. The Passover we ate in Egypt was made in haste: loins girded, sandals on our feet, staff in hand. (Exodus 12:11) But now we are free men, women and children living in the Land of our fathers. We re-live the deliverance and the Exodus. Our history as a people and our personal history are highlighted by the fact that we have been rescued by the mighty hand and outstretched arm of the Lord of Hosts. We know that our Redeemer lives. So we lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, Yeshua. (Psalm 116:13) Messiah our Passover has been sacrificed so we celebrate the feast in sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:7,8)

I Search for the Leaven – The day before the holiday the members of the house conduct a ceremonial final “search for leaven.” It is traditionally done with the following elements: candle, wooden spoon, feather and linen napkin
II Seder – ceremonial meal served on the eve of Passover to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt
III Zadie – affectionate Yiddish name for grandfather
IV Bubbie – affectionate Yiddish term for grandmother
V Afikoman – piece of Matzah hidden at beginning of the ceremony, which must be found by the children after the meal VI Shavuot – Pentecost, Feast of Weeks