Being interested in Jewish culture and history for a long time, I joined in a celebration of the Jewish festival of Passover held by National Council of Jewish Women Australia on 27 March 2017.
A Passover Seder is a commemoration of the day when the Jews escaped from slavery in Egypt led by Moses. More than 90 women and girls from diverse faiths, cultural and ethnic backgrounds met at the Eva Besen Centre. Keren Harel-Gordon, a native of Jerusalem and a graduate of Hebrew University, led the proceedings by sharing the meaning and history of each meal, the story of the Exodus from Egypt, traditional blessing etc.
Being a patriarchal religion, this women’s Seder was run with an emphasis on the important women and their roles during that period of the exodus.
The Seder Plate comes with bowls of salt water and six types of food including parsley, charoset (a ground up sweet mixture of nuts, apples, sultanas, of various recipes), shank bone, hard boiled egg, bitter herb, lettuce. For example, parsley represents the season of spring- the rebirth of nature and birth of Israel. Bitter herb symbolizes the bitterness of the life of Israelite slaves in Egypt. And salt water represents the tears of the slaves.
A symbol of the Passover holiday is matzah, an unleavened flatbread made solely from flour and water. It seems so simple, plain and flat, we were told.
‘But for a symbol of Freedom, it is impressive. Matzah is not only the dough which our ancestors did not have the time to let rise as they left Egypt- the bread of liberation; but it is also the bread of poverty and persecution which our ancestors ate when they were slaves.’
We read the translation from the book of Exodus Chapter 10 Verse 2: ‘And that you may tell your child, and your child’s child, what I have brought about upon Egypt…’. This is to encourage the children to remember the hard life their ancestors have been through and to cherish their current life. So this might be how the Passover Haggadah comes from ‘In every generation, a person must see themselves as if they, personally, had gone out of Egypt’.
The central theme of the first half of the Seder is their past liberation from slavery. The second part has its central theme of the future. It is all about faith in the coming of the Messiah and the Messianic Age of peace on earth. Elijah, it is said, will precede the Messiah, riding into Jerusalem announcing the arrival of the Messianic Age. So we poured a cup of wine for the prophet Elijah and opened a door through which he can enter..
Above is just little part of the Seder. It might sound simple, but no one really knows what the difficulties the Jews have suffered and how they conquered them. The spirit is so great. No wonder nowadays many Nobel winners are Jewish. Throughout the generations they have given great honor to the intellectual pursuit.
I believe Passover Seder means a lot for the Jewish community. It is not just a gathering to review the bitter history, but to embrace peace and to cherish life. Without any doubt, they are called the most united community in the world.
—–by Yvette Wang
National Council of Jewish Women Australia, Interfaith Model Seder for Women