OPINION: A slice of Passover – The holiday of exodus

SYMBOLIC: The “Seder” plate with the different signs representing the festival of Passover. Photo: Ilanit Chernick. 

Passover or Pesach is an annual festival celebrated by the Jewish community over 7 days in April. Wits Vuvuzela journalist Ilanit Chernick shares the experience of the festival as it happens in her home. 


As the candles sparkle on the mantelpiece we gather around and admire their beauty.

The table is set, our best cutlery and crockery laid out in order of each course, each with an accompanying Hagada (the religious text) on top. An abundance of desert wine with a seemingly equal number of glasses stand in readiness for the traditional four helpings of this sweet alcoholic treat. Each helping signifies the different levels of redemption.

Some say, “It’s the perfect opportunity to get a little drunk”. But in actual fact this is a time for family and friends to come together, to learn, reflect and grow.

We renew our spirituality, our freedom and our remembrance of trying times.

It is Passover – a festival which celebrates the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. A tradition passed down for thousands of generations from father to son since that fateful period when the Jews were saved “by the hand of G-d (God)”.

Yet many people still question the strange and inspiring rituals the Jewish people uphold during the first two nights of this holiday period. We read from a book that talks of our history (the Hagada), churn what seems like hills of greens and horseradish in our mouths which are hard to the touch – never mind the tongue. We mix apples, nuts and wine to make a sweet paste which is spread on to the cardboard-looking thing called matzah (unleavened bread).

The seder (Hebrew word describing the order of events over the first two nights of Passover) is held as a way to teach generation after generation – young and old – of the miracles beseeched on the Jewish people during their time in slavery. It is a time to encourage the younger generation to ask questions about the historical significance of this night. The youngest at the table sings a tune in Hebrew asking “why this night is different from all other nights?” or “why on this night do we eat bitter herbs and matzah?”

[pullquote]”These words slip off our tongues like water on a hot day as we recall the story of our ancestors slavery.” [/pullquote]

Throughout this evening we examine the fascinating plate of insignia’s, talk of “the four  sons”, deliberately spill our glasses of wine as we listen to the 10 plagues and sing songs of freedom in Aramaic. These words slip off our tongues like water on a hot day as we recall the story of our ancestors’ slavery. We long for these words to come true – for the return of a time of comfort and redemption.

As the adults eat a meal filled with chicken soup and kneidelach (matza-balls), rich meats and cooling desserts, there are squeals of delight as the children search for the Afikoman (a small piece of matzah hidden to continue the process of ‘asking’). Prizes of lush chocolates or packets of coloured sweets are handed to the children for solving this little mystery. A process of bargaining, swapping and sharing treats takes place as we  proceed to eat the Afikoman.

One after the other, the children fall by the wayside on the couch or on pillows scattered on the floor as we end this night of extraordinary events with humourous songs. They prompt us to count or take us back to a time of old school plays we performed during this period of the year. We smile as we let the wine settle and sing-along to “Had Gad Ya”, a parable similar to that of the nursery rhyme “there was an old lady who swallowed a spider”. In our dazed state we make the sounds pertaining to each character and tease when anyone misses their cue.

Sooner than we’d hoped, the plague of darkness begins to settle upon the house as each of the lights go out one by one. A reminder that 1am has come and it is time for bed. As we walk our guests out we look up at the stars with awe – a blood moon has appeared – the same phenomenon which took place thousands of years ago on the night of our redemption.


FAMILY TIME: The Chernick family gather together on Passover to recall our history.  Photo: Ilanit Chernick