One of my favourite parts about going to McGill is the multiculturalism. Growing up in the Oaks, I only knew one person that was Jewish. Imagine my surprise when I moved into residence only to discover that a third of my building (7 floors and all) were Jews! So far, it has proved to be an awesome learning opportunity. Quite a few of my friends are Jewish, and I’ve learned so much about their religion since being at school.
This past Monday was the first night of Passover. For those who don’t know, Passover is the celebration of the Jewish people escaping slavery in Egypt. I have permission from one of my best friends to paraphrase the story of Passover for you. It’s a really neat story, but I’ll try to keep it short and sweet.
The Pharaoh didn’t want any competition to the throne, so he ordered that all of the Jewish firstborn males be killed at birth. One woman is able to hide her son, and sends him up the Nile in the hopes that he will find safety. The Pharaoh’s daughter finds the boy, names him Moses, and is allowed by her father to raise him as her own. (Take that, Pharaoh!) When Moses is grown, he sees the injustice that is being done to the Jews at the hands of the Egyptians. God appoints him the person to lead the Jews from slavery. Moses appeals to the Pharaoh, but he refuses to release the Israelites. God sends the ten plagues down on Egypt: water to blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, pestilence kills all domestic pets, boils, fire and ice, locusts, darkness. When Pharaoh still refuses, God sends a tenth plague: the death of all firstborns in Egypt. The Israelites were warned by Moses and all prepared a sacrifice, painting the blood on the door so that God will pass over their homes with his plague. The Pharaoh finally relents, and the Israelites quickly escape, bringing their bread which has not had time to leaven (rise): matzah! Pharaoh changes his mind, and the Jewish reach a dead end at the Red Sea. But then Moses parts the waters and the Israelites are able to walk to safety, after which the water closes back in on the Egyptians, who all drown.
The ceremony itself at the Seder (the dinner on the first night of Passover) is really nice. There is an hour (or more) of reading from the Haggadah, a religious prayer book especially for Passover. It explains the story, in both Hebrew and English. There are lots of songs and stories. The Jews don’t eat any leavened foods for all of Passover (bread, pasta, cereals) to remember the suffering of their ancestors. Instead, they eat a lot of matzah, a cracker made without yeast. At the Seder, you eat matzah, bitter herbs dipped in salt water (representing the sweat and tears of the Israelites), charoset (an apple-cinnamon mixture to represent the mortar that the Israelites used to build the pyramids), and drink deliciously sweet Manischewitz wine. I am not going into detail about the cermony itself, but it is really beautiful and spiritual. I was so happy to be a part of it.
For the meal, we ate avocado and tomato salad, hard boiled eggs, matzah with horseradish, there were two types of chicken, charoset, roasted potatoes, sweet yams, and the AMAZING matzah ball soup (shown above). Seriously, so incredible. For dessert, unleavened chocolate cake, apple kugel and more wine!
Honestly, I was so touched to be allowed to be included. My friends did all the preparation, set-up, gathering of the Haggadahs, cooking and leading of the ceremony themselves. It was their first ever Seder away from home, and they did an amazing job. You could tell that the celebration was really special to everyone there, they all could read Hebrew and knew all the songs. Like I said, it was incredible to be a part of. I am so thankful! I think I will definitely celebrate it each year, even though I’m not religious. I think all the religions have very special traditions and stories, so why not celebrate each of them?
Thanks again guys, for including me. Love you!