Tag Archives: Passover

another generation

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Passover is coming to a close. This evening we will celebrate the last day of the holiday which will continue through tomorrow. Then on Saturday we will continue eating matzot instead of bread, and maintaining the passover diet, because the sabbath will have arrived without giving us the time to change our pots and pans and dishes back to normal.

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The holiday was a continuous social event with many meetings of dear friends and relatives. I’ve grown used to a lot of solitary time, and found the emotional pitch, the many conversations… even meeting with so many very different individuals, somewhat enervating.

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What an intense experience it was to be in a room filled with my youngest grandchildren, each of them different, a world onto himself or herself, part of the family… and at the same time, part of a generation that I can barely understand. Looking at them and listening to them I became very aware of the new world and the new souls already on their way to replace almost all I’ve known in my lifetime.

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These young souls had great sensitivity, and much sensibility, though occasionally I would hear a blood curdling scream or a growl of discontent. So different from one another, and yet managing quite well to co-exist in peace. So many words. More than stars in the skies. I listened for a while, but just couldn’t keep up. I saw some youngsters putting together a building from plastic semi transparent and brightly colored plastic. Is this something like Lego, I asked. No, they explained. This is magnetic.

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Spent time with people of all ages, from the very young who had just recently learned to speak their minds to old folks like myself, and most of them were completely unconcerned with the things that usually occupy my mind. But that didn’t bother them or me. There were a lot of rickety old bridges between us, and we had no fear. We sat around long tables and short. Round tables too. And the variety of food was amazing.

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My biggest problem was the immense contrast between the light coming through the windows, and that within the rooms when visiting with some of my grandchildren. I would have had to photograph with flash in order to get some sort of balance in many of the pictures or arrange people in better relationship to the light. But I like to catch them as they are.

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I was reminded of the many stations of life I’d gone through, the decisions; turning a house into a home; finding a balance in life; bringing children into this world with my wife; learning the characters of those children, and building bridges. I’ve been reading a book by Wendell Berry called ‘Hannah Coulter’. Here’s a short passage from that novel: “Nathan and I had to get used to each other. We had to get used to being two parents to Little Margaret. We had to get our ways and habits into some sort of alignment, making some changes in ourselves that were not always easy. We had to get used to our house. We had to get used to our place. It takes years, maybe it takes longer than a lifetime, to know a place, especially if you are getting to know it as a place to live and work, and you are getting to know it by living and working in it. But we had to begin”.

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on every level

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I could feel the approach of spring as I traveled up north a couple of weeks ago, to the western Galilee. The rolling hills were showing green. There were flowers peeking through the grass, promising the delights of spring despite the chilly weather and the low hanging dark clouds that hid the sunlight more often than not. I’d slip out of my guest cottage on my way to the home of a friend, and find myself enchanted by the flowers in random stretches, in corners, cyclamen hugging the roots of sturdy trees. Though photography had not been the object of my trip, the gorgeous sights stimulated my somnambulating appetite and I had a great desire to take out the camera and capture some of those flowers. But like the birds who smiled at me from the branches of high trees till I began to unveil my camera, and then lifted their wings and flew away… so it was with the flowers whose petals blushed in a moment of sun, and then retreated in modest shyness as a cloud passed overhead, withdrawing the hot yellow brought by the sun. Though teased and frustrated by the momentary flashes of sunlight, once I had gotten my camera out, there were moments when I reluctantly accepted compromise, and took a shot of the blossom in the shade.

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Today is the eve of that great holiday, Passover. It honors the spring and reminds us to tell our children of the exodus from slavery, challenging us to examine our longing for freedom, and all the good reasons that lead us astray along the way. This obligation to tell our children of our aspiration for freedom and the many difficulties in achieving that state most characterizes the nature of our holiday. Their questions are valued, and we don’t have to have all the answers. But spending the whole evening around the dining room table in serious discussion, and the participation of all ages is the major feature of the holiday. The feast is the most extravagant of the three major festivals of our culture; those three events in which all of Israel would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in ancient times. We prepare fun and games for the kids in order to keep the them awake as long as possible, till the middle of the night. This is a week long holiday, so a lot of folks go out on family expeditions to enjoy nature. Some go camping. And there are some unique dietary laws that remind us of the very special quality of these days.

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We do all we can to make the festival perfect. But we know as we strive, that nothing is perfect, just as in our desire for freedom we know that it beckons to us only when we’re out there somewhere, still escaping slavery… once we have that freedom, history has taught us just how easy it is to corrupt and disrupt, and if we picture ourselves amusing the cows in the meadow by playing lullabies on a flute, it’s just a fleeting vision to be followed by monkeys’ mischief and entropy.

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We had barely left Egypt when we began wailing nostalgically for the watermelon of the ‘old country’. Forty years we traveled around in the desert, working to change ourselves from slaves to free men and women. And since that time, a lot of years have gone by, and every year we’ve commemorated the exodus, studying still another aspect of the work of freeing ourselves. And in every living room, another set of folks have considered those same questions in a different context, and found answers from a different perspective. Some see slavery as addiction, or obsession, or fear… or chasing after an illusion. And everyone sees freedom in his own subjective way. We’ve known miracles, so we don’t dismiss any goal as impossible. There’s been ups and downs all along the way. Even the most miserable of circumstances have left souvenirs in the shape of handwritten and hand illustrated copies of the Passover chronicle as it was recited and learned.

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Since I can’t share with you the many tastes, aromas and textures of those special Passover dishes, nor can I sing you the songs and responses that we sing to one another through the first evening, or share the light headed inebriation fostered by a minimum of the obligatory four goblets of wine this evening, I have chosen to share with you a few photos of spring’s nature. As it happens, these are the pictures I took when the clouds were hiding the full colors available only in the light of the sun. Take them for what they’re worth. Maybe next year I’ll have better.

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Close to our borders, the hyenas are preparing a picnic. They say it’s going to be a peaceful get together, but some of us are suspicious. We have been attacked before on holy days… and hyenas are better known for their attacks than their picnics. So a lot of young fathers are going to be called away to watch the border on this joyous occasion. But we still hope it’ll all work out alright this year. A happy Passover and a beautiful spring to all my friends.

seven days

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this concept is an accepted maxim in Jewish tradition. What starts out as a custom becomes law.

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The holiday of Passover, like the holiday of Tabernacles, lasts 7 days. The first and the last day of the holiday is similar to a Sabbath.

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During the intermediate days we are permitted to ride in a vehicle, use electric devices, and write as well as read. I can write my blog, for instance.

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Unlike the Sabbath, we are allowed to cook on the first and last days of the holiday. Unless one of them falls on the Sabbath. This year, the first day fell on the Sabbath. And so we had to prepare the food before the start of the holiday.

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So this is a holiday, when many of my countrymen and women go out to enjoy nature, and revel in the spring. I used to go out with the intention to photograph the beauty of nature… But I found that landscape photography was often difficult, because in this season it is often rainy or hazy.

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Still, there are some beautiful days…
And there are very special flowers that bloom at this time.

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Right now, as I write you, there is the wail of a strong wind blowing through the city. Yesterday was a better day, and together with two sweet friends we wandered off on dirt roads, southwest of Jerusalem.

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The intermediate days are more open to subjective celebration, personal taste, and individual pleasures.

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with Noga in the forest; photo by Chana

Many Israelis enjoy a barbeque, by which they celebrate the holiday. I attended one such barbeque this week, which was very enjoyable. My friends drank wine. I drank grapefruit juice with Vodka. Beer is forbidden on Passover and so is whisky, because fermented grain is not allowed.

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These amazing flowers are called the blood of the Maccabees in Hebrew, and the little beetle appreciating the flower, known as a ladybug in English, is called Moses’ red cow in Hebrew.

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This evening marks the beginning of the last day of the holiday. It is followed by the Sabbath, so in many ways we’re about to enjoy a two day Sabbath. That means an extra day without bread.

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We will continue eating matzot, unleavened bread until the conclusion of the Sabbath. And after that, back to normal.

Passover Greeting

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חג כשר ושמח

May all those enslaved find freedom. And may all free men and women find their path to a true realization and enjoyment of their freedom.

Best wishes for the holiday.

in the holiday spirit

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three of my grandchildren eating matzot (unleavened bread)

I’ve no idea if this happens in any other country, but for a week here, everyone is off for a holiday. We visit friends and relatives, go off to commune with nature… and because all of the nature reserves, the beaches, and the usual holiday sites are full to overflowing… some take off and travel abroad. But wherever you go, you find your fellow countrymen enjoying the holiday.

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granddaughters

Walking down the main street of my new neighborhood, I saw a few stores that were exhibiting portable barbeques. It is quite common for families to go out to nature for a picnic. And in that context, we have been hearing good news this week. According to reports heard on the radio, campers and picnickers have been taking their garbage home with them, leaving the public camps and forests cleaner than they were in years gone by. In the past, at the end of the holiday we would always learn how many tons of garbage were gathered in recreation sites, left behind by lazy tourists.

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Hillel plays us a Passover song

All the major highways are filled with vacationers. Those with little children visit the amusement parks. And there are festivals, and musical get togethers. Only the restaurants suffer. Because of the restricted diet, many eateries close for the holiday. Others provide food that is fitting. But even so, there are less people who eat out… especially here in Jerusalem, where the dietary rules are very strictly observed. The bakeries offer special cookies prepared just for this holiday, which are made of peanuts and coconuts, and cakes made of potato flour, because flour made of grain is not used.

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cookies prepared especially for the holiday

Spring is in the air. All the fields are decorated with flowers. It brought me such joy to see large patches of wild mustard flowers in the nature preserve where we visited last week.

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wild mustard

When I was younger, I often planned a photography expedition for this particular time. But as it happens, the change of seasons usually brings with it a haze, or winds from the east or south which stir up sand and dust, resulting in poor visibility. I had many disappointments on that score, but learned to appreciate some of the unique possibilities even if landscape photography wasn’t always possible.

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Hagit and Tamar

I’ve been going to bed late this week. There is so much happening every day. But I do take a nap in the afternoon. And I’ve been reading a really fine book that I picked up at a bus stop. Yes, picked up… I didn’t buy it. In Chana’s village, they’ve started a program of voluntary book donations. And every bus stop has a couple of shelves filled with a wide selection of books. The passer by is encouraged to take some reading with him. I found one that was just to my taste, and have been reading it all week.

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playing cards

This Sabbath Passover will be a very special day, offering the special holiness of the Sabbath, and the joy that is characteristic of this holiday of freedom. My best wishes to all my friends and readers. It is my hope that you will be able taste something of the holiday spirit from the photos offered here.

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the grandchildren’s cat, jinjit

fermentation

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Each of our major holidays has a theme. The theme of Passover, which begins on Monday evening, is the emergence from slavery, and the journey to freedom. And strangely enough, the most impressive thing about this process, is the awareness that we have to be willing to sacrifice some of life’s pleasures in order to attain freedom. Usually, when people think of freedom, they think about the good things… the luxuries that are enjoyed by free people. And the bill of rights, so to speak. But our history tells of giving up some of the things we loved… meat and watermelon, for instance… And going out to the desert for forty years… having an entire generation die in transit so that their progeny could build a free society.

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The holiday starts with a great banquet which is probably our most famous meal. It has many courses, and entire families get together to celebrate the occasion, telling the story of our exodus from slavery in Egypt, and the process by which we became a unique people. We tell our children of the cultural foundations of our people, and how freedom demands responsibility, discipline, and caring for the weak and incapacitated within our society. But the characteristic most identified with the Passover tradition, is the prohibition of the use of fermented dough.

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For us, fermentation is a hint of spiritual awareness. We sanctify the Sabbath by blessing it before drinking wine or eating bread. Both wine and bread are what they are, thanks to the yeast that move in and add that certain something beyond our control. We don’t actually see the yeast… but we know its there… and it’s our allegory on spiritual awareness. There is something to be learned from those unseen microorganisms that live alongside of us in this world, interacting with us in many ways. Some even enable us to live richer lives. It is estimated that there are more than 100 million different species. But we have a special relationship to the Saccharomyces cerevisiae which convert carbohydrates to carbon dioxide used in baking, and alcohol which provides the magic in wine.

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Yet when we were led out of slavery in Egypt, Moses our teacher told us to move swiftly. To get out in one night. There was no time to let the bread rise, so we took unleavened bread with us to make sandwiches. And to this day, three and a half thousand years later, we remember that rule: to move decisively, by not eating leavened bread on Passover. We call the flatbread that is prepared without yeast, matzot. And that’s what we eat in the place of bread for the seven days of the holiday. The instruction regarding fermented grain is one of our most unyielding rules. And we are prohibited beer and whisky among many other grain products that usually embellish our lives. All the same, there is no need to worry about us. Over the years, we have developed countless recipes by which to enjoy both food and drink, without the use of fermented grain.

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Before the holiday, we clean our houses and our kitchens in order to remove any traces of fermentation. Each and every community provides ‘flour for the poor’. This is a very important part of the holiday, and those who do not have the means to prepare the banquet, are given all the components needed… flour, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. Then we prepare the great banquet, in which all participants will be seated like royalty round the table. It is common to invite single people to join us in the feast. That first banquet is called the seder, because seder means order, And there is an order to our ceremony. Children are encouraged to ask questions. And we adults respond by telling them of our exodus from slavery. The children have a role to play at the end of the banquet too, and this keeps them involved and awake throughout the evening’s function.

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The holiday lasts a week. The first and the last days are like Sabbath. And on the Sabbath that falls on Passover, we read the portion in chapter 37 of Ezekiel that refers to the dry bones. For just as we had assimilated in Egypt, and were living the life there, and accepting values that were not our own, so we were brought back to life and led to salvation by our teacher and leader, Moses. And later, when we were dispersed among the peoples of the world, in exile from our beloved country, we prayed and hoped to return to Israel, to be a living nation once again. And this great miracle happened again in my very own lifetime.

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The holiday of matzot; this holiday of freedom… is also a celebration of spring. After the first day which is a full holy day, a Sabbath, the intermediate days are often celebrated by going out to nature, and appreciating the signs of spring around us. And it is with this in mind, that I chose to illustrate this holiday post with photos taken in the Begin forest, a short distance from Jerusalem.

spring days

”there is nothing much to argue about
when it comes to taste and smell”
– – – old Hebrew proverb

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Nechama surveys the rich vegetation

As the sun starts to set this evening, we in Israel will usher in the holiday of Passover, commemorating our exodus from slavery, and the establishment of our state something over 3000 years ago. There have been a lot of preparations for the banquet, which will be celebrated tonight, during which we will tell our children (and in my case, grandchildren), of the many things we learned on our way from slavery to freedom… and what happens when you’re not ready for freedom… and how to relate to an enemy, and how to relate to an enemy after victory. There are many things that are discussed. There is as much discussion as there is food, and there is a lot of fine food. There are also four obligatory glasses of wine. But for those who cannot drink wine for one reason or other, there are also bottles of pure grape juice, which may be drunk instead.

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this friendly neighbor offers to join us in our walk

As I’ve already spoken about Passover, and even though there is a lot more to tell about this unique and very special holiday, I will direct my attention to two aspects that I haven’t written about in the past, celebrating the spring, and emphasizing values.

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another friend, enjoying the sun

Spring has arrived in Jerusalem, and we are conscious of the warming up, the great increase in vegetation, the birds singing from the tree tops, and it won’t be long before some of the less desirable visitors will show up, checking out what’s available in human domiciles. I am speaking of the ants and the cockroaches, the flies and the mosquitoes. We have our ways of making them feel unwelcome. But it’s a long standing contest, even if we’re confident of winning.

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this one is called ‘the cows tongue’ because of its leaves

But now, at the beginning of spring, we celebrate the renewal… all the beautiful wild flowers. Nechama accompanies me on my daily walk, and she steps off the beaten path to enjoy walking between plants and flowers, and letting the new leaves of succulent vegetation comb her fur. She doesn’t mind absorbing a little dust, and having some thorns and seeds caught in her fur. She enjoys rolling around on the ground, and rubbing her back on the hard earth while I stand guard, so that no one will take advantage of the fact that her feet are in the air, and her soft stomach is exposed. You know cats. They love a little mischief… and if I wasn’t standing there by her side, one of her friends would jump right on her soft stomach, yelling surprise! Or Happy Birthday!

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after a roll on the hard earth, Nechama looks around

Of course, a lot of the holiday discussion is about how we were slaves, and that the nobility of freedom can’t be taken for granted. And at the very beginning of the banquet, we tell our children that we are descendents of pagans, who worshipped many gods. Because it’s important to remember that there is always choice. And that we shouldn’t be too proud about where we are today, because culture is a process that is developed over generations.

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these are mustard. I put them in my sandwich

And as we discuss values, we consider that values are not only the big rules… that we shouldn’t steal or murder; or be jealous of what our neighbor has. But that we should enjoy the pleasures of life with a sense of proportion. Today, extreme sports are popular, and in fact, we are often tempted and encouraged to go to extremes. There is something wonderful about climbing a mountain, for instance. You usually start at a point where the ground is still pretty level, and then as you begin the climb, there are places where you have to descend in order to reach that other place where you will again ascend. Little by little, the air gets thinner, and the vegetation changes according to the altitude, and you meet different animals who know how to take advantage of the many different variations in the environment. Looking up, there are the birds overhead, who can reach the isolated crags and peaks that are so hard for us to attain.

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Now it may seem to some, that it is even more exciting and pleasurable to go up into the sky inside a plane, and then jump out of the plane at a great altitude, and feel the adrenalin come rushing through the body as the wind rushes by on the outside. I have not experienced this adventure myself. But even so, I believe that it is a mistake to always search out the extremes, and that there is much more to be enjoyed when including the many subtleties and minor pleasures that are a part of a conventional adventure. This type of choice, is also a part of studying values. Just as it is not in our interest to eat only sugar, no matter how sweet, or peppers, no matter how exciting… so in our pleasures we should try to enjoy a variety of shades and colors.

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all the flowers here are wild…

My best wishes to all, at the start of spring, and to my friend Peter, and others who are reading me in the southern hemisphere, as they begin to enjoy the fall and approach the winter. May we all find reasons to rejoice, and enjoy the changes of the seasons, and our meetings with the younger generation that has come after us… and bring strength and friendship to the older generations who went before us.

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and our best wishes to all the cats out there!