As I may have mentioned, I’m Jewish. Well by birth and upbringing. I’m not at all observant though I had an on/off observant childhood. I don’t believe in god and can’t ever remember a time when I did. But I’ve always felt Jewish none the less. Confused? Welcome to my tribe! We’re possibly the most confused religion/tribe on the planet. It’s very common to observe aspects of Judaism, if not all of them, and not believe in deity.
I watched a programme today about the Passover which begins on Tuesday, my birthday! (Nothing too small remember, thanks.) Giles Coren presented a programme on BBC1 (a television channel for my overseas readers) called Passover: Why is This Night Different? all about Seder Night where Jews gather to eat, celebrate, share rituals, eat, drink, talk, argue, eat some more and generally enjoy themselves. Mostly by eating. It was called Why is This Night Different because it’s the night we ask the question: why is tonight different from all other nights?
Jews and food
If you’ve ever wondered why food is so important to Jews, a programme about Seder Night pretty much explains it all. We use food on most of our holidays and high days – well except Yom Kipper, The Day of Atonement, for which we fast for our sins. (Ideal if you’re doing the 5:2 diet, sorry, bit disrespectful). But even that has food rituals at its core. You bring in the fast with seven sips of water (no, I don’t know why either) and you end it with an apple dipped in honey. Then you find some nice people to break your fast with.
This programme today for some reason made me bit tearful. I couldn’t understand why. Then I saw that just about everyone else at the table was also tearing up. Is there any other religion – that’s a genuine question – that has salt water as part of a food ritual to signify tears? Truly, we serve food in salt water at the Seder. What type of food varies according to which Jewish tradition you come from. Mine, the Ashkenazi, Eastern European one, served hard-boiled eggs in salt water. It’s to signify the many tears Jews have shed while being persecuted, made to work as slaves or running away from slavery. I presume the egg was to signify a new life, rebirth. We also, incidentally, in my tradition at least, give everyone a hard-boiled egg after a funeral service.
Why Paleo is like Pesach
But what really struck home was being reminded of how similar Paleo is to Pesach – the word we use for the Passover. Like a Paleo diet, you can’t eat wheat, grain or beans during Pesach. You even have to search your house to make sure you don’t have any, as I was advised to do when I began the Paleo diet to make sure temptation didn’t lurk in cupboards. But in the Jewish tradition, you not only do the search – you have to hide some bread to make sure you’ll find it so your search isn’t in vain! As a kid at Hebrew lessons on a Sunday morning (our equivalent of Sunday School) when I was told about this I thought it was ridiculous. Now, as an adult who very much misses her family Seder nights, I find it rather sweet.
Seder is a lovely celebration. We used to have Seder night at my Grandma’s house in West Hampstead, North London. The whole extended family would turn up and it was as much a joyous family gathering with food – always with food with the Jews – as it was an important religious festival.
I miss my Grandma even now though she died in 1970 when I was 14. I dreamt about her the other night – coincidence with Pesach coming up? She was telling me everything would be all right. As she always did. I’ll raise a glass to her on Tuesday and think of her and all the other Jews, living and passed on, as Pesach starts. And I’ll have dual reasons for not eating wheat, grain or beans for the eight days of Pesach.
If you’re Jewish, have a good Pesach whether you’re keeping it or not. If you’re not, have a good Easter. And if you’re in the UK, just try to stay warm in this the coldest March in 50 years!