Chag Sameach! Passover in South Africa


Chag sameach! Today is Passover, a commemoration of the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Quite a hefty number of years ago, G-d’s avenging angel “passed over” Israelite houses in search of Egyptian families to smite, allowing occupants of the former to escape; viz. Exodus.

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In South Africa, Jewish families celebrate Passover with a seder drawn from 19th century European tradition, reflecting the community’s main heritage. The idea is to make the night feel different from other nights; the symbolic observances include eating bitter herbs like parsely (to taste the bitterness of slavery), sweet haroset (a paste of apple, honey and nuts – to taste the sweetness of freedom), and, of course, matzoh (unleavened bread – to eat what the escaping slaves ate as they crossed the desert out of Egypt).

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SA Blog’s favorite tradition is the naming of the plagues. Fingerbowls of wine are set out, and fingers are dipped in as each plague is called: Blood, Frogs, Lice, Flies, Livestock (deaths), Boils, Hail, Locusts, Darkness, and First Born Sons (deaths) were the first ten plagues G-d sent down – which, however, left the Israelites unscathed. Quite a gory season, that, if you were an Egyptian.

Some Jewish families will roast a lambshank tonight, following the tradition of their forefathers; others will just roast a chicken; and the streets will be quiet in their neigborhoods – until the feasts are finished and some of the feasters make their way home on foot. A few will doubtless stumble, singing off-key, up Your Correspondent’s street.