Tag Archives: pesach

Gulp – is being a rabbi’s wife not so bad after all?

11 May

Having been thrown into the thick of the most rabbi-wife-like activities – coordinating a communal Passover Seder – I realised that I was actually kind of, dare I say it, having fun.

Read more at my blog post on The Times of Israel:

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Gulp – is being a rabbi’s wife not so bad after all?

Times of Israel,  April 12, 2014

Somehow, somewhere along the line, I’ve got roped into doing more and more full-on ‘rebbetzin-esque’ duties at Nairobi Synagogue, where my hubbie is rabbi. My guerilla anti-rebbetzin campaign, it seems, is all for nought.

It started a month or two back. Margarita, a good friend in the community (yes, somehow, I seem to be finally gaining some friends along the way too), asked me casually if I’d join the Passover Seder planning committee. Imagining it would involve just a meeting or two to discuss just a matza ball or two, I said yes, of course, no problem.

Scroll forward to last week. Somehow, over 80 people have now reserved a spot at the Seder; somehow, the menu now involves a vast array of intricate dishes, most of which can only be prepared at the last minute; and to top it off, somehow, all the people on said committee seem to have left Nairobi temporarily and disappeared overseas.

Leaving just two of us ‘fryerim‘ (as the Israelis put it so eloquently), Margarita and me, to direct the multi-faceted operation and ensure that a three-course banquet, involving table hiring, flower arranging, seder plating, volunteer gathering, staff managing, market shopping and vegetable chopping will be prepared in time and the evening will go off swimmingly.

And the weird thing about it all – I’m enjoying every minute of it. Weeeird.

The whole process has been really entertaining – we’ve spent half the time giggling, and the other half haggling raucously at the fruit and veg Hawkers’ Market in central Nairobi with bemused market vendors, or cooking up a veritable storm in the synagogue kitchen, while debating vigourously over the sweetness levels of our haroset (me – too sweet – M – not sweet enough) or the garlic levels of our vegetarian main (me – too much garlic, M – not enough).

Man, I’ve even enjoyed making gargantuan vats of GEFILTE FISH. What is happening to me? (Although I did make sure it was Marg to get her dainty paws stuck into the gefilte mixture, meaning she would be the one to scare off her nearest and dearest that night with that overpowering heimishe whiff of chopped fish and not me).

In the meantime, the synagogue’s new back-up generator is experiencing birthing pains just as Kenya Power has decided to wreak particular havoc on the power supply to our part of town, people keep trying to book spots for the Seder at the last minute, and instead of going to bed so as to be wide awake for the last two daunting days of the cooking marathon ahead of us, I’m sitting here blogging.

Well, happy Passover to anyone out there, from here in the heart of East Africa.

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Getting in the Passover spirit – Medieval style

4 Apr

Some musings of mine about a medieval haggadah, published today in The Forward:

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April 4, 2012, 5:00am

Window to a Medieval Seder

By Rebecca S

Each Haggadah tells not just the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, but also the story of its owners. Containing worn, loose or torn out pages, covered with wine stains and littered with matzo crumbs, the Haggadah reflects how Jews celebrate the yearly rituals of the Seder night.

This year, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is getting into the Passover spirit with “The Rylands Haggadah: Medieval Jewish Art in Context,” a new exhibit showing a “priceless” medieval Haggadah.

The Rylands Haggadah, on loan from the University of Manchester, England, hails from Catalonian Spain and dates from the mid-1300s. It is being displayed alongside other medieval works of art that tell stories of the Jewish people in the Bible.

The illuminated manuscript, made of tempera, gold and ink on parchment, is open to a page showing two scenes: The first depicts the Israelites in Egypt heeding God’s command to slaughter a lamb and mark their doorposts with its blood so as to be spared from the slaughter of the first born. The second shows a medieval Passover Seder, with the figures participating in all the familiar Seder night rituals. We see them gathered around a table with the Seder plate taking the central position. In one frame, they are drinking the first of the four cups of wine; in another, they are dipping bitter vegetables in salt water.

There is a strange feeling of déjà vu that comes from standing in the Met’s galleries, staring into a glass case at this ornate manuscript depicting scenes of Jews living over 600 years ago, enacting Passover rituals identical to the ones practiced today. It brings to life the biblical commandment reiterated in the Haggadah that in every generation one is required to regard oneself as if he or she had personally come out of Egypt. In the Rylands Haggadah you can see the direct continuity between the lives of medieval Spanish Jews and Jews in 2012 still enacting the very same rituals.

Thinking about the Haggadah this way makes it easier to see the figures in these pictures as real people, rather than abstract caricatures. Did their children also get fed-up halfway through the long recitation of the Exodus story and start running around the table? Did the father also prove he was macho by wolfing down a giant-sized portion of maror? Did one of the aunts also get drunk and silly by the time they reached the second cup of wine on an empty stomach?

Looking at the Rylands Haggadah is to see ritual, memory and Jewish continuity enclosed in a glass case at New York’s most august museum.

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