By Jacqueline Hyman
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
I grew up surrounded by and educated in two religions: Catholicism and Judaism, one from each parent. My friends and I often get into chats about religion and what it means to us. We have some similar views and different insights into facets of religion.
Regardless of the religious aspect of these theologies, I always get very passionate about the cultural side of Judaism. The customs are very rooted in the historical details and stories surrounding the Jewish and Hebrew people, and I love that. The thing I use most to demonstrate this to non-Jewish friends is Passover. I really like all the aspects of the holiday: the reasons behind the foods we eat (and don’t eat), the customs during a seder and even the long process of reading through the Haggadah.
I even enjoy taking the eight days away from chametz (food with leavening agents, prohibited during Passover). It makes me feel as though I’m doing something to connect with my people, and it’s very rewarding to know that I can make sacrifices to practice my culture and religion.
In the song “Remember That We Suffered” from the TV show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” in a scene that takes place at a bar mitzvah, the characters explain that everything Jews do is a reminder of the pain and grief we have experiences throughout the centuries. It’s a comical and maybe slightly offensive satire of this concept. (It’s pretty funny, so go watch it. ) The song makes light of the tragic situations, but at the core, it’s true: our customs do remind us of all we’ve been through as a people.
At our seder, my family always acts kind of crazy. Though it’s established in serious parts of our Jewish history, it’s a fun holiday. My grandmother wants to stop every – what feels like – two pages of the Haggadah to sing a song. People try to sneak some food – and wine – before we even get to the meal. My uncle screams “DAYENU” across the 20-person table and turns red as he cracks himself up. Someone usually asks if we can watch “The Prince of Egypt.” (I’ll be honest, it’s probably me most of the time – how can you not love that movie?!) And my 9-year-old sister sheepishly tries to remember and sing the four questions in Hebrew.
Of course I like the other holidays, and appreciate how most of them are rooted in Jewish history and culture, as their practices have to do with specifics of the stories. Hamantaschen and the megillah reading are central to the story of Purim. Hanukkah is about the Maccabees’ battle to defend our temple. That hearkening back to my roots makes me feel so fulfilled when practicing the traditions, which is why I often tell people about the traditions of Pesach.
We dip bitter herbs in salt water to signify the tears our ancestors cried as they were slaves in Egypt. We spill a drop of wine for each of the ten plagues while reading the Haggadah. We make Hillel sandwiches out of maror (bitter herbs), charoset (apples and nuts soaked in wine) and matzah to signify the mortar and bricks our ancestors used to build Egyptian cities. We have a lamb shank on the table to recall the lamb’s blood on the doorposts so that the angel of death would pass over the Hebrews’ homes. And we eat matzah because the Hebrews didn’t have time to bake full bread while fleeing Mizraim – Egypt.
Everything means something. Everything is significant. This is what I love about Judaism.
Jacqueline is a senior journalism and English major. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.