As you may all know, right now the Jewish people are in the midst of celebrating a holiday known as פסח, also known as Passover (see here for a quick wiki definition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passover ). The holiday lasts 8 days and during the first two days families get together to have a seder which is a Hebrew words that means “order.” Having been celebrated for over 3.000 years, it is surprisingly more than just some mumbo jumbo of food and dance. On the contrary, it is true to its name and follows a precise formula.
It is the seder, that I wish to write about.
Families gather around the table in order to retell the story of the Exodus using a book called the Haggadah. We read, sing and more importantly remember. You see, in biblical hebrew there is no word for History (after all it implies that it is “his story” and not “ours”). In Judaism there is such an attention to retention and in fact in the torah it is said that it is a sin to forget. And thus, it is during the seder when everyone: old, young, secular & religious take part in a walk down identity lane.
(birthday overlapped with seder- doubles the fun)
Not only is there an emphasis on the importance of identity memory and family during this holiday, but it is also an excellent representation of how food can play such a fundamental role in traditions and how we can use food as a vessel to sail into our memory.
You see on the seder table, there sits something called the seder plate. On this plate there are a number of food items, all of which represent either an emotion or an object.
Through dipping the parsley in salt water, we taste the tears of our ancestors. Through eating Haroseth, we are recalling into our memory the mortar that the Israelites used when building the pyramids. By eating Matzoh, we taste the haste of the people. The Maror (horseradish) awakens us to the bitterness of slavery while the Beitzah (egg) represents life and continuation of existence.
Every food unfolds a part of the story and thus during the seder not only are our ears and eyes retelling the tale but our nose, mouth and fingers are as well.
What better way is there to relive an experience if not through all of our senses combined?
And how often is food the kindler of the past?
And what is identity if not a memory and imagination?