Happy Passover! I write this as my stomach prepares for a night of hedonistic gluttony. While one of the central tenets of Passover is the prohibition of leavened items, the food is still absolutely sumptuous. Passover is perhaps my favorite Jewish holiday. Like all holidays, it presents the opportunity to see family, but Passover has a unique component – the seder. The Passover seder encompasses the annual retelling of the Jews’ biblical exodus from Egyptian bondage, and, like most elements of any good religious story, there is a great deal of symbolism and purposeful repetition. I am partial to storytelling, and, for Jews, this is one of the most epic tales of survival, revenge, and escape. With the recent release of Noah, it will not be long before the tale of Moses is offered in IMAX 3D.
So, in celebration of the first night of Passover, I thought I’d be a bit creative with a post before I start noshing on matzoh and hard-boiled eggs. Perhaps the most crucial element of Passover is the seder plate, which features six items – variations of food, of course – that are all symbolic of an emotion felt by the enslaved Jews. I wonder what song might fit each item?
1.) Maror and Chazeret
Maror and Chazeret are bitter herbs. In the Ashkenazi tradition (Eastern European Jews), horseradish or lettuce is used. As one might guess, Maror and Chazeret are used to symbolize the bitterness and terror of slavery. Unfortunately, slavery persisted well beyond Egypt, and the work songs of African Americans in bondage demonstrated just how awful slavery was (and still is). “Trouble So Hard” by Vera Hall is an excellent example of a bluesy work song from the early 20th century, which represented the troubles of African Americans during slavery.
Charoset is a sweet mixture of nuts, apples, cinnamon, and red wine, which represents the mortar that Jews used to build houses in Egypt. While the sweetness seems slightly paradoxical, it tastes a whole lot better than mortar! What best represents the dirty work of construction? How about a little late Rolling Stones?
Karpas, traditionally parsley or celery, is dipped in salt water to represent the tears of Jewish slaves in Egypt. Get the sense this is not the most optimistic holiday in the world? Crying. I don’t need any more of an excuse to use Roy Orbison’s operatic voice for the purpose of this post! The end of this song is one of the greatest vocal climaxes in any song ever – just saying!
Sacrifice. The Z’roa is a roasted lamb or goat shank bone that represents the traditional Pesach sacrifice. It is not eaten. It is just on the plate to represent the sacrifice. A song to represent animal sacrifice? Elton John – “Sacrifice”? No. This is tough, and the food is calling my name. We go with Evanescence.
The Beitzah also represents sacrifice (the festival sacrifice), but it has come to also represent mourning, as eggs are traditionally the first things served to mourners after a funeral. Let’s go with the latter option for our song. Unfortunately, mourning is an inevitable human emotion and thus several songs are written about the subject. Eric Clapton just happens to have one of the most heart-wrenching of the bunch.
Gosh, perhaps we shouldn’t say HAPPY Passover. Well, in the story the Jews escaped slavery! Jews have a history of powerful persistence, and no matter the adversity (and it continues to exist), Jews continue to persevere, and this holiday is an example of this. Enjoy the festivities if you celebrate!