A time of matzah and mitzvot By Dani Wilck

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Pesach is a time when the Jewish people reflect on our heritage, specifically the exodus from Egypt.

Although the Jews have certainly been persecuted and victimised since then, we need to keep repeating the story of the exodus to ensure that we never forget the journey we experienced, as a nation. It is a humbling experience to be reminded of the hardships that we overcame as a nation and the difficulties our forefathers went through to enable us to practice our Judaism as we do today. We embrace our religion by sitting around the Pesach Seder table connecting with our families.

Even though this is an annual event, each year highlights a different significance for me and my family. There is always much anticipation and excitement surrounding the holiday of Pesach. Ever since I was little, being the oldest child in my family, I would initiate the Pesach traditions by bringing home the annual Herzlia PTA ‘Pesach bucket’ from school. The ‘Pesach bucket’ contains Pesach toys symbolising the ten plagues. This bucket is typically meant for the younger members of the community because it allows the children to get involved and interact with the chag.

One of my fondest and clearest childhood memories was the excitement around integrating these ‘toys’ into the Seder. The blood — which would usually be in the form of a rolled up streamer. Frogs, locusts, insects, lice, and cattle disease — these plagues make their appearance in the form of small plastic animals. The flies always seem to make their way onto our plates and sometimes into our food, courtesy of my younger brother (I won’t deny that I was sometimes guilty of this too). Darkness — a pair of toy sunglasses. Usually too small to fit any of our faces, but that never stopped my family from entertaining ourselves with them. Hail and boils — ping pong balls. These were especially enjoyable when my siblings and I played a game of catch behind my parents’ and grandparents’ backs. Lastly death of the first born — represented by a pharaoh mask.

Removing the chometz and stocking up on kosher for Pesach food is always the best way to kick-start the festivities. Every year, my family and I combine our efforts and tackle the challenge of changing our cutlery and crockery.

The epitome of Pesach is my families inexplicable love for matzah. Despite its somewhat cardboard appearance, and sometimes taste, for us it is a highlight of the holiday.

Many people find it a challenge to remove bread and other chometz from their diets, but in my household it is a time for invention and improvisation. Some of our staple Pesach treats include matzah pizza, geshmirta matzah, matzah granola, and a newly found creation, matzah French toast.

I think however, that the two most profound aspects that I really value about Pesach are; the slavery to freedom part of the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, and the way in which Pesach stands apart from the rest of the year in terms of its dietary laws (it also sets us, as Jews, apart from other religions — though with Banting dietary plan circulating, it is not so clear anymore).

The story of Pesach emphasises that the Jewish people were once enslaved. Our history teaches us lessons which educate us about the problems that arose, and ensure that history does not repeat itself. The struggle and documentation of our ancestors allows us to empathise and sympathise with the many persecuted nations around the world. This also allows us to provide a better lifestyle for the generations to come.

While I cherish the time I have to sit around a table and celebrate our story with people whom I love, I believe that we should keep in mind those who are unable or do not have the luxury of spending this special time with their families.

I believe that it is essential to fulfill the mitzvot of eating matzah and having a Seder. These few days, as previously mentioned, set us apart from others and add towards our Jewish identity. They contribute to our identification of ourselves as different from others along with an opportunity to celebrate a very valuable piece of our Jewish history.

Despite the diverse traditions, we should all embrace the limited time that we are blessed with to sit around a table with our families. This is a time to connect with Hashem and one another to appreciate what we have today that our forefathers and mothers did not have then.

Personally, I cannot wait for this upcoming holiday where Jews all over the world will be united by the highly anticipated festival of Pesach.

Chag Sameach!

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