Community reflections from Pesach-past

Excerpts from Pesach-past from community members. For the original, full length articles please click on the links below each excerpt.

Adam Zartz and family

Gratitude through acts of service
By Adam Zartz for Pesach 2019
For me, Pesach is a very special holiday and a time when I remember my late father, Theo Zartz.

He would conduct the Seder with so much enthusiasm and we would sing every song with joy, taking care not to miss a single note. One of the greatest things my father taught me was to be proud of who I am and where I have come from. Not a day passes when I don’t draw on his legacy and appreciate that it’s the lessons he taught me that have made me to be proud of the way that I deal with challenging issues.

I could not be more grateful to him for teaching me, even in the face of adversity, to be proud to be a Jew.

Click here to read the full article by Adam Zartz.

Lindy Diamond

Shifting points of view
By Lindy Diamond for Pesach 2017
Shifting our focus off ourselves, there is an Egyptian heroine we gratefully remember at our Seder tables. Pharaoh’s daughter, despite the considerable danger to herself, defied her father and brought into motion events that would lead to our freedom. Not only a woman, but a non-Jewish woman without whom the outcome of our story as Jews would have been very different.

Akin to the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ who faced unthinkable personal danger helping Jews escape the gas chambers of Nazi Germany, Pharaoh’s daughter saved Moses from certain death and facilitated the liberation of the children of Israel. She shifted her focus onto someone other than herself and changed everything. Her name was Bithiah.

I know we remove drops of wine from our glasses when we speak of the plagues, so as to lessen the joy of our redemption, remembering that everything comes at a cost. Do we think of it enough, and speak of it tactfully to our children, so that they can consider their place in a world that should be seen from many points of view? If we can recognise the existence and importance of people like Bithiah, perhaps we can try to understand extenuating circumstances in the actions of others — even when they are ‘other’.

Click here to read the full article by Lindy Diamond.

Yaron Wiesenbacher

A personal reflection on Pesach
By Yaron Wiesenbacher for Pesach 2018
Now, I have no research or numbers to determine how many Jews celebrate Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur, Purim or Succot or any of the other 28 chags we have. But what I do know is that most Jews find a Seder table every year. Whether they’re religious or not, most Jews will sit with their families on the first night of Pesach and tell the story of how Moses left Egypt.

Some families take half an hour to tell the story and some families, well, some families take eight days to tell the story. I personally don’t believe the story. It’s a little bit far-fetched and I struggle to fathom that they left in such a rush that the bread wasn’t able to rise. What Jew in their right mind would not forecast the time of departure correctly?My grandmother arrives at the airport for a flight, two days before the boarding time.

But please, while I still barely have your attention, I have a burning question that I want to put forward. It’s a question I’ve been battling with my entire adult life. Why the sliced carrot on top of the gefilte fish? Why?

The only answer that I have ever been given is that it just does. It just does Yaron. It just does.

Click here to read the full article by Yaron Wiesenbacher.

Kalman Green

How the ‘Hillel Sandwich’ got its name
By Kalman Green for Pesach 2016
Every Passover night, after eating matzah alone and maror, the bitter herbs, alone, we customarily eat matzah and maror again, but this time together, with the maror between two pieces of matzah in what looks like a sort of sandwich. Why?

Because about 2100 years ago, there was a Jew named Hillel who held that the matzah and marror must be eaten together. But why do we need to announce, “This is what Hillel did…”? — just eat it! The reason is this: Hillel was one of the most beloved people in Jewish history.

Hillel loved everyone. There are endless stories about his great patience, about how he’d greet everyone with a cheerful face and with happiness. But Hillel’s greatest claim to fame came when he coined his saying: “Don’t do to your fellow what you personally hate — this is the entire Torah.”

Hillel was saying that whatever you don’t want people to do to you, don’t do to others — in contrast to the popular saying, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

“This is the entire Torah.” It was the first time in Jewish history that a Jewish leader came along and said that to love another person is the entire Torah. Thus, Hillel became a symbol of Ahavas Yisroel, of love of fellow Jew — and even in the non-Jewish world, the tales of Hillel’s patience and his sayings are well known and accepted. That’s why the Jewish People returned that love to him — perpetuating him on the day upon which he rose to greatness and saying “Thus did Hillel!”

So, Seder night, my friends, as we celebrate our Freedom, and declare “Thus did Hillel!” as we eat our “Hillel sandwiches”, we should bear in mind not just the sandwich that Hillel invented and try to do the mitzvah as he did.

“Thus did Hillel!” is a call to each of us, whoever he or she may be, to remember how one must love another Jew — to be patient like Hillel, humble like Hillel, and above all, loving of every Jew like Hillel – to remember that the entire Torah is really nothing more than a commentary on the mitzvah of loving one’s fellow Jew.

Click here to read the full article by Kalman Green.

Dani Wilke

A time to appreciate all that we have
By Dani Wilke for Pesach 2016
The epitome of Pesach is my family’s 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.

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. It contributes 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 mother’s did not have.

Click here to read the full article by Dani Wilke.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb

Gratitude in adversity
By Rabbi Emma Gottlieb for Pesach 2019
I find it easy to feel gratitude these days, having found myself here, in this beautiful if complicated city; in this progressive, accepting and warm community — forging a new life in a new place, surrounding myself with new friends who are quickly becoming family.

It is often easy to feel gratitude at the beginning of a new journey, and I appreciate the opportunity to name my blessings, take stock of what I have.

As a female rabbi, I have learned that my experience differs in some (but not all) ways, from the experiences of my male colleagues. I experience, as most women in male-dominated professions do, subtle yet noticeable examples of discrimination and dismissal. I have experienced being asked for my thoughts or opinions after a male colleague has already been asked, or worse perhaps, answering a question posed by someone only to have them turn to a male colleague for confirmation that I have answered correctly!

I have experienced microaggressions, and belittlement in the form of compliment. I have been told that I look too-young or too-pretty to be a rabbi — all by people who then expressed surprise or even annoyance when I didn’t say ‘thank you.’ While I know that the way a rabbi presents him or herself is an important reflection of both themselves and their community, I also know that my male colleagues are rarely asked what they’re planning to wear to a synagogue service or event, and that the Jewish women of the world rarely spend their time debating the hemlines of my male-colleagues’ pants or the length of their shirts-sleeves. Whereas what I wear, wore, or am thinking of wearing — both on and off the bimah — is a subject of ongoing discussion — now a world-wide phenomenon!

At the same time, I am grateful for these additional challenges to my rabbinate. My experiences make me uniquely attuned to the struggles of other women, and to minorities who share many of these experiences of women. I am grateful to have had these experiences motivate me to become a passionate advocate for awareness and change.

Click here to read the full article by Rabbi Emma Gottlieb.

David Jacobson

I am Jewish therefore I question
By David Jacobson for Pesach 2016
Questions are so central to the Seder that according to Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, changing the night’s procedure is permitted in order to provoke children to ask, “What’s the story?”

This enables our children to move from passive observers in our faith to active and engaged participants. It has proved to be an incredibly successful model for education and has helped us transmit our faith from one generation to the next for thousands of years.

In essence, questions are a mark of freedom, so it’s no wonder they are the cornerstone of celebrating the festival of freedom.

Too often our response as a community to those who question communal ideology is one of derision, or worse, one of isolation and vilification. Pesach teaches us that we should not only be grateful for the questions asked of us, we should actively be encouraging even more questioning.

Click here to read the full article by David Jacobson.

Ann Harris

Remembering the spirit of Pesach past
By Ann Harris for Pesach 2016
The week before Pesach, the kitchen became the battleground. Surfaces spread with powdered bleach and scrubbed with hard brushes, gas and coal ovens dismantled and reassembled, the latter carefully blackleaded. And the linoleum on the kitchen floor — there was even a legend that Grandpa’s beloved cat Rachmones (yes, that was his name!) was forced to wear socks for the duration in case Heaven forbid, he should bring a crumb in on his paws.

Then the Pesach dishes, pots and pans from the cellar, china and cutlery from the attic and a great enamel bath in the yard in which the glass soaked.

The shopping was only done about three days before Erev Pesach. No Pick n Pay, Checkers or Spar then and no packed goods. Just new sacks of sugar, tea, salt, coconut, almonds and potato flour at the little Jewish corner grocery shop, cinnamon and ginger if we were lucky and unpleasant cooking oil. The basic veggies came from the greengrocery next door, sacks of potatoes, onions and carrots straight from the farm. No variety of fruit in war time, apples, apples….and apples. My father’s medical connections with the outlying farms provided the vital eggs and also tomatoes.

My great uncle Abraham, the respected shochet who lived next door brought home the chickens and quantities of liver to chop, and fresh brisket for the tzimmes. The whole fish came on a cart from the nearby fishing town. And what about the matzah? In our town, it was a privilege to get your matzah from the last baking before Yomtov. You had to be in the top drawer of the community to be so favoured.

Ours always arrived when the table was already set, too hot to handle.

Click here to read the full article by Ann Harris.

Irma Chait z”l

The Seder then and now…
By Irma Chait z”l for Pesach 2018
For various reasons the ‘cast’ of those participating in the Haggadah’s dramatic, miraculous narrative has changed somewhat over the years. Many of you readers may be nodding your heads, recalling those early days when you battled to get enough trestle tables and chairs to seat your 20 or 30 ‘players’. Gradually the numbers diminished as people moved on or away… in this world or to the next.

In earlier days Noah (not the original) would open the proceedings in the traditional way, with all moving on pretty smoothly, other than his having to control the chattering… of children and adults! To keep people on their toes — children and adults — he would call on individuals randomly to read the various sections: some in the Hebrew, and those likely to battle and delay the narration, in the English.

The problem was that owing to the numbers of readers, we would at times need about three different haggadot. So there’d be repeated calls of “What page are we on?” from all sides, readers included. Much conferring. Glares from the boss.

For the kids, as still today, Ma Nishtana they handled very well, with unsought assistance from their elders. For this, and generally, one could give much credit to Herzlia for its input. Other kids’ special moments have always included the Dayenus and the big search for the Afikomen (“Not in my linen cupboard!”)

And the range of ages at the tables? Young, growing-ups, fully grown and some over-grown, like my Dad, Oupa Jay, (from PE) who was with us till into his 90s.

He would rattle off his special part, Lefichach, at breakneck speed, ending with a resoundingly triumphant Halleluyah! After he’d reached 85 or so, he’d then retire to an armchair in the lounge, demanding, “When are we going to eat?”

Click here to read the full article by Irma Chait z”l.

• Published in the print edition of the March/April Pesach 2021 issue. Download the March/April 2021 issue PDF here.

Visit our Portal to the Jewish Community to see a list of all the Jewish organisations in Cape Town with links to their websites.

Sign up for our newsletter and never miss another issue!

• Please support the Cape Jewish Chronicle with a voluntary Subscription. For payment info click here.

Follow the Chronicle: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | LinkedIn


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here