Whilst I was born Jewish, I grew up in a Post-Holocaust Era when many British Jews decided that it was a disadvantage to publicly demonstrate any adherence to this ancient religious grouping. My father was one of those people.
Immigration to South Africa
My nuclear family of mother, father, brother, sister and myself immigrated to Cape Town, South Africa in 1947 at the conclusion of World War 2. My father decided to send me to an Anglican School and stated my religious denomination as Unitarian. I grew up pretty confused about my true religious identity as it was a taboo subject in our family. It is only now as an adult that I realise this state of affairs existed for many Jewish families at that time because of the horrific treatment experienced by the Jewish population of Europe.
I still have recurring memories of the phrase, “If the Germans come into this country, then all the Jews will be sent to concentration camps.” During the war years, I was a youngster who did not understand the horror perpetrated by the Nazis, but I did grasp the concept of their treatment as being even worse than a death sentence!
I now realise that it was as a consequence of this reality that my father did not consider it to be a good idea for any of his three children to marry members of the Jewish faith. In addition, as a self- made businessman, he did not have much respect for the professions, more particularly the medical profession. He supported his family as an astute property investor and developer. As it happened we all married Jewish men of the medical profession, my sister married a dentist, my brother a paediatric doctor, and I married a General Practitioner.
As a mother I needed to learn how to integrate myself into both Jewish rituals as well as the cultural and social life of my co-religionists, whilst familiarising myself with the history of the Jewish Nation, a knowledge of Zionism, the concept of Israel, the indignities of Ani-Semitism, and the joys of Jewish music, art and literature. The manifold expectations for a Jewish wife and mother were learned through experimental trial and error, whilst feeling a bit of an outsider amongst a culture which I had been denied to me during my childhood.
The first night of Passover is commemorated with a multi-course festive meal, as well as the telling of the story of the Exodus combined with manifold customs and rituals which are all laid down in the Haggada. The Haggada is the name given to the book which describes and rituals, songs, questions, eating patterns and procedures as well as the wine drinking which make up the Passover Meal. It was first published in the 15th century and thousands of editions in many different languages have been printed over the years.
Whilst Orthodox Jews will continue to read from the more accepted versions of the text, progressive members of the faith value a more up to date and less traditional version of the story. The traditional texts use biblical language with which I find it difficult to relate and it was in 1998 after 30 years of marriage that I decided to produce a family copy for the Seder or ritual meal which was conducted annually in our home.
Updating the Haggada
That was 30 years ago when photocopying was a comparatively new facility and it was with great excitement that I reviewed multiple editions of Haggadot in order to cull parts of the ritual and use contemporary language to tell the story. Subsequently, newer additions of this adaption were printed and have served the family faithfully for the past 30 years.
Now technology was escalated. The possibilities of creating a more contemporary version of the rituals are manifold. Go to www.haggadot.com and you can choose from The Greatest Hits Haggada, the Liberal Haggada, The JQ International GLBT Haggada, and The Haggada 2019.
A more traditional rendition reads like this, “In every generation, every Jew must regard himself as though he personally were brought out of Egypt; as it is said: “And you shall tell your sons on the day saying: It is because of what the Lord did for me when I left Egypt……………………….
I am not too sure about how the child of today reared on the shorthand of technological iterations would relate to this story. But let us now go to a more contemporary reading!
“As human beings today, we reflect with great distance on the hardship of our ancient ancestors but with the great commitment, we spend a significant amount of energy retelling and remembering their suffering and story of perseverance annually. As we make great efforts to celebrate and commemorate, we also turn and look at our recent history and the stories that surround our collective struggle to bring equality…………”
A central requirement of this tradition is to have the children participate and to ask questions. The children ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights”
This is just a taste of the full text and ritual of commemorating the Exodus from Egypt. It made me think afresh about how the role of religion has changed over the years, and how religious customs adapt to maintain their relevance for each generation. I find it refreshing that continuing with these customs help young people to develop an identity of a people who have maintained their lifestyle for 2000 years. In an era when identity can be so peripheral, I felt grateful that I was in a position to modify both the words and the order for the Passover ceremony so that an ancient tradition could be commemorated in a meaningful way by friends and family.