Falkoffs explain oldest Jewish celebration
Posted: Monday, April 15, 2013 12:28 pm
Long ago the Torah, or the books of Jewish scripture, commanded Jews: “You shall tell the Pesah story to your children in the days to come.”
The Pesah took place in Egypt thousands of years ago and many Jews consider it the most beautiful of all holidays. It is the story of God’s using Moses to deliver the children of Israel — the descendants of Joseph and his brothers, who made their home in Egypt after Joseph proved his value to the pharaoh there — from the cruel hand of later rulers who forgot this patriarch’s contributions and enslaved his relatives for 400 years.
God led these children of Abraham, who was Joseph’s great-grandfather, out of bondage in Israel in a daring late night escape and took them through 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and eventually on to the land of Canaan, a place flowing with milk and honey, that had been promised to Abraham for his children through his son Isaac hundreds of years before.
The command to teach this important history to each child in Jewish families is carried out in the Seder — a special time that brings together families and friends to eat and drink, to sing and recite the old — but ever new — story of the Exodus from Egyptian slavery.
The remembrance has special significance for Christians, as well, because Jesus enjoyed His last special time with His inner circle of beloved disciples as they observed this same holiday. It is known as Passover because the angel of death, who slew the firstborn Egyptian in every household in a final effort to convince Pharaoh to free the Jews, spared or “passed over” the homes of the Jewish slaves whose doorposts were marked that night with the blood of a pure sacrificed lamb.
Soon after Jesus celebrated with His dearest friends and followers that night almost 2,000 years ago, He was arrested and was then tried and sentenced to a cruel death on the cross. Christians believe He rose from the dead three days later, on Easter, having triumphed over sin and death and delivered all who would accept His atonement for their own sin.
Members of Union City First United Methodist Church hosted a Seder as part of their own Easter week observance and invited friends from throughout the community to join them recently.
Among those who attended the special feast, which is rich with historical and religious significance, were Jewish families from Union City including Harry and Ruth Gorman, Julius and Ellise Falkoff and their son and daughter-in-law, Ellis and Julie Falkoff.
Ellise Falkoff discussed plans for the important event and provided recipes and oversaw the preparation of much of the meal with church members Sherry Daugherty, Tracy Brown and Dr. Michael Calfee, who prepared the special menu.
Her family then joined Ellise Falkoff at a special elevated table in the church family life center to celebrate and to explain the significance of the meal to the other guests.
Each guest traditionally has a copy of the Haggadah (meaning “to tell”) to help reveal the dramatic and exciting events that Pesah recalls. Those who join in reading the Haggadah fulfill the Mitzvah, or duty, to carry out the command from the Torah to tell the story of God’s deliverance over and over again.
Those attending the dinner at the church received specially prepared booklets, as well, to help them understand and appreciate the event.
At the head of the table was a Seder plate that held a A’roa or roasted bone to remind the faithful of the special sacrificial lamb that was always offered on Pesah in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, years after the Exodus.
A roasted egg or Baytza was included to remind everyone of the offering of a Temple sacrifice that was always a part of each of three pilgrimage festivals.
Maror, or bitter herbs, were featured to remind guests of the bitterness and hardship of slavery in Egypt.
Haroset, which is a mixture of chopped apples, nuts and cinnamon, colored with red wine, called to mind the clay used with the mortar when the Israelite slaves were forced to make bricks to build the Pharaohs’ pyramids.
Karpas, or green vegetables (usually parsley or celery) served as a reminder of springtime, the season of Pesah, and the blooming of nature and reawakening of hope.
The Seder table also featured three whole Matzot — a kind of crisp flatbread in the shape of very large crackers — to represent the two loaves of bread used on each Shabbat or weekly day of rest and for Yom Tov, which is the observance of an extra day of Jewish holidays outside the land of Israel — and for Pesah. It also represents the divisions of the Jewish people in ancient times into three groups: Kohayn, Levi and Yisrael.
Wine is placed on the table so that guests may drink of it four times in ways that are important to telling the story. Salt water is provided to help recall the bitter tears shed by Jewish ancestors in slavery and is used for dipping the Karpas. The important Cup of Elijah is placed in the center of the table in honor of the prophet Elijah, whom Jews believe did not die and will return at some point to announce the arrival of a time when all people will live in peace and treat each other with kindness and love. This special welcome is also a part of the Seder lesson.
Candles on the table were lit and a prayer was offered that their brightness and warmth would bring joy and hope to all.
The Seder service not only recalls the thrilling story of the Jews’ delivery from slavery, it also serves to remind participants to be appreciative of the freedom they enjoy and to have special care and concern for those who are not free.
When Seder is marked in Jewish homes, the youngest child in the family asks four questions whose answers help explain Pesah. Four children from the FUMC congregation were invited to take on this privilege as all the guests experienced the celebration.
Remembrance of the six million Jews who died under Hitler and the Nazis and gratitude for the nation of Israel also play a part in the typical celebration.
The celebratory meal also featured matzah ball soup, roast lamb with horseradish, a chicken and carrot dish, roasted red potatoes, roasted green beans, fruit salad and three desserts made without leavening: brownies, a chocolate chip bar and maccaroons.
Ellise Falkoff explained that this main serving might differ from country to country today during a Seder, depending on what foods were most available, but the lack of levening in the preparation would be consistent. That feature is important because it is a reminder that the Jewish people left behind slavery so quickly when God stepped in to deliver them, there was not time for their bread to rise for the journey.
“I hope those who attended got a lot out of this authentic Seder,” she said.
The response to the Seder has been very positive, according to the FUMC adult ministries coordinator Sherilyn Brown.
“I thought it was fantastic,” she said. “It was so neat that the Falkoff family would come in and share their Passover supper with us. It goes a long way as a learning experience. It was great to know the kind of things Jesus’ last supper entailed. We are blessed to have had this kind of experience with our friends and neighbors.”
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