Growing up, Passover was a childhood highlight. And these days, it's a favourite fixture on my cultural Jewish calendar. The food is amazing and the story behind the ridiculously long holiday makes for an excellent midnight scary story. It’s also an opportunity for lazy Jews, such as myself, to indulge in tradition and pretend to understand what’s happening.
Like so many Jewish holidays, Passover is a long one – celebrated over seven-to-eight days; so you can imagine that it’s a bit of a nightmare for industrial relations and productivity.
It starts at dusk on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (not related to the car company). I can never remember the date, so whenever someone asks me when Passover starts, I just shrug my shoulders and answer: “around the same time as Easter”. This year, it runs between March 30 and April 4.
Passover (the real name is actually Pesach) literally means ‘to pass through’ or ‘pass over’, as in “I’m going to pass through most of this holiday, because eight days is way too long to spend with my family”.
Like almost all Jewish holidays, Passover is a celebration of ‘That Time Someone Was Savage Towards to Jewish People And Then We Got Away’. Specifically, it acknowledges when the Israelites were held captive as slaves in Egypt and because there was no Amnesty International at the time, Moses came to rescue in about 1300 BC.
And when Moses did something, he did it big - he went a bit Michael Bay and unleashed 10 plagues upon Egypt, which forced the Pharaoh to release the Jewish slaves. Of all the plagues, the 10th was the worst - it targeted all the firstborn Egyptians, killing them. But how would this magic plague know how to avoid the Jewish firstborns? Easy! They smeared the blood of a slaughtered spring lamb on their front doors, so that God would spare them.
This is all written in the Jewish holy book, the Torah (Old Testament), which also states that when the Children of Israel were finally freed, they took off faster than Usain Bolt, which didn’t give them any time to allow their bread to rise (this is relevant to our celebration - see ‘food’).
Essentially, Passover is the celebration of a very gruesome episode of Game of Thrones.
Jewish history is littered with its people being vilified, hated, murdered and discriminated against; it’s all rather depressing, so we eat our feelings with excellent food.
Like all religions, food is a huge part of Passover. One of the best is Gefilte Fish, which is made from boiled, minced white fish. Unfortunately, it looks like what happens when you put a blob fish in a blender and top with a slice of carrot. It’s the visual equivalent of ‘nope, nope, nope’. Not even Heston Blumenthal could not turn it into a visually palatable dish. But who cares, because it’s super yummy. Dip it in horseradish and prepare to go to taste bud heaven (I’m not allowed in, but if you’re a non-Jew, you can actually get in!).
However, there are some limits. In order to remember that the Jews were kind of in a hurry to leave their terror in Egypt behind and therefore couldn’t hang around to wait for their bread to rise, we don’t eat anything with wheat in it that's been allowed to ferment and rise. You’re also meant to avoid any food that includes rye, barley, oats and spelt, so it’s paleo-friendly for Pete Evans and his disciples.
Instead, eat matzo bread, which is thin, crispy and tastes like nothing. And, at least in my household, everything comes with a side of gherkins.
Like Christianity, there are lots of denominations of Judaism. It ranges from Orthodox, which is the ultra-serious type of Judaism, to the progressive branches, which are more relaxed and their followers don’t wear religious clothing.
This type of celebration feature a mixture of family dinners, prayers in Hebrew or Yiddish, going to Temple, traditional games and, um, a glass of wine for religious ghosts. How you celebrate Passover will depend on which flock you belong to. As a self-confessed lazy Jew, I will cook a traditional Passover dinner for my favourite friends, watch a Mel Brooks movie and refuse to buy anything from German companies for the next six days.