This Monday marked the first day of Passover – a Jewish holiday involving unleavened bread, a celestial firestorm, and Moses doing his best Gandalf impression. Like most religious holidays, it exists to commemorate a strange event chronicled in a religious text, so few people actually remember all the details. That’s why the Record staff brought me in: to set the record straight. What follows is a brief synopsis of the Passover story, in which I omit the slower parts and retain only the .gif-able stuff. You know, like if Buzzfeed tried to explain it (oh capital-G God, the fabric of our society is crumbling).
Anyway, thousands of years ago, the Jews toiled in Egypt under the tyrannical reign of an oppressive pharaoh. God was unamused by this development, and inflicted ten deadly plagues upon the Egyptians – lice, frogs, locusts, infanticide and other terrifying stuff – which forced Pharaoh’s hand, and he allowed the Jews to leave. Unfortunately, being an incorrigible curmudgeon, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army after the fleeing Israelites. Moses, the leader of the Israelites, saw the oncoming chariots and parted the Red Sea with his staff. The Jews crossed safely, and Moses un-parted the waters just as Pharaoh and his gang of Egyptians started down the passageway. They drowned, and the Israelites rejoiced when they realized they were free. After that, they wandered around aimlessly in the desert for several decades, but the Passover story ends here, on a happier, more positive note.
So, in honor of this debatably factual event (you can’t prove it didn’t happen!), modern Jews celebrate Passover. Probably the most significant observance of Passover involves avoiding bread throughout the 8-day holiday, a tradition that commemorates the hurry in which the Jews left Egypt, without even giving their bread enough time to rise properly. Thus, the observant can only eat matzo, a flat cracker that almost remarkably mimics the taste of cardboard, meanwhile kvetching about not being able to scarf down all the carbs their hearts desire. (Our hearts go out to you poor, unfortunate gluten-free souls who have to be without bread all year long.)
Another element of Passover is the Seder – an evening service which the College hosts at the faculty house on the first night of Passover, an event run by the Williams College Jewish Association. Each table gets a plate of foods that symbolize various aspects of the Passover story – bitter herbs, charoset, parsley dipped in salt water, a lamb shankbone and a hardboiled egg – and you eat a little bit of each. Hey, it’s actually a fairly sad story, so the food can’t be that great. Once we finish with the prayers and the obligatory debates about the past, we move on to the actually tasty stuff that Dining Services have so graciously prepared.
You might be surprised how divisive Jewish holidays can be, especially on a campus as opinionated as this one. So to uncover this polarizing divide, I asked several non-Jewish members of the student body, known lovingly as gentiles, to provide their thoughts on matzo. Some loved it. Sarah Meyerhoff ’14 spoke glowingly of the stuff: “I eat matzo instead of regular bread all the time!” Others, not so much. Nathan Leach ’17: “Easily the tastiest cardboard I’ve ever eaten.” Chris Riegg ’15 opined, “If I had half the number of taste buds I currently possess, matzo would be awesome.”
By this point, you’re probably chomping at the bit to get started on your own Seder. But how on earth are you, a college kid on a tight budget, going to afford a shankbone or some parsley for your Seder plate? Consider the following revision of the Seder plate for the sophisticated collegiate palate. Charoset, a mix of apples and nuts supposed to represent bricks and mortar from building pyramids, can easily be replaced by a kid-friendly jar of applesauce. The bitter herbs, supposed to represent the bitterness of slavery, can totally be substituted for a large helping of wasabi from Sushi Thai. Next, as Williamstown residents who have been locked in eternal winter, I think we are uniquely positioned to appreciate the significance of the parsley and greens, symbolizing the spring season in which Passover falls.
So let’s raise our glasses of Manischewitz high and proud to toast this awesome holiday. To spending next year someplace warmer! (Jerusalem, anyone?) May our charoset be perfectly spiced, may our matzo balls be light and fluffy, and may our bread be unleavened. Amen.