Fantastic Customs and Where to Find Them

Persia: “When I was a kid, my grandfather would tell me that it’s the only night of the year when we can hit our parents. It’s a Persian custom my family keeps, and we hit each other with scallions as we sing Dayenu.”

Ethiopia: “Every Passover we reenact our old life in Ethiopia and my father tells the story of our long and dangerous journey to Israel. He doesn’t leave anything out, and we hear about the hunger, the thirst, and how we literally made matzah on the run. We then spend the entire week together living in his home, just as we did in the old country"

Russia: “The older generation who left the Soviet Union will reminisce about the past. In the USSR, Passover was never mentioned; the children only knew of an occasional box of strange flat bread that would arrive from underground bakeries in Moscow that were discreetly distributed to Jews throughout the area. After exchanging several stories, an uncle will stand up, pour a shot of Pesiachovka – raisin-based vodka – and make a toast to our freedom, thanking the hosts for organizing a Seder that preserves the Judaism we almost lost.”

Iraq: “We have an Iraqi tradition: everyone pours some of their wine into a bowl when telling over the Ten Plagues. But then the entire bowl is thrown away because it is seen as cursed and unlucky – so we first have to find our least favorite bowl to do this with!”

Syria and Egypt and: Syrians will wrap the matzo in a cloth, sometimes resembling a knapsack. The Syrian tradition is for each male, from oldest to youngest, to take the covered ceremonial matzo, hold it over his left shoulder and respond to three questions: What are you carrying? Matzo. Where are you coming from? Egypt. Where are you going? Israel.

Morocco: One custom is to pass the plate holding the ceremonial foods over the heads of dinner guests, while reciting, “In fear we left Egypt with the bread of affliction, and now we are free,” Irene Kaplan, whose grandfather had been chief rabbi in Fez, Morocco. “The symbolism is that angel of death should pass over everyone for the coming year,”

Uzbekistan: At a Bukharian (Central Asian) seder, expect to see participants in the colorful robes of the old country embroidered with gold threads and bright colors, the robes are beautiful.

בְּכָל־דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת־עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר, בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה ה' לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרַיִם. לֹא אֶת־אֲבוֹתֵינוּ בִּלְבָד גָּאַל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, אֶלָּא אַף אוֹתָנוּ גָּאַל עִמָּהֶם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְאוֹתָנוּ הוֹצִיא מִשָּׁם, לְמַעַן הָבִיא אוֹתָנוּ, לָתֶת לָנוּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשָׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֵינוּ.

In each and every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he left Egypt, as it is stated (Exodus 13:8); "For the sake of this, did the Lord do [this] for me in my going out of Egypt." Not only our ancestors did the Holy One, blessed be He, redeem, but rather also us [together] with them did he redeem, as it is stated (Deuteronomy 6:23); "And He took us out from there, in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He swore unto our fathers."

49 days after Yetziat Mitzraim, our nation was finally formed and consolidated at the foot of Har Sinai, where we were offered and given the Torah. Before studying it, before delving into the rich philosophy and intricate legal matter contained within it, we as a nation responded with vigour, Naaseh V'nishmah! We will do, and we will listen! Rabbi David Aaron explains that this line is not merely a declaration of blind faith, but rather an insight into the very essence of the Torah: Before we are able to truly comprehend what is contained in the Torah (nishmah), we have to experience it (naaseh)! Whether this is through wrapping our Tefillin or shaking the Lulav, leining from the Torah or eating Matzah and Maror, Judaism is not a religion based in thought. It is not a school of philosophy or an area of academia to be pursued intellectually. Authentic Judaism is borne in action and developed through experience. True observance comes through reliving our rich history in every moment, while reminding ourselves constantly of our destiny. When those who have the custom pick up a sack of Matzah and walk around their table it is not to entertain guests at the table. It is not even so that the children will ask. It is done because at the seder we have the chance to relive our very birth as a nation, and to authentically experience the miracle of our redemption.