As the sun set Monday evening, on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan, millions of Jews gathered around the dinner table to celebrate the beginning of the Passover, a week long holiday commemorating the biblical Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. The festival of Passover, or Pesach, begins with a Seder (which means “order”), a symbolic meal traditionally held on the first two nights of the Passover holiday.
In Rock Hill, a small community of Christians joined together to share a non-traditional Passover meal. I was welcomed into the home of Stephen and Erica Crotts, husband and expecting wife who are members of the Rock Hill based art collective, the Friday Arts Project and a burgeoning church community called Hill City.
The Crotts are part of a small group of individuals who have been sharing a communal table with each other for several years in an effort to build community through the time tested traditions of food and faith. For Stephen Crotts, “this Passover meal is an artistic, communal look at a historic moment in time that is shared by many faiths. It’s a story of liberation and freedom, there’s a lot of beauty in it.”
The meal followed much of the Jewish traditions including the use of Haggadah (which is Hebrew for “telling”), the essential text used to conduct the order of the Seder meal. During the Passover meal, symbolic foods are presented and eaten ceremoniously to illustrate the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
Before sunset, the shofar, a horn made out of a ram’s horn, is blown.
The meal is interactive. Everyone reads and participates in the telling of the ancient story including the children (or teenager, in our case) who are encouraged to search the house for chametz, or leaven which is not eaten during Passover. During Passover, matzo is the unleavened bread of choice.
The evening begins with the kindling of the lights, led by the women.
Over the course of the evening, four cups of wine are shared, each signifying a different moment including sanctification (Kaddesh), telling of the Passover story (Maggid), blessing after the meal to welcome Elijah (Barech) and the fourth cup signifying the completion of the Seder (Nirtzah). ‘
Other symbolic moments include the dipping and eating of parsley, or Karpas, into salt water to signify the tears cried by the Israelites, the hiding of the Afikomen, a symbolic piece of matzo, the breaking of the bread, the telling of the tale including the ten plagues that God cast on Egypt and, one of the most memorable moments of the evening, the eating of the maror.
Maror is the bitter herb served at the Seder meal which represents the bitterness of the Jews during their long oppression by the Pharaoh of Egypt. At the Seder table, the maror is represented by horseradish and its sinus-clearing powers are intended to bring tears to the eyes of each dinner guest.
The tastiest ritual, the eating of the charoset, comes after the maror.
The evening was punctuated with a beautiful meal of locally raised chicken and lamb with cumberland sauce, a condiment of English origin made of fruit preserves enriched with port wine and spices. For dessert, the group shared a traditional Passover treat of coconut macaroons studded with chocolate chips.
Fellowship and the intimate sharing of faith and biblical traditions made this meal gastronomically and spiritually nourishing. Though non-traditional, the group shared the same sentiment as the Jews for the coming year, hope for a New Jerusalem expressed by the Seder closing phrase, “Next year in the New Jerusalem!”
For the group in Rock Hill, a community led by the intention of creating a similar vision of hope, this phrase echoes their godly motives, bonding them ever more together, much like Jews in history and the millions that will gather around the table this Passover holiday.