Easter season seems like a distant memory as time-travel moves the universe at an accelerating pace. First, I immersed myself in a whirl-wind week of social activity, and then I have been busy preparing for my return to the states for a month, beginning May 6th and returning to Cuenca on June 9th. I’ve also taken time trying to organize a great deal of paper work I’ve accumulated since arriving in Cuenca back in March of 2011, along with all the other sundry things of life that takes up ones day-to-day activities. As a result, I haven’t posted as much, and my last post started out as a personal email in which I couldn’t stop writing, and finally decided to make the email a post. However, there was an event during Holy Week that I attended, and did not find the time to share, and although it is out of place chronologically with my other posts, I very much would like to share it with you today.
I was quite surprised without any prompting from me at the dozens of readers who recently read my post from last year entitled, http://cuencaperspectivesbyjim.blogspot.com/2011/04/passion-of-christ.html. Last year I lived for two weeks in the heart of El Centro, and was overwhelmed by the numbers of people, church services, processions and activities that took place in Cuenca during Holy Week, which began with Palm Sunday and ended with Easter Sunday. On Good Friday, I had even made the traditional visit to seven churches that so many Cuecano Catholic devotees fulfill on that day of the year.
This year I was looking for a new spiritual experience for Holy Week. A Seder Dinner was advertised in “Gringo Tree”. I had not attended a Seder since the 1980’s. I thought that would be a nice, intimate way of memorializing the Holy Week. Credit for the organization of the Seder went to Claudia Coplan, and the Seder was held in Emanuela Levin’s home in the Palermo. The Seder meal is done in remembrance of the Passover, which was the Jewish celebration each year of the freedom of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. The Passover is a reminder according to Biblical teaching of the final plague against the Egyptians as the Angel of the Lord passed over the slaying of the first-borns of the household, where the blood of the lamb had been brushed over the door posts of the homes whose occupants obeyed the injunction of the Lord.
Now the surprise was that I had no idea this was a Jewish Seder. The advertisement in “Gringo Tree” just said “Seder”. I assumed wrongly that Seder was a term used by Christians in commemoration of the Lord’s Supper. Remember, Jesus and his twelve apostles were Jews, and kept the Jewish law and holy days. What Christians call the “Last Supper”, was basically Jesus and the apostles celebrating Passover. I assumed that Jews simply called the holy day Passover. So after I arrived, it became clear that the Seder was intended as a Jewish event. However, I was welcomed and treated with respect. There was also a lady of Irish-Catholic background in attendance whose spouse was Jewish, a young Ecuadorian male with a very pretty little daughter, whose attractive wife was Jewish, and a gentleman who was half-Jewish.
We went through the ritual of the Seder, which was very much like the Christian Seders, I had attended decades ago. The primary difference in Christian Seders is the addition of some prayers that tie the Passover to the Christian heritage and Jesus Christ. Also, some Christian evangelical groups will substitute grape juice in place of the wine. We all took turns praying and reading from the book that was provided, which I will have more to share with you at the end of this post.
Deke Castleman’s mother had baked matza bread, and it arrived just in time for the Seder. The bread was delicious, and I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a connection there between that matza bread and Deke’s love of Pizza and its crust. Matza bread is the unleavened bread, for when the time came for the Hebrews to pick up and leave Egypt, in the rush of departure there was no time to allow the bread to rise. Matza bread was also on hand at our dinner from Israel itself; but in a taste-test, Deke’s mother’s matza had it beat by a mile. After the rituals were performed and the readings were completed, we shared a dinner together beyond the items that were used in the ritual Seder. The evening was very meaningful for me, not only as a student of history, world cultures, and religious studies; but also on a spiritual level as well. This is a Seder I will remember for a very long time.
I don’t know what beliefs were brought to the dinner by the Jews in attendance. Obviously, there were no Hassidic Jews in attendance, and probably no one who might be identified as an Orthodox Jew. These attendees appeared to be more of a liberal persuasion where their Judaism was freed from the highly ritualistic practice, for example, of various dishes having to be used and washed for various items, and someone had commented how when they were children the elders were involved in prolonged readings and prayer sessions that did not apply to this abridged edition of Seder. This appeared to be a faith practiced without the many legalisms of traditional Judaism. Among those in attendance, some may have attended out of deep faith; and others may have attended to simply share memories of childhood rituals and religious beliefs that may not have any significant impact on their lives today; or they may have attended simply to be part of the Jewish community in Cuenca, and to share a solidarity with their brethren over all that the Jewish people had to endure over the many past centuries, and continue to endure in the world today.
I had the opportunity to make some new acquaintances, and hopefully some new friendships as well. In fact, I knew three of the people in attendance from other social engagements prior to the Seder. The Jewish people in attendance were by no means all the Jews in Cuenca. With time, we will probably discover a significant growth in a vibrant Jewish community in Cuenca.
Below is a text that better explains the Seder, and is taken from Wikipedia:
The Passover Seder (Hebrew: סֵדֶר [ˈsedeʁ], "order, arrangement"; Yiddish: Seyder) is a Jewish ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover. It is conducted on the evenings of the 14th day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, and on the 15th by traditionally observant Jews living outside Israel. This corresponds to late March or April in the Gregorian calendar.
The Seder is a ritual performed by a community or by multiple generations of a family, involving a retelling of the story of the liberation of the Israelites from slaveryin ancient Egypt. This story is in the Book of Exodus (Shemot) in the Hebrew Bible. The Seder itself is based on the Biblical verse commanding Jews to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt: "You shall tell your child on that day, saying, 'It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.'" (Exodus 13:8) Traditionally, families and friends gather in the evening to read the text of the Haggadah, an ancient work derived from the Mishnah (Pesahim 10). The Haggadah contains the narrative of the Israelite exodus from Egypt, special blessings and rituals, commentaries from the Talmud, and special Passover songs.
Below is a link that describes in detail the Seder Dinner and the symbolism of each of the foods used in the Seder, along with some beautiful illustrations:
Since I first posted this post, Claudia Coplan graciously sent me a couple of photos from our Seder Dinner evening, and I am sharing them with you below:
Once again, the link immediately above the photos helps to explain the symbolism of each of the items you see in the photos.