“They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.”
That, in a nutshell, is the premise of Passover, according to Sam Bridgham, the board vice-president of Durango’s lone synagogue, Har Shalom.
And so begins the Jewish holiday on April 10, to be kicked off at Har Shalom with a community ritual feast known as the Seder.
About 95 guests are expected this year.
The meal entails an array of symbolic foods and the retelling of the Hebrew biblical story of the Israelites’ exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt.
It’s a relaxed meal, in which participants recline as the Passover story is retold, to represent the Israelites’ newfound freedom.
And it’s a tale that takes some time to retell, which explains Bridgham’s summarization of Passover.
“That’s every Jewish holiday: After you finish talking about them trying to kill us and us surviving, we’re all hungry,” he joked.
This year, the synagogue is making a concerted effort to donate leftovers to Manna, the local soup kitchen, in observance of an old Hebrew concept “tzedakah,” which means the moral obligation to help other people.
“This year we’re doing a strong push to collect more than we need and give the remainder to Manna,” Board President Richard Brown said. “That’s the first time we’ve done that.”
There are 34 families in the Har Shalom congregation, which serves the entire Four Corners as the only synagogue within a 200-mile radius.
Brown was around for the very first Seder feast held as a community meal in the 1970s, and the event has grown since then.
The whole premise of Passover is that it’s a celebration of freedom, and like most ritual celebrations, it’s a large community event in which food plays a prominent and symbolic role.
Like last year, Kennebec Café in Hesperus will cater the main dishes for this year’s Seder while attending guests will cook and bring the ritual foods.
Har Shalom’s Seder table will hold several staples, including perhaps the most famous: matzo.
The dense cracker is cooked quickly and without leavening, or rising, as the Israelites had no time for their bread to rise before fleeing Egypt.
“Matzo’s an interesting food. If it doesn’t taste like the box it came in, it’s not right,” Bridgham said. “It’s supposed to be stale and rather unappetizing, though I’m rather fond of it.”
Charoset – a mixture of chopped apples, nuts, wine and spices – another symbolic element of the Passover story, represents the mortar on the bricks that the ancient Hebrews were forced to lay for the Egyptians.
This granola of sorts is often served with horseradish to symbolize the bitterness of the times.
“It’s a combination of sweetness and bitterness because that’s been our history,” Bridgham said. “We make a Hillel sandwich – a term for matzo with charoset and horseradish. It’s an acquired taste.”
The apparent trademark of some traditional Seder foods, at least to an outsider, is that they’re acquired tastes to a degree.
“We didn’t always have the best and tastiest food in Egypt,” Bridgham said. “It may not be so tasty to some, but it’s yours, and it will get you through.”
Asked if the oldest traditions and foods of Seder are disappearing as years pass, as religious observances tend to do, Bridgham said Durango’s community Seder is going strong.
“The traditions of Judaism are constantly unfolding like a cabbage,” he said. “Parts of it die away, and new sprouts come up. It’s always a challenge for each generation to accept what the next generation will do with it. The biggest anxiety is the next generation won’t do anything with it.”
Contact Jessica Pace at email@example.com.