Friday 2 December 2016

Easter festivals bring us back to the future

Lay of the Land

Fiona O'Connell

Published 12/04/2015 | 02:30

Jews are not supposed to eat any food made of wheat, barely, rye, oats or spelt during the Passover. So it's goodbye to bread, pastries or pasta. But there are culinary compensations, like the 'Seder'
Jews are not supposed to eat any food made of wheat, barely, rye, oats or spelt during the Passover. So it's goodbye to bread, pastries or pasta. But there are culinary compensations, like the 'Seder'

Easter is already something of a distant memory for us grown-ups. But for children around Ireland it's all over only tomorrow, with school resuming after a fortnight of "eggs-cellent" adventures.

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Back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, or to one of those lambs that mysteriously disappeared from the fields around Easter, today heralded the end of my holidays in my grandparents' cosy cottage in Drumcondra.

My beloved grandparents - though long gone - are never forgotten. But a few of my friends still have grandparents who are alive and very much kicking. In fact, one friend visited both her parents and grandmother over the holidays. Though they were celebrating the Passover, which ended yesterday.

Jews are not supposed to eat any food made of wheat, barely, rye, oats or spelt during this religious festival. So it's goodbye to bread, pastries or pasta. But there are culinary compensations, like the "Seder." This usually entails a slap-up dinner and drinking four glasses of wine.

My friend's family live in Casablanca, a city almost impossible to mention without bringing to mind that classic movie. Its back-story is equally fascinating, with some of the actors either refugees from Nazi Europe or fighting against it.

Which is appropriate for my friend, as her father's family are part of Morocco's ancient Jewish community, once the largest in the Muslim world. They experienced World War II very differently from her Parisian-born grandmother.

For example, the Nazi-controlled Vichy government issued an anti-Semitic decree in 1940, excluding Jews from public functions. But Sultan Mohammed V refused to apply these racist laws and, as a sign of defiance, insisted on inviting all the rabbis of Morocco to the throne celebrations.

The troubles that followed the formation of Israel in 1948 led to huge numbers of Moroccan Jews emigrating. Fewer than 2,500 remain today. Yet the King retains a Jewish senior advisor. Jews are well represented in business, while Jewish schools and synagogues receive Government subsidies.

My friend then made a flying visit to her grandma in France. This exceptional lady in her 90s still smokes like a trooper and drives, despite being mugged some years ago. But after what she's been through, is it any surprise that a few criminals couldn't break her?

For the tattoo on her wrist is a legacy to when she was once reduced to a series of numbers, after she was deported to Auschwitz aged 17. Where she did her best to mind hundreds of orphaned children. Many of whom were the same age as her Dublin-born great-granddaughter.

Who is sulking at the prospect of school tomorrow.

Sunday Independent

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