Jeff & Rivka Peck along with their children (including a baby girl still growing inside Rivka)
Reading about the history, origins and traditions of a holiday can tell you a great deal about the holiday itself. In this case – Passover. However, nothing compares to talking with a family about their fondest memories, favorite traditions, and what Passover personally means to them. This year, Jeff and Rivka Peck, a young Jewish married couple from West Hartford, Connecticut with an ever-growing family agreed to answer a Q & A with Heavy about what Passover means to them.
Here is what Passover means to Jeff and Rivka, as told to Heavy.
Meet Jeff & Rivka Peck of West Hartford, Connecticut: Background.
Jeff and Rivka.
Jeff and Rivka Peck live in West Hartford, Connecticut with their four children, ages between five months and 9 years. The Pecks are active in the local Jewish community and it is an important, if not central part of their culture, heritage and family life. They have been married for 10 and a half years and met on a Jewish dating website.
Q: First, Would You Mind Explaining Why You Chose To Make Your Home In West Hartford & What Makes West Hartford a Special Place For Jews?
Peck FamilyPeck family in West Hartford.
A: West Hartford has a diverse Jewish community and it is nice for us and our children to experience Jewish life without a strong feeling of expectation to fit a particular mold. For some being in a place with limited diversity can be strengthening, but I think that for our family, since neither of us were raised in a strictly religious lifestyle, we find strength in the life-long quest of working to find ourselves. Being part of a diverse community really helps to understand where you fit in.
There are several great places for kosher food including the newly renovated Crown Market and Yosi’s pizza which is amazing (all under the HKC), multiple synagogues including Connecticut’s only Sephardic synagogue, and an excellent Jewish day school – The Bess and Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy, where our children attend. With the wonderful Jewish organizations and resources here, we feel confident that our family does not have to compromise.
Additionally, it is the approximate half-way point between each of our parents’ homes.
I (Jeff) have been connected to the West Hartford Jewish Community from the time I was at UCONN and would periodically come to West Hartford for Shabbat, and had friends at UCONN who lived here. And in fact, our first date was in Hartford, at a then-kosher, vegan Rastafarian restaurant! It was during Chanukah of 2005 and we stopped in the West Hartford Chabad House, which is now close to where we live.
Q: How Are Things Going In Terms of Passover Preparations?
Peck familyKids projects
A: Cleaning for Passover is very involved. We go through the house removing any Chametz (leavened bread) in fulfillment of the mitzvah of Passover. The search and removal of Chametz is often related to negating the ego. However, it often gets conflated with general house-cleaning and organizing – things that have nothing to do with Passover. For some, these things can be about ego.
That said, it also gives a chance to go over long-neglected things, making for a chance to take into an account of everything that is around us in our living space, and a chance to appreciate those things and give care where it is due.
The trouble that typically comes for us, in years past, is that we try to do it all in the last minute and don’t make time for everything. In those times, it can feel conflicting and frustrating.
This year, we made a point to start the cleaning process well in advance, giving us time for general “normal” house-cleaning, organization, and the actual Passover cleaning – searching for Chametz and making the kitchen kosher.
Because we had almost everything ready a couple days in advance, I (Jeff) was able to go to the movies the night the before Passover – something seemingly unheard of!
Q: Are The Kids Helping?
Peck FamilyChildrens Projects
A: They help to make Passover special by making projects to show us, telling us insights, and songs, as well as crafts like seder plates and Hagadot and such. The eldest is making a Passover comic right now!
Peck familyBaby Nuriya Chedva
They also help with some of the cleaning. On the night before Passover, we go through the house with a candle searching all of the corners for any last pieces of Chametz, which they are always eager about doing.
Q: What Does Passover Mean To You, Personally?
Peck family collectionJeff & Rivka Peck along with their children (including a baby girl still growing inside Rivka)
Note: Rivka wrote a beautiful, personal poem about what Passover means to her that can be viewed here.
A: A major theme of Passover is redemption – experiencing and celebrating our freedom from enslavement. We commemorate our miraculous exodus from Egypt as a people, while recalling aspects of the bitterness of the slavery experienced through various customs throughout the Seder – the traditional Passover meal. We eat various foods, some symbolic of our freedom and others representing our oppression. We recline at certain points in the meal and refrain from reclining at other times. We tell the stories of our ancestors recalling the miracles as well as the hardship that we endured.
Some make a point stay up into the early morning hours discussing the many details of our redemption, and it is easy to do because there is so much depth to the holiday of Passover.
One such example of that depth that is meaningful to me is in the word for Egypt – Mitzrayim – the place that our ancestors were miraculously freed from slavery ~3500 years ago. We do various actions throughout the Seder to try to bring the experience of our ancestors into our present lives. And in fact, we even read about how it should be so close to us that we are to see ourselves as if we personally left Egypt!
I’ve never been to Egypt so I don’t know what it is like to leave from it. How can I possibly experience what my ancestors did so long ago, being freed from Egyptian slavery?
The secret is in the word for Egypt – Mitzrayim. Mitzrayim is not only the name of a nation but also has a root – Tzar – which refers to a narrow, difficult place. It refers to a situation where someone can feel stuck, as if there is no way out. And then, the situation passes… freedom. I can think of numerous situations for myself that have been just like that. There are times that I’ve needlessly worried about something, or been in situations where it feels that I will be stuck for some uncertain amount of time. And then something changes, and I soon forget that there was ever even an issue. And so, I think that personally leaving “Egypt” is to recall these experiences and attempt to truly appreciate what it means to come out of a difficult place.
And so, I am able to reflect on my personal freedom from any negative situations throughout the year and years past. And reflect on how I am part of the Jewish people, a nation that continues to survive and even thrive against all odds and despite so many difficulties that we’ve endured. And I can have faith that just as we have experienced personal and collective redemption, so too will there be a time when there is no more hardship, no more war, no more competition, no more health problems, no more pain and suffering, and no more death, and that we will get through all the hardships and into true freedom. For me, Passover is about trying to experience all of this, in the past, present, and future.
Q: How Do You Explain The Darker Aspects Of Passover To Your Young Children, Such As The Plagues of Egypt?
Peck FamilyPeck family in West Hartford.
A: They learn about it each at their own level at school. At home, we try to teach the inner message that the Jewish people were redeemed from oppression and that there were consequences for those in Egypt who perpetrated the oppression. It shows that there is a moral right and wrong.
It should be noted that on the last days of Passover Jews refrain from saying the complete Hallel – the prayer that is typically said on joyous occasions – to make a point that we are not rejoicing at the downfall of the Egyptians. We still do say part of it, as we are rejoicing in our salvation, but remain aware that we should not be happy about another’s downfall.
Q: What Are Some Of Your Favorite Seder Memories?
Getty ImagesLighting candles on Passover.
A: We have hosted the Passover Seders at our house for ten years, with only a few exceptions where we joined friends at their Seder. We have had the privilege to have my parents, brother, and sometimes sister and her family at our Seder almost every year. We often will invite friends as well, and even have had at least one occasion where we hosted somebody who we just met that day.
We typically stay up late into the night singing songs and discussing things. And we are always so impressed when the children behave and are attentive. In fact, last year our then-six-year-old son stayed up until 1am – for the whole Seder – because he wanted to sing a certain song at the end.
Q: How Do You Explain The Empty Chair To Someone Who Is Unfamiliar With Passover Traditions?
GettyCirca 1500 BC, Moses raises his rod to command the return of the Red Sea following its parting.
A: I believe you are referring to the cup of Elijah the Prophet. We do not leave an empty chair, although it is possible that some have that custom.
There are many reasons taught about this. The one that I (Jeff) connect to is somewhat technical (possibly not as interesting as some of the other answers out there), but I appreciate the logic and I would explain to anyone who is curious:
During the Passover Seder we traditionally have four cups of wine, each associated with four different expression of redemption that the Torah describes. The Talmud – the book of Jewish Oral Law – discusses that there is a fifth expression of redemption, related to being brought into the land of Israel, but it is questioned whether this applies before our complete redemption.
When there is an unresolved question in the Talmud of technical nature like this, we sometimes find the word “Teiku”, which is an acronym that essentially means “Let Elijah the Prophet come and answer this”. We believe that Elijah will come to announce the coming of the Messiah and will also answer all of the unresolved debates in the Talmud. So, for the question of whether we have four cups or five, referring to four mentions of redemption, or a fifth that has not been fulfilled yet, we literally put out the fifth cup and say “Let Elijah come and tell us how many cups of wine to drink”. Of course if we see Elijah walk in at that point, everyone will agree that we drink the fifth cup!
As with most (or all) Jewish traditions, this is one of the many meanings associated with it. What makes these traditions so deep is that there are many perspectives and ways of understanding things.