Passover in Outremont & The “Burning” Issue
Lire cet article en français "Pâque juive à Outremont et les questions “brûlantes”"
What is Passover?
Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) also known as the “holiday of freedom,” commemorates the Jewish Exodus from Egypt (1313 BCE) following 210 years of slavery. The name “Passover” is derived from the fact that during the final plague God “passed over” the Jewish homes.
The eight-day festival of Passover is celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan on the Jewish calendar. This year the holiday starts March 25, 2013 at sundown.
Passover is divided into two parts. The first two days and last two days (the latter commemorating the splitting of the Red Sea) are full-fledged holidays. Holiday candles are lit at night, and festive holiday meals are enjoyed on both nights and days. We don’t go to work, drive, write or switch on or off electric devices. We are permitted to cook food for the holiday. The middle four days are semi-festive “intermediate days,” when most forms of work are permitted.
What do we do?
Chametz (leavened foods) Free
During the week of Passover, Jews are forbidden to eat or possess any chametz (Hebrew for leavened grain). For this reason, we dispose of (or sell) all bread, cookies, pasta, beer, and so on, and purchase only products labeled “Kosher for Passover.” Ridding our homes of chametz is an intensive process. It involves a full-out spring-cleaning search-and-destroy mission during the weeks before Passover.
Burning of the Bread
On the morning before the holiday we conduct the burning of the chametz ceremony. In Jewish mysticism the eradication of the chametz (the leavened grain signifies “inflated”) refers to the removal of one’s self-inflating pride and egotism that impedes our relationships with our Creator, our loved ones, and our fellow human beings.
The Festive Seder Meal
The highlight of Passover is the Seder meal which is observed on the first two nights of the holiday. The Seder meal is a fifteen-step family-oriented tradition and ritual-packed feast.
During the entire week of Passover instead of chametz, we eat Matza – flat unleavened bread. Matzah is a religious requirement on the two Seder meals but during the rest of the holiday it is optional.
“Burning” Issues in Outremont
The burning ceremony – which is conducted by all practicing Jews worldwide, including religious Jews residing in Outremont / Mile-End – has experienced some tensions over the past few years. These tensions where nurtured mainly by a lone Outremont borough councilor Mme Celine Forget who has made it her mission to harass her very own constituency at every possible opportunity.
Up until about 6 years ago individuals would burn their chametz in their own backyard. But it happened that sometimes a neighbour would call the fire department, who would come and extinguish the fires (even though it is as legal as having a barbecue). Because of that, arrangements were made over the past few years to have one central burning location. This would avoid the possibility of complaints or of bothering people. At first the borough of Outremont graciously offered the empty public works lot near the tracks. It was then, however, that Mme Forget created an uproar claiming that the city is not allowed to “accommodate” the Jewish community in a public space. Although there are many other “festivals” and communities that are accommodated on public property, this was a moot point. The subtext was, of course, that although we are a quarter of Outremont’s population, we aren’t considered legitimate Outremont citizens, but an outside group that must be “accommodated” – or not. It is because of this that for the past three years the venue was moved to an empty lot near Ducharme, which is privately owned.
Mme Forget has also accused the Jewish community of creating pollution through the burning ceremony. In order to “accommodate” Mme Forget’s complaint, the Jewish community has undertaken exhaustive measures to eliminate the plastic bags by giving out paper bags in the synagogues and setting up a plastic-to-paper conversion station near the burning ceremony.
Plenty of Carbon Credits
Talking about pollution, it’s worth mentioning that as practicing Jews we have over 65 “no-car days” annually, as we are foribidden to operate any vehicle on the Sabbath (Saturdays) and Jewish holidays. If you do the math – 500 Jewish-owned vehicles in Outremont = over 32,000 cars off the road for a day – we are left with plenty of “carbon credits” to offset the minor pollution created by burning our bread for two hours once a year.
We hope that this year there won’t be anymore “burning” issues. And that we will be able to live our way of life in peace and harmony with all our neighbors.
Wishing all our neighbors a healthy and sunny spring, and to our Hassidic friends “a happy and kosher Pesach” (that’s the traditional greeting we wish each other at before Passover).Follow @OutremontHassid