Wiley women and Eating our Ego: Passover CDP at the Jewish Museum

A man and a group of women walking across a stage

‘Why is Moses the hero of the Passover story? His mother should be the hero!’ Year 3 student

In April we had our annual staff Passover celebrations/ training, and as the organiser I got to pick the theme! I chose to focus mainly on women, as there are an unusually large number of named women who do incredible things in the story of Passover: women stand up to the Pharaoh to save their children, women circumcise their children themselves and lead the Jewish people in praise of the Shechinah (a Hebrew name for God, which is feminine!). This is especially incredible considering their context of a hugely patriarchal society, but also considering some of these roles, like being a mohel (m)/ mohelet (f) (someone who performs circumcisions in Judaism) is still a role women are generally barred from, thousands of years after this story.

A woman stood in front of a stage with a group of people behind her

To highlight the roles of women I co-wrote a play retelling the story of Passover from the perspective of women and enlisted some brave colleagues to help me. To liven it up each character was given a modern twist, embodying famous people of today who seemed to fit their character, from Mary Berry as Yocheved, to Chummy from Call the Midwife as Puah. The staff showed off their fantastic acting skills and got loads of laughter for their hilarious performances. The incredible stories of these women contrasts with the place of many women in modern Passover preparations and celebrations- for many women Passover is a time of back-breaking cleaning that is far too often not shared, meaning many women arrive exhausted to the seder, unable to really take part in the celebration of freedom. Especially as a staff group with such a large female majority, this is a really important reality for us to think about.

A man and a group of women walking across a stage

The second part of the session focused on chametz, the food many Jews remove from their homes before Passover that are grain or yeast based. This may seem like a mundane thing, but many people see this cleaning as a spiritual practice. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg expands on this, saying: ‘chametz [is often described] as the puffy, overextended parts of our ego; the way we try to posture and preen, to achieve renown rather than just existing as we are, being gentle and modest; a mere humble matzah, if you will.’ Over a lunch of delicious matzah sandwiches, I invited my colleagues to think about: what ‘puffed up’ part of yourself would you like to recognise and work to cleanse yourself of? After this we swiftly went on a chametz treasure hunt with a candle, feather and wooden spoon in hand, reminiscent of the ritual chametz hunt many Jews do the night before Passover. The treasure hunt clues took the staff around the whole museum, and one team were victorious and were crowned the winners for the fastest finding of the afikomen (the matzah eaten as the last bit of the seder meal).

On behalf of the museum I would like to wish everyone a hag kasher v’sameach- a happy and kosher festival!