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  • Stella Hanan Cohen

Passover In Zimbabwe, Here’s How We Celebrate!

Passover for the Jews of Rhodes Island represents a symbolic metaphor for liberation, healing, and transcendence.

In Zimbabwe as a descendant of the Jews of Spain and the Ottoman Empire, Passover evokes such magical recollections, through our rich culinary legacy and the Rhodesli Pesach Seder.

In Rhodes, the popular expression that we said as soon as the festival of Purim ended was, Purim lanu, Pesah en la manu, meaning ‘Purim has come, and before you turn around Passover is here’. I recall that soon after Purim a good spring clean took place to rid our home of traces of hametz (leaven) including thoroughly cleaning utensils and dishes used during the year. The Judeo-Spanish blessing we then recited was, Benditcha la limpieza de noche de Pesah, meaning, ‘Blessed is the cleanliness of Passover night’. As our ancestors did for centuries my mother scrupulously cleaned our home one room at a time leaving the kitchen until last before Passover. In Rhodes it was customary to whitewash not only the courtyards and porches but often the entire home. La losa paskual (special cookware and porcelain) were brought out, especially for the week of Passover.

While growing up in Zimbabwe, Pesah was also a time of great delight when, as was customary, my mother bought my sister and me brand new clothes which added to the anticipation of new beginnings.

Our close-knit community celebrated the Seder much like their ancestors did in the Jewish quarters in Rhodes Island when no one spent Passover alone. Before the Seder meal begins the host still utters the words in Ladino todos lo ke tenga hambre ke venga i koma, which loosely translated means, ‘all those who are in need or hungry to join us’.

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