AB: “What kind
of Jewish traditions can you tell me about?”
AA: “Ok well we always go to our family
friends house for Passover Seder and one tradition Sephardi and Persian Jews
have is to run around and hit each other with celery or large green onions
during the song dayenu, which is about liberation from slavery and appreciation
or gratitude. And some people think the hitting with celery is to symbolize
slavery and whipping but it’s become a fun thing and I think it’s more about
celebrating liberation from many things.”
AB: “How do you see this tradition?
What does it mean to you?”
AA: “It feels more celebratory to me. As
a kid, I used to think of it as a game and as I’ve gotten older it’s fun to
revisit that inner child. And I think perhaps more importantly it feels like
physically letting go and like a physical manifestation of liberation—not necessarily
from slavery, but from oppression, harmful thought patterns etc. Passover in
general is about escaping a “narrow place” and to me it’s a way to communally
perform that liberation and also to acknowledge what oppressive systems exist
now and how can we escape them or help others escape them if that makes sense.
In short, I love the vegetable violence thing.”
Freedom and liberation appear central to this tradition. The
informant notes that the tradition itself mimics the violence of slavery but
emphasizes that it’s a celebratory tradition rather than a mournful one. By
mimicking slavery in a harmless way, those who practice the tradition can call upon
a shared past of oppression and celebrate survival rather than mourning what
Background: I had approached Hannah about telling me about her family Passover tradition that she had fleetingly mentioned at Shabbat Dinner at Hillel at the University of Southern California. She had talked about a hazelnut game for children during Passover that is unique to her family. Hannah goes to her grandparent’s house for the first night of Passover and celebrates the second night at her great-aunts house. She is from Illinois.
Context: I interviewed Hannah in the dining room of our sorority house, Delta Delta Delta. It was right after dinnertime so the dining room was full of people with coffee or tea chatting in the background of our conversation.
“Basically it’s kind of like marbles but we play with hazelnuts and my great-grandfather came up with it. We play with shelled hazelnuts. Everyone sits in a circle and you have your own little pile of hazelnuts which are like the ammo and in the center they spread them out, like a dozen or whatever, and then the kids all go around and take a turn throwing one of their hazelnuts from their personal pile at the ones in the center. If you hit one in the center then you get a quarter. Then as the game progresses there are stacks of quarters with a hazelnut on top that are in the center which are the jackpot pieces. When you hit the hazelnut off the stack of quarters, then you get the hazelnut plus the whole stack. So it’s pretty fun, I don’t know. You play it until you’re at bar or bat mitzvah age and then my grandpa is always the one that runs it all. His grandfather was the one that came up with the game. So we’ve been playing it for a really long time with the exact same hazelnuts. I don’t know how they’ve lasted this long, they’re 60 years old. It’s so gross. I was the only granddaughter until I was 12 so I always got some extra quarters tossed my way. It was always a fun game. When you’re a little kid, the Passover seder is so long to sit through. We would play the game right before dessert. So after the seder and dinner- it was something to look forward to. We always played on the basement floor of my grandparents house. It’s really bizarre. My great grandparents were born in Odessa, Russia. My grandparents were born here. My grandpa learned it from his father. I think it’s important to my grandpa that we keep playing this game. All the hazelnuts are the original hazelnuts, we don’t replace them with any new ones. My dad’s whole side of the family is Eastern-European and came to the US around the early 1900s. I didn’t know that other people didn’t play this game until I was pretty old. I truly had no idea, I thought everyone played this.”
Reflection: I am Jewish and grew up in Los Angeles going to Jewish day school. I have never heard of a tradition like this one, from my friends or family.