As I researched the iconographical tradition of Elijah’s Cup and the other Passover symbols, I was inspired to use this tikkunknitting project as the point of departure for a broader exploration of the ways in which holiday traditions and meanings are created (and to have another way to delight and teach my youngest niece-let at the seder table – it’s always a challenge to keep children attentive at the seder table, given the length of the service and meal).
Each year at seder one of the littlest members of our family asks “Why is this night different from all other nights? For years this was my job (in spite of being the oldest of the generation, I was the only one able to hold the tune, so I was recruited to “help” the younger children). This year, In addition to my usual contribution of freshly-ground horseradish (maror), gefilte fish, and chocolate-coconut macaroons, I answered my nieces’ traditional query with the results of my study and tikkunknitting — a seder plate full of knitted symbols and a tray of knitted matzo:
- Maror (bitter herbs), representing the pain of slavery (I knitted the top of the horseradish root, which we use on our table)
- Charoset, a sweet paste made from dried and/or fresh fruit, nuts and wine, signifying the clay or mortar used by the Israelites in their labor for the Egyptians
- Karpas, another bitter vegetable (typically parsley or celery, as I knitted), the humility of servitude, which is dipped in salt water (slavery’s tears) before being eaten
- a roasted Shankbone – the Pesach (sacrifice) before the 10th plague; and
- a roasted Egg – a symbol of spring by Reform and Conservative Jews (or a symbol of mourning for the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem by traditional Jews
It’s been strangely liberating to work through the seder plate, item by item, the exhilaration of finishing one symbol and beginning the next … not quite meditative, but intensely reflective. What fibers related, by color, by character, by texture, by sensibility. Matzoh was instantly gratifying, as I anticipated the response to sheets of knitted “plarn” (plastic bag yarn). The distance required to produce my own set of symbols, translate each by the work of my needles, offers considerable space to sort out the old and new information I’ve been collecting and consider whether and how to build new symbols into our observance of the holiday.