Passover study and preparation certainly has kept my tikkunknitting needles flying. Committed to Passover as a symbol of freedom for any and all of us, as an opportunity to gather, share traditions, and build hope for a peaceful future, my knitted seder table included the basics:
- a plate full of the ritual symbols of the holiday, commemorating the narrative of the liberation of the Israelites from servitude in Egypt, and
- a knitted cup for the prophet Elijah, whose anticipated arrival by Jews presages the achievement of an age of universal peace, was the tikkunknitting project of the moment.
But no seder is complete without the recitation of the Maggid (the Passover story), including its enumeration of the Ten Plagues, purportedly inflicted on the Egyptians for their Pharoah’s defiance of the Israelite God. As they appear in the Hebrew Bible, the plagues include:
- Blood (Dam, Exodus 7:14-25): rivers and other water sources turned to blood killing all fish and other water life (Dam, Exodus 7:14-25)
- Amphibians (Tsfardeia, Exodus 7:26-8:11): commonly believed to be frogs, but medieval Jews conceived of them as crocodiles (look here for an interesting discussion of Talmudic references, possibly explaining the illustration in the 14th-century “Sarajevo” Haggadah from Barcelona, bottom of folio)
- Lice or gnats (Kinim, Exodus 8:12-15), like the dust of the earth
- (Arov, Exodus 8:16-28) flies or beasts
- Blight (Deverm Exodus 9:1-7) disease of livestock
- Boils (Shkhin, Exodus 9:8-12)
- Hailstorm (Barad, Exodus 9:13-35), hail mixed with fire
- Locusts (Arbeh, Exodus 10:1-20)
- Darkness (Choshech, Exodus 10:21-29), commonly understood to have inflicted the Egyptians alone
- Death (Makat Bechorot, Exodus 11:1-12:36) of the first-born of all Egyptian families
My family typically involves the children in the telling, and this year I attempted to give them some tikkunknitted prompts for the job. Having put in a few late nights, I was able to contribute a complete story-telling basket for my niece-lets.
The task of researching and creating knitted representations of the plagues prompted a degree of study and learning well beyond my expectations. For instance, I learned more than a little about the life of frogs (the second plague) in ancient Egypt, and in modern Israel-Palestine. It should have come as no surprise that a plague of frogs appeared early in the purported contest between Pharoah and the Israelite god; frogs were an important symbol of fertility for the ancient Egyptians, represented by the frog-headed goddess Heqet (who breathed life into the unborn), the source of the hieroglyph for the number 100,000 (a multitude rivaling that of the Israelites placed in slavery, as Jewish tradition tells the story). (check out the Hieroglyph Translator!).
The plague of frogs is a particularly interesting example of religious irony, the Israelite god turning the table, so to speak, on the Egyptians – suffocating them with their own beliefs and traditions, rendering them lifeless with their own symbol of life. It’s also a means of connecting to modern experience of plagues … most notably, the plague of conflict in Israel-Palestine. Frogs have long been a part of the landscape of Israel-Palestine; indeed, fossilized tadpoles have been found in the Negev (source). Yet the symbiotic relationship between the life of frogs and the land is seriously threatened in modern times. According to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species and disease have endangered six species of amphibians in Israel. And one specie, the Israel/Palestine Painted Frog, has been extinct since the 1950’s, when its Galilean lake habitat was drained to accomodate the expanding post-war Jewish population (see source; and the reconstructed images of the Painted Frog).
My knitted frog is inspired by the origami jumping frogs of my childhood. It is a creature of the water, being felted (or more properly, fulled) in a lengthy hot water bath. With a bit of knitterly “paint” she will be transformed into the amphibian lost to the unrestricted development of Israel-Palestine by Jewish immigrants since 1948. I’m hoping fiber artists and needle workers will respond to my invitation to contribute frogs to the TikkunTree, If enough to, there might be a plague of frogs to deal with.
A plague of peace frogs … what a thought.