Pesach, also known as feast of Passover, is that time of the year Jews travel back into the past, and are obligated to add human feelings to the story of the exodus from Egypt. All through the duration of the festival (which is eight days)- tradition demands that certain conditions must be met and ancient rules followed accordingly. One of the most exciting things about the Seder Night is listening to the legendary Passover Haggadah (story-telling at the Seder table about the redemption from the bondage under pharaoh).
Few hours before the eve of Pesach, I arrived Port Harcourt to witness for the first time, how Jews in the garden city will celebrate the first and second Seder Nights. My last visit to Rivers State was during the Franklin-Miles tour to Jewish Nigeria which ended at Lagos with a spectacular Shabbat in Adat Yisrael Synagogue. This time around, being on a different mission, Kehilat Melek Yisrael was my first point of stopover. The story of my visit to the State will be divided into three segments, which are:
- Before Seder Night
- At the Seder Table
- After the first Seder Night
In a more detailed description of the story outline:
Before Seder Night: Interacting with brothers and sisters at Kehilat Melek Yisrael
At the Seder Table: Listening to the haggadah as morel Shmuel leads the ritual at Aaron Hakodesh Synagogue.
After the first Seder Night: Sacharit, Mincha, Maariv, and Havdallah at Yisharim Synagogue
All three synagogues were visited during the Franklin-Miles tour to Jewish Nigeria. Hence, it was a very important visit- to catch-up with friends, and build more acquaintance- and promote the need to strengthen Jewish unity in Africa, starting here at home.
#SECTION ONE: BEFORE THE SEDER NIGHT
Surrounding Thrown Into Festive Mood As Kehilat Yisrael Welcomes The Feast Of Pesach
Chag Pesach Sameach. Chag Sameach. Chag Sameach Pesach.
The reception at the Knesset was warm, with beautiful smiling face all over the place. Right from the entrance leading into the compound, passing through the several turns along the pathway, one can feel the excitement in the air around. By the time I made it through the gate, headed straight to the place of ablution, Amira, the undergraduate daughter of the Rosh was waiting to welcome me to the synagogue.
Commonly known as “Gambia,” the Knesset is situated along the popular Gambia Street in the heart of Port Harcourt. The neighborhood is home to a large group of Muslims, strategically positioned in the State capital. This makes it so fascinating to witness the cordial relationship between these Muslim families and the resident Jewish community they surround entirely.
As I was taken to one of the buildings in the Knesset, where I’ll wait to see the Rosh, memories slowly began to creep into my mind. A couple of months ago, I was part of an international tour, on a mission of going beyond Abuja and discovering other existing, new and emerging Jewish Synagogues in Southern Nigeria. Kehilat Melek Yisrael, as I have mentioned before, was one of the places visited by Rabbi Wayne Franklin and his wife, accompanied by Professor William Miles from Boston.
The Knesset is headed by Yoshua Ben Shaul, who expressed his joy about my surprise visit to Gambia. He described the feast of Pesach as a compulsory mitzvah every Jew must perform. It is such a busy time for members of the faith, according to the Rosh, who spoke about the required conditions every Jewish home will meet prior to the beginning and throughout the eight days of the festival.
However, he had only few minutes of his time to give, as there was only some few hours to nightfall. Members were moving around the vicinity and making final preparations for the big night.
Preparing the Seder Table For The Big Night
One of the most memorable evenings in the feast is the Seder Night, which comes up on the first and second day during this yearly festival. There’re different ways to describe the Seder Night, but generally, it is a service made up of ordered parts, structured around the sharing of four cups of wine at interval while performing the mitzvah. Each cup of wine represents the following:
It is customary to have everyone seated around the table on these Seder nights. The table arrangements and decorations are usually dependent on the number of participants and size of the synagogue. While some would prefer a large central table for the big night, separate smaller tables may be ideal for some other synagogues. For everybody seated, they must listen to the instruction from the leader and perform the required ritual accordingly.
On the table, the Seder plate usually contains six different items representing the main symbols of the service:
- The matzo
- Roasted shank bone
- Roasted egg
- The maror
- The charoset
Before leaving Melek Keyilat Yisrael that evening, I watched Rosh Yoshua, assisted by one of the cantors and the morel of the Knesset, as they set up the tables for the big night. A centrally located space in the compound would serve as the ground for this special event on Erev Passover, which coincidentally was also Erev Shabbat. I did take some time to observe the preparation of the tables, and had the chance to have some personal words with some of the members around.
By the time I walked out through the gate, I felt satisfied and happy to have stopped by to see for myself how the brothers and sisters in “Gambia” prepared for the first Seder Night. Not only was all my questions answered by the host, I was invited to experience the typical energetic, or rather stylish Shabbat service the Knesset is known for. So, of course, I look forward to showing up, definitely on my next visit to the garden city. But for now, I needed to get back to Aaron Hakodesh Knesset, where I already have a reserved seat at the Seder Table.
Five Notable Things To Do Prior To The Seder Night
Number1 #Thing: Completion of the week-long and scrubbing of all Jewish homes and the synagogues thoroughly.
Number2 #Thing: Search for Chametz– On the night before Passover, the final search for Chametz is concluded, and every chametz gathered.
Number3 #Thing: Fast of the Firstborn– To express their gratitude (for not being killed during the plaque of the firstborn), all firstborn males fast on the day before Erev Pesach.
Number4 #Thing: Burning of the Chametz– On the morning before Passover, all Chametz that was found during the search is burnt in the fire.
Number5 #Thing: Preparing the Seder Table– All the symbolic food items must be on the table for the Seder Night rituals.
#SECTION TWO: AT THE SEDER TABLE
Yoseph Gamliel Ben Avraham Leads the Service at Aaron Hakodesh Synagogue
The venue for the Seder Night was brightly lighted-up, as we sat around the tables to celebrate the beginning of Pesach. Everyone looked cheerful and gorgeously dressed for the occasion. Even the young and children were certainly not left out in the whole frenzy of the big night. The arrangement of the tables separated us into three groups:
- One big set of tables for the men and youth
- One big table for the male children
- One big sets of table for the women and girls
It was an honor to sit close to the Rosh, Moshe Ben Avraham, to perform all the rituals for the long night. Such a memorable night in Port Harcourt, surrounded by brothers, feeling the energy of the crowd, and listening to Yoseph Ben Avraham as he reads the haggadah (the ancient story of Israel redemption from the bondage in Egypt).
One of the most remarkable things of the night is the drinking of four cups of wine, by every person. The four cups represent the 4-fold promise which the Lord made to the Israelite in Egypt:
- I will bring you forth
- I will deliver you
- I will redeem you
- I will take you
Amazingly, the story of the Passover is one of the oldest victories recorded in the Torah, over the dreaded ruler of Egypt. The event that occurred over four thousand years ago is celebrated by Jews globally, in obedience to the Jewish Halakhah of perpetual covenant. In fact, the whole order of service for the night takes the individual back into the past, making him or her to feel the exact feelings experienced by our forefathers at the wake of the exodus.
Here’s the summary of the order of service for the Seder Night:
- Kiddush- Saying the toast
- Urchatz- The second cup of wine
- Karpas- Eating the green vegetable
- Yachatz- Breaking the Matzo and hiding the Afikomen
- Maguid- Telling the Passover story
- Rochatza- The third cup of wine
- Maror- Eating the bitter herbs
- Korech- The Hillel sandwich
- Shulchan Aruch- The main meal
- Tzofun- Finding and eating the Afikoman
- Boraych- The cup of Elijah
- Halel- Psalms and fellowship
- Nirtzah- Concluding the Seder
Spending the Seder Night for me, in the garden city of Port Harcourt, for the ever first time, was truly amazing to me.
The Search For The Afikoman
From one stage to the next section of the order of service, the excitement didn’t stop till it was midnight. One of the cantors, Ithiel Ben Moshe, who is the first son of the Rosh, coordinated a group of children who added more fun to the big night. The children performed in two different groups. The first, with the following young boys:
- Daniel Ben Elyakim
- Eliyahu Ben Elyakim
- Melek Ben Avrahma, and
- Benyamin Ben Shmuel; are the four youngest boys who were inquisitive after hearing the story at the Seder table. They, respectively, asked the four questions:
Question #One: On all other nights we eat either chomitz or matxos, but on this night we eat only matzo?
Question #Two: On all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs, but tonight we eat only maror?
Question #Three: On all other nights we do not dip once, but on this night we did twice?
Question #Four: On all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat reclining?
The answers to all questions were given to these inquisitive children, who eventually became satisfied and happy, and then returned back to their table.
The second group of children recited individually, each a lengthy presentation of text from the Passover haggadah. It was exceptionally brilliant listening to these children as they performed in front of the cheerful audience in Aaron Hakodesh Synagogue. I was impressed with their performance, and managed to get their names, which include the following:
- Miriam bat Moshe
- Benyamin ben Shmuel
- Hadassah bat Elyakim, and
- Hadassah bat Schmuel.
Typical of all Seder Nights- which is never complete without hiding and finding the Afikoman (the last meal for the night, the dessert). This part of the service is manned by the children who must find the hidden Afikoman, and of course, a winning prize is up for grab at the end of the search. Out of my curiosity, I left my table and trailed some of the children as they ransacked all the corners of the synagogue vicinity.
At the end, it was Miriam bat Moshe, one of the twin daughters of the Rosh that found the hidden treasure. And once we took it, it was the last symbolic food for the night, bringing us to Nirtzah (the concluding part of the Seder night).
Gallery Of Pesach 2018 In Aaron Hakodesh Knesset
Photo Credit: Ithiel Ben Moshe
Indeed, what a colorful celebration for the Synagogue!
#SECTION THREE: AFTER THE FIRST SEDER NIGHT
There has been a couple of coincidence from the previous night and up to the current day after the first seder night. A few of them include:
- The only two persons, who led songs, driving the energy from the audience, at the seder table was Ithiel ben Moshe and Moshe ben Avraham, a son and his father. Two good musicians, no doubt.
- On the evening of the current day, is also another Seder Night (the second Seder Night)
- That same evening, is also another Erev Shabbat (a High day Shabbat, a Holy Shabbat)
And the list seems not to have ended, because coincidentally, the Aficoman was also found by the daughter of the Rosh of Yisharim Synagogue. (Two winners. Two girls. Daughters of heads of Synagogues). Surprisingly, what a coincidence!
Yisharim Synagogue: Joining the rest of the world as Jews celebrate the feast of Pesach
Joining the rest of the world to commemorate the first Shabbat in Pesach 2019, members of Yisharim held a fervent sacharit prayers in their synagogue. It was a special Shabbat, after the long Seder night, and it was adorned with a cool and sunny weather for much of the day.
One of cantors in the service was Shimshon ben Mathytiahu, son of the Rosh who celebrated his bar Mitzvah during the Franklin-Miles tour to Jewish Nigeria. At the end of the morning service, how wonderful it was to exchange pleasantries with old friends I haven’t seen in awhile. There were also three new brothers in the service, who were just newly converted into Judaism. Talking briefly with them gave me the impression about the sustained growth of Judaism in Nigeria.
After the sumptuous meal during the break, we took some time to rest, before reconvening again for Mincha players. Then it was time for Torah studies, which lasted for a couple of hours featuring many speakers. I was honored to be selected as one of the speakers, to talk about the Passover parashat. So many questions kept coming in, and brilliant answers given as well- it was a gathering of intelligent minds and good Torah students!
Counting the “First” Day of the Omer
The Omer is counted from the second night of Pesach until the night before Shavuos. In the commemoration of G-d’s giving of the Ten commandment to Moses, the Jewish people celebrate the yearly feast of Shavuot. From the second day of Passover, there are 49 days representing the 49 0mers that must be counted before the Erev of Shavuot (a two days festival).
In most congregations, the following kabbalistic prayer precedes the counting of the Omer.
“Before I am prepared and ready to perform the commandment of counting the Omer, as it is written in the Torah: “you are to count from the morrow of the rest day, from the day you brought the Omer-offering that is waved- they are to be seen seven complete weeks- until the morrow of the seventh week you are to count fifty days, and then offer a new meal-offering to Hashem.” May the pleasantness of my Lord, our G-d, be upon us- may He establish our handiwork, may He establish.”
One of the most notable events from my visit to Port Harcourt was the counting of the “first” day of the Omer in Yisharim Synagogue.
Goodbye Port Harcourt! Next Destination: Abia State
With my visit to Port Harcourt now completed, the next destination for me was Abia State. It was absolutely delightful to have been with brothers and sisters, and friends once again, celebrating the beginning of 2019 Pesach. I’m grateful, firstly to Hashem for this privilege, and then to all the synagogues for the hospitality shown at this special time of the year. In fact, the overall warm welcoming received, interviews and interactions, and not forgetting the spectacular Seder nights; then new friends made and other acquaintances, as well as the Torah discussions- all truly made the trip to the state unforgettable!
Upcoming Stories On Jewish Nigeria
- Sights & Amazing Moments of Pesach Celebration Across Jewish Nigeria
- An exclusive visit to Divine Seed of Adonai International Synagogue, Neni, Anambra State
- The Hupah (Jewish Wedding) of Eri Ben Avraham & Tamar Bat Eri in Lagos