My novel ‘I used to be dead’, about 4 naughty kids is set in 28 AD in Israel during the rule of the Roman Emperor Tiberius.
Authenticity demanded I visit the country to investigate the old places like Capernaum, taste local foods, see the families celebrating Sabbath eve in our hotel, experience the hubbub and say a prayer at the Western Wall.
That, by the way, is a threadbare segue to this story.
Local Jewish scene
When I came home I was invited to attend a Passover Seder at a local Synagogue. I couldn’t resist. If you ever get the chance, pay for your ticket and go. Most synagogues keep a supply of kippot (skull caps) for men so just roll up wearing something nice.
A Passover Seder is fun
Passover often coincides with Easter, which for Christians is a fairly solemn occasion. Passover Seder is quite different.
It’s a dinner party, with emphasis on the kids and in keeping with its origins, it is swaddled in traditional songs, sayings, foods and laughter. After all, it marks the time when the people of Israel escaped their 400 years-long slavery in Egypt and by one miracle after another were led to freedom by Moses and his older brother Aaron.
The synagogue’s Rabbi can source any number of activities to keep everyone on their toes – quizzes, games, puzzles – but at this Seder, the Rabbi had chosen an American play for the children to act out. Her eldest son played the part of Moses and the younger played the part of Aaron. He’s the one that got the free swear.
An explanation about what’s known as The Great Australian Adjective
In Australia and Great Britain, there is an old swear word that has uncertain origins: it’s bloody. You would have heard Ron Weasley say, Bloody Hell a lot in Harry Potter books and movies. It’s not so scandalous these days but many people would not let their children see the movies because of Ron’s ‘bad language’. Some people have supposed it gained its notoriety in the 1800s by being short for ‘By Our Lady’ or ‘Blood of Christ’. You can see how it would offend people.
Not so in America
In the US it’s just a way to describe blood. You fall over and get a ‘bloody knee’. You get punched in the face and get a ‘bloody nose’. You ask for a ‘bloody steak’. You can’t get a ‘bloody collar’ clean after cutting yourself shaving. AS a boy, I was shocked to hear a visiting American preacher using The Great Australian Adjective to describe the wounds of Christ: ‘His bloody back from the scourging and his bloody head from the crown of thorns.’ It was scandalous until our Pastor straightened him out.
There was a Jimmy Driftwood song (sung by Johnny Horton) that played on the radio in 1959 and in Australia the DJ’s had to bump the record to make the needle jump so the innocent Americanism but The Great Australian Adjective didn’t get broadcast. I suppose it was easier than explaining the etymology of the two uses before they played the song each time.
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip’
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans.
So where was I? Oh yes. The Seder and the Passover free swear
You know the story; Moses wants the Israelites to go free.
Plagues pop out.
Moses lays out the ultimatum time after time.
More plagues rain down.
Until finally Moses says the last plague will be the death of every firstborn; calf, sheep, goat, elephant, camel and (gulp!) human.
In the play, Aaron asks Moses how they can escape the plague.
Moses tells Aaron and the other actors that they are to sprinkle the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of every house where the Hebrews lived.
The moment is primed
Then Aaron asks Moses, how the day will go down in history.
‘it will,’ says Moses, ‘and because the Angel of the Lord will pass over every house with blood on the door, this day will be called Passover!
Wait for it!
Aaron, with no understanding of the linguistic differences, figured that some dumb American has inserted The Great Australian Adjective in a play so he could get a lucky and blameless free swear in the sacred Synagogue.
He beams and almost shouts,
‘Well, that’s a darn sight better than calling it BLOODY DOOR DAY!’
Every person knew how he’d got it all upside down in his funny little mind but were rapt with his big naughty self-satisfied, albeit naive grin.
Stories are everywhere, aren’t they?