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Op-eds

Planning Pesach 2019

  • Howard Feldman 2018
I want to tell you about something that happened whilst we were away for Pesach. Our family was fortunate enough to spend the week at the Velmore Hotel in Pretoria, a resort that had never hosted a kosher crowd before. The head chef, Jacques, was a lovely and accommodating guy (at least at the beginning of the chag), who told me how impressive the whole kosher thing was to him. “Never,” he said, “have I seen people eat so much. It’s like you guys spend months in training for this!”
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Apr 12, 2018

We do. But that’s not the point of my story.

He also asked me if Jews had watches, because we seem only to be able to tell the time by when the next meal is served. He also wondered how it was possible for people to go straight from breakfast to lunch, without so much as a gentle stroll through the hotel grounds in between.

“Genetics,” I told him. “Generations of practice.” But that, too, is not the essence of this tale.

Towards the end of the week, the bloke and his team were very clearly exhausted. Their accommodating smiles, although present, were strained and some staff struggled not to roll their eyes every time someone asked them to come to their room to open the door with the key card. I was sure that to them we were not only fat, but also lazy.

So fatigued was Jacques, he told me that he would be there when the festival ends to assist in carrying the bags out of the building and help to open the security boom to facilitate the process so that the guests could exit efficiently. He was taking no chances of anyone staying. He longed for his regular clientele – and one could hardly blame him.

It was around this time that the organisers casually and tentatively asked him if he would ever consider hosting this kosher Pesach group again. They were nervous of his response, considering just how much work it had presented him with.

Jacques looked puzzled. “Why would you ask me that,” he enquired, “when you have no intention of coming back here?” It was the organisers’ turn to be confused. The hotel had worked perfectly, the staff were helpful and their guests seemed to enjoy it. These factors made his comment perplexing.

An explanation was needed. “Why do you say that we won’t be back here?” they asked. To which he replied: “Because your programme very clearly states that next year you will be in Jerusalem.”

True story.

Which is an interesting point on so many levels. What he was asking unintentionally, in essence, is why we don’t believe our own marketing. If the programme says that we are to be in Jerusalem, then what benefit and relevance is there in discussing the Velmore for the following year?

What is even more interesting, is that although there were countless rabbonim and other interesting speakers who were either on the programme or visiting it in order to lecture, the most significant message of the festival came from Jacques. And he didn’t even know it.

Jacques’ message is not only for those who celebrate Pesach. It is not only for Jews or for South Africans. It is for each of us who understand the power of words. It speaks of the damage that we do when we recount phrases and sentences in an automated and robotic fashion. It speaks of the harm that we do when we diminish, and we render them valueless.

With all this, one thing that I would recommend to the organisers of the Pesach Retreat for next year, is that if it is indeed in Jerusalem, it would serve them well to bring Jacques along. That way, there will not only be someone to look after the food, but to tell us what time it is and to open the security boom when it comes time to leave.

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