Freeing Food - sweet sticky enslavement

I've always thought it slightly odd that we represent anything to do with slavery (in this case cement or mortar) with something as sweet and delicious as Charoset. Charoset comes in many different forms, from a nutty, appley, winey, cinnamony mush which growing up we seemed to continue to eat for the whole of Pesach for breakfast, to Sephardim who make a sort of fruit compote and then there is the delicious Iraqi Halek - date syrup or silan with crushed walnuts.
One of my favourite explanations for the sweet apple charoset is beautifully retold here:

“In BT Pesahim 116a, two explanations are given for the requirement to eat haroset on Passover. The more famous, offered by Rabbi Yohanan, is zekher letit (in memory of the clay). Haroset, a sign of our oppression, reminds us of the mortar used by the slaves to build bricks in Egypt. Rabbi Levi, however, suggests that haroset is zekher letappua’h (in memory of the apple tree). While this response explains the common Ashkenazic custom of using apples for haroset, its meaning is not at all clear. In his commentary on this passage, Rashi explains that the Israelite women gave birth to their children outside, under apple trees, to prevent the Egyptians from realizing that they were in labour and killing their male infants. Rashi supports this story by quoting from Song of Songs 8:5: ‘Under the apple tree I roused you – it was there your mother conceived you, there she who bore you conceived you’. The Hebrew word orartikha (I roused you) is understood by Rashi to mean under the apple tree I brought you forth, I gave birth to you. Thus, the haroset is a sign of the bravery of Israelite women, who left their homes to give birth in the open fields, where, miraculously, they experienced no struggle or pain”.
Ruth S. Fagen ‘Lifecycles’ Volume 2, 2000

So the charoset (as with most things) has all sorts of traditions and meanings layered into it. This year I learnt about a charoset that was new to me - 'the charoset of Anusim'. In Cuba, where it has been difficult for Jews to practice. The traditional fruits used in charoset are not readily available in Cuba, so the community created their own recipe, with just matzah, honey, cinnamon and wine. In using this recipe for your charoset, you can symbolically reach out to Jews around the world still struggling with oppression, and with people of all kinds around the world grappling with similar problems. 

Tying our seder in with those who struggle with oppression today is not a new idea - it has been used in campaigning for refuseniks, and in remembering the Shoah. As we celebrate our freedoms, and recall the ancient slavery, we are also able to remind ourselves not to be complacent - these are not ancient, vanished ideas, but a reality for far too many people. A reality our seder should inspire us to challenge. 


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