Semantic Satiation and a Parting of the Red Sea Mocktail

Dizengoff Square Photo Credit Leslie Perlmutter
Dizengoff Square, Photo Credit Leslie Perlmutter

When a word is repeated over and over, it starts to lose its meaning and just becomes an abstract sound; this is called semantic satiation. Try it.

In Israel and throughout the Diaspora, Jews are struggling amidst collective grief to prepare for Passover. At the Seder, when we go around the table reading the Haggadah, we will be repeating words that have been spoken for thousands of years. Saying them once or twice a year will not cause semantic satiation, but the words’ familiarity can cause their repetition to feel rote. This year, many will be listening to the words with new understanding and discovering their relevance to today’s world.

The entire holiday is about freedom. An extra chair will be placed at many tables and special prayers will be said to commemorate the 133 souls still held hostage, those who do not have their freedom. And as long as a single hostage remains in Gaza, none of us are free. When we say, “in every generation, they may rise against us to destroy us….” we will be thinking of October 7th and every day since when so many have called for our destruction. And when we say “Next year in Jerusalem,” it will not be rote at all. Even secular and non-affiliated Jews are mulling the possibility of moving to Israel if things in the United States or elsewhere become untenable. It sounds extreme, but I’ve had friends muse about who would hide their families if it becomes necessary. Overreaction? Perhaps, but the current climate has many similarities with Germany of the early 1930’s. Say Never Again over and over and over.

Passover preparation is usually a source of happiness for me. The aroma of chicken soup cooking on the stove brings back memories of holidays and loved ones long gone. The cinnamon smell which emanates from my oven makes me smile, remembering the baking tradition my daughter and I started so many years ago when she was in pre-school. My friend recently shared a recipe for a Parting of the Red Sea iced tea mocktail, complete with Swedish fish swimming in the drink. This year, I attempted to make green marzipan frogs. We are trying to make the Seder fun and create memories for our families and invited guests. But beyond the creative cocktails and the edible plagues, we are trying to infuse the words of the Haggadah with extra meaning, so that everyone seated at the Seder understands.

About the Author
Leslie Perlmutter resides in New Jersey with her husband, her dog, Hank, and occasionally her three almost-grown children. A former attorney, she is a freelance writer covering a wide range of topics.
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