ITV documentary takes a Pesach journey across Britain

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ITV documentary takes a Pesach journey across Britain

Presenter Sam Holder travelled more than 1,200 miles across the country to celebrate the festival with eight families.

Pic: ITV
Pic: ITV

A Chasidic family from Glasgow, an LGTBQ family from northern Ireland, a prominent member of the Iraqi Jewish community and the Middle Eastern chef duo behind Honey & Co all feature in a documentary about Passover celebrations airing on ITV1 this weekend.

The show sees presenter Sam Holder travelled more than 1,200 miles across the country to celebrate the festival with eight families.

Holder, 34, joined groups in Finchley, Cardiff, Belfast, Leeds and Glasgow for their preparations and seder meals as part of an exploration of how Jewish people reflect on their faith and their life in Britain in 2024.

Speaking to Jewish News, he said: “I’ve done a lot of our coverage of anti-semitism and have lots of contacts in the community. ITV wanted someone to present it who understood its meanings, traditions and who lives in the community, from a first person perspective.”

He adds that it was exciting “to have an opportunity to show the variety of the community. Within it are people from lots of different backgrounds, political views and different views on what the festival means. Against the backdrop of the seder, everyone has their own rituals and quirks handed down from generation to generation.”

Sam Holder. Pic: ITV

Holder says the mix of families in the documentary provides “a real flavour of backgrounds across the community. That was the key to me to show the breadth and variety that exists. Often there are misconceptions about the community, that everyone is eastern European. This is to show what a Jewish family in 21st century Britain looks like.”

A particular standout moment for Holder was Iraqi-Jewish Edwin Shuker’s interfaith seder: “He had Muslim and Hindu guests and because of his heritage, some of the seder was conducted in Arabic. What was really lovely about it was that not only does it differ from mine because of his upbringing, but the universality and concept of Passover, this concept of freedom from captivity spoke to all the guests there, who come from all different background and religions.

“To see people partake in the festival and feel the joy of it was really lovely. These small grass-root events, really help humanise the community and dispel some of that rising antisemitism that we’ve seen across the community this year. It was very heartwarming to see.”

Speaking to Jewish News, Shuker says: “ITV offered an unmissable opportunity to showcase a Passover seder Babylonian style as practiced by Arabic speaking Mizrahi Jews. We try to pass on the traditions to our children and grandchildren exactly as we learnt them in Baghdad . Since filming was on Chol Hamoed and we did not wish to subject the family to a third Seder we invited a very appreciative multi-faiths guest list.”

Pic: ITV

Holder and his team also visited “what might well be the last Chasidic family in Glasgow. The grandchildren now live in Australia and they’d flown back to celebrate with the grandparents. And we see them having a last minute ma nishtana lesson in the kitchen with their family. That gets to the heart of what Passover is. It is religious, it is a biblical story but it means coming together with your family. People do travel across the world to reunite.”

As expected, food plays a huge part in the film. Holder explains: “We had a bit of walk through with Honey & Co about charoset and the different traditions. We explain the seder plate, which is the heart of the seder. For a lot of people watching at home they won’t know anything about it. We take it for granted that everything we eat and drink is symbolic. So we try and explain that and also the fact that everybody has their slight twist.”

His own family, for example, don’t eat parsley for karpas. “We eat potato and onion because in the shtetl where my grandfather grew up, now in Ukraine, those were the only two vegetables that grew. Parsley wasn’t an option.”

David Israel’s family seder in Leeds was a more progressive experience. The 55-year old and his wife Carolanne had eight people around the table.

Edwin Shuker. Pic: ITV

He tells Jewish News: “My wife’s family is not Jewish, so it was a real honour to be able share our seder with them. We try to ensure that we have a good sprinkling of progressive thinking within the seder, such as having a Miriam’s cup, so as not to lose sight of the importance of women in our Jewish story.”

Sam Holder says the documentary is “a joyous film, and not in a cliched way. Passover is stressful. It’s a lot of work but the seder night is something that lots of people, even if secular, look forward to. And that’s what we really captured.

“Passover is the logical festival to film. It’s the foundational  story of Judaism. It’s how the Jewish people came to be a nation and it’s designed to be engaging for children and for everyone of every age. And four glasses of wine? It’s perfect.”

• Passover UK: A Jewish Journey airs this Sunday on ITV at 10.20pm

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