My mom tells of growing up in Denver in the 1950’s and receiving a quarter from many uncles for finding the Afikomen. I remember my Uncle Irving passing out $2 bills to all the cousins. Now, those bills were an oddity, and so special that we wouldn’t even spend them. I actually still have a few tucked away in my jewelry box. As kids we couldn’t sit still until the middle piece of matza was broken, folded into a napkin, and hidden away. Whoever found it would then hold it for ransom until they received a gift. Yes, one person found the Afikomen, but in order to prevent hard feelings, the matzah was broken up and passed around so that all the kids received gifts.
There are stories and legends intertwined in history about finding the Afikomen. Doing research for this blog post we found that the Afikomen has taken on special meanings throughout history as. This symbolic middle piece of matzah used to be saved as protection against the evil eye and to ensure longevity. Back in the Middle Ages, Jews would carry it in a little pouch with them from Passover to Passover, hoping for good luck. Did you know that if you kept the Afikomen for 7 years, you could then throw it into a river to stop a flood? The stories go on an on.
Afikomen might sound like this crazy made-up word, but it is a word. Pronounced Ah-fee-ko-men, it is actually a Greek word meaning dessert. Read more about it in this past post.
Let’s fast forward from the 1950s and 1970s to 2017, and admit that kids are still fascinated with the Afikomen ritual and holding it ransom until they receive something in exchange. The thing is, when you gift something to a kid, they remember it. That is what Jewish family celebrations are all about– creating memories and rituals. From the food we eat to the prayers we chant, every child remembers the holidays. Having them leave with a small keepsake just preserves these memories.