Posts Tagged ‘Passover’

Passing over the past on my way to the future

April 7, 2012

Passover Seder. Miami, Florida (circa 1980). The author is the young girl on the right.

The older Cora gets, the more thought I am putting into how I will raise her to have a strong sense of Jewish identity.  Living in Central Ohio presents certain challenges to this goal that my parents didn’t face while raising me, my brother, and my sister in New York.  Being the parent of a new child and contemplating how one will pass on their traditions is hard enough to do; doing this in a new land, somewhere other than where one grew up oneself, is an even greater challenge.  During the major holidays, especially those like Chanukah and Passover which coincide with Christian holidays that dominate the cultural landscape of the Midwest, I feel what it means to be a stranger in a strange land.

My mother came from a BIG family – her mother was one of four children, her father one of ten.  So, as the photo above illustrates, when I was a kid, we had BIG seders.  Everyone new all the songs and we sang late into the night.  My great-grandpa Victor nestled into his perch at the head of the table and didn’t leave until we had sung “L’Shanah H’Baah B’Yirushaliym.”  (This made finding the afikomen easy; it was always buried in the pillows beside him.)  I was pleased to have Cora attend the Interfaith Seder at OWU with me last year, so she knows what a BIG seder is like too.

For the past four years, I have been in Ohio for Passover so I could help host the seder at OWU on the second night of the holiday. On the first night, I have hosted seders at my home.  My husband, step-children, and friends have gathered around the table with me.  We read from a Hagaddah I made that is humanistic in nature and makes connections to events and figures we can all associate with the Passover story.  I have been proud of these seders and enjoyed sharing my traditions with everyone, but  I wonder what kind of Jew Cora will grow up to be if she doesn’t grow up with more Jews around our table.

The seder at OWU is also an Interfaith affair.  I have enjoyed this event and came to believe, as I will tell those in attendance tonight: “Being here is now a part of my holiday tradition.  There were traditions established before I got here that I look forward to and others I have helped begin.  Tonight we will add something new to the mix and I hope you’ll share your traditions and hopes for this seder with me and members of Hillel over the course of the evening.  That way, with each year that passes by, this seder will feel more and more like home.”  Even as I speak these words, part of me will miss my family and long to sit around the table with them again to recall the Passover story and eat matzoh ball soup.


Passover Round-Up

April 2, 2012

From The Brick Testament: Exodus (

As I prepare for seders at home and with all of you this weekend, I came across some fun resources to help us all find ways to get into the spirit of holiday.

Seder: The Movie – The story of how one woman’s family tradition, in which the children tell the story of the Exodus, has evolved over the years and now involves her children writing, directing, and staring in their own film version.

The Brick Testament’s Exodus – The story of the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt formatted for Lego lovers of all ages.

Innovative Seder Ideas – Some more innovative than others…

Matzoh Brei with a Twist – If Passover leaves you craving a bagel and lox, this recipe is for you!

Chametz Hunting – A way to making the hunt more meaningful.

A Vegetarian Pesach

April 19, 2011

Since high school, I have observed some form of vegetarian diet.  At times I was super strict – “No thanks.  I can’t eat that veggie burger because you cooked it on the same grill as your beef burger.”  At other times, I was more flexible – “Miss another year of Grandma Sarah’s infamous chicken soup with matzoh balls?  No thanks.  I think the earth and animals can forgive me just one bowl…”

Passover presents a special challenge to those of us who count grams of protein rather than calories.  Aside from passing over matzoh ball soup in chicken broth, Ashkenazi Jews – those of us who descend from families from Eastern Europe – are expected to pass on legumes as well.  This means no soy (think tofu, soy milk, tempeh), no chick peas, and no lentils.  These are staples of many vegetarian diets.

I found the following recommendation for getting protein during the holiday on a discussion board about vegetarian Pesach meal planning:
“Remember that you want to get protein into your diet, not necessarily into the main course. Cheesecake or a rich chocolate torte (the kind where the recipe begins: separate a dozen eggs) can follow a vegetable main course.”
Cheesecake for dinner?  That doesn’t sound so bad, but it doesn’t sound too healthy either.  Part of the reason I eat a primarily vegetarian diet is to show respect for the body I have been loaned to live in.  Not to mention, what does this offer a vegan??

The Ashkenazi Rabbis expanded the prohibition of eating leavened bread to any food that expands or ferments and any food that might be ground into flour and confused for wheat, rye, barley, spelt, or oats.  As with the inclusion of chicken on the list of meats that should not be eaten with dairy products, they wanted to avoid confusion.  Nevermind that a chicken could never be boiled in its mother’s milk…  They made an exception for potatoes because these were a staple of the Eastern European diet.

Elsewhere, in Spain, Italy, and the Middle East, for example, the Rabbis allowed rice for the same reason.  Vegetarian Jews from these areas, Sephardim, can also enjoy all the legumes they can bear to eat.  My grandfather used to say that his family was expelled from Spain during the inquisition – usually as an explanation for my mother and her brother’s dark skin.  We never heard much more about it, and in all ways my grandpa enacted the role of an Ashkenazi.  But at Passover, I embrace this bit of family history and allow myself a few legumes along with my bowl of matzoh bowl soup made following Grandma Sarah’s recipe.

Beyond the basics – no pork, no milk and meat, no shellfish – a lot of Jewish dietary laws are about traditions of interpretation.  I’m not a Rabbi.  I’m not trying to change the laws of Passover.  I am however devoted to treading lightly on this earth and maintaining my health – especially now that I am breastfeeding and essentially eating for two.  My traditions for Passover no longer mirror those I grew up with – strict Ashkenazi – they are my own.

A Haggadah for Every Table

April 12, 2011

Growing up, we spent Passover in one of two places.

At my Grandma Sylvia’s in North Miami Beach her father, my great-grandpa Victor, reigned over a seder table that stretched across three rooms.  While the youngest person recited the four questions according to tradition, it was Victor’s custom to have every person past bar or bat mitzvah sing the full kiddush (blessing over wine).  I can’t remember if we were allowed to sip from our glasses after each recitation or not until the end of the last person’s turn.  Either way, it made for a VERY long introduction to an already long service centered on the cover-to-cover reading of a traditional, rabbinically-published Haggadah.  Victor came to the U.S. from Poland and everything about the way he ran the seder, starting with his atonal Hebrew chanting, felt like “the old country.”

At my Grandma Sarah’s in Queens, we tended to have smaller gatherings.  My Grandpa Paul grew up in a more secular family and his seders reflected that.  There was more joking around as we plodded through the seder service to earn my Grandma Sarah’s legendary chicken broth with matzoh balls.  Paul was an engineer, a proponent of innovation.  He also loved to find a bargain.  His son, my uncle, was a Mad Man.   As such, it was perhaps no wonder that we used the Maxwell House Haggadah – free with a canister of coffee – when we were together.

Growing up, I was aware that the covers of the haggadot we used with my mom’s and dad’s families were different.  Afterall, I helped place them around the tables.  I knew that these seders had a different feel to them.  But I didn’t think much about how much those differences were reflected in those booklets.  Articles out this week about the history and revisions of the Maxwell House Haggadah have offered me space and time to ponder those differences.

Since its first printing as a marketing ploy in 1932, the Maxwell House Haggadah has remained relatively unchanged.  This year, one million copies of a new version, for a new generation, will hit seder tables across the globe.  This generation, my generation, tends to be less comfortable with the personification of God as King (though I’m not sure Monarch offers as much of a change as something like ruach or spirit might have) than our parents and grandparents.  We also prefer our role models to be gender neutral as in the case of the four children, previously the four sons.

I created my own Haggadah a few years ago.  I organized it to cover the requirements (explanation of exodus, matzah, and maror) and hit some traditional highnotes like the four questions, ten plaques, and eating Hillel sandwiches (matzah, charoset, and maror together).  I made it with particular attention to the fact that at my seders, I am often the only Jew.  I use the Passover seder as an opportunity to share my heritage and traditions with friends and my husband’s family, and I want them to feel like they are experiencing an authentic seder without feeling alienated by too much new language or concepts.  I ask them to stretch their minds a bit, but not too far all at once.  Then I feed them a delicious meal complete with my Grandma’s chicken soup that has now become legend in central Ohio.  (NPR aired a similar story, “Our Haggadah: A Guide for Interfaith Families,” this week).

What do you remember most about your family’s seders?  If you were creating your own Haggadah, what would you include?  What would you leave out?

Passover on the Web

March 28, 2010

I am behind in preparing my grandma Sarah Zelda’s Chicken/Matzoh Ball soup for my family seder Monday night and the Charoset for our OWU Seder on Tuesday, so I’m going to have to refrain from writing something original.  Instead, I offer the following links to what others are saying about the Feast of Freedom this year.
Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday) and Bete’Avon! (Bon Appetite B’Ivrit – in Hebrew)

Next Year in the White House: A Seder Tradition (NYTimes – March 28, 2010)

Floaters of Sinkers? (Jewesses with Attitude, March 24, 2010)

Passover Viral Video Collection (Jewlicious – March 27, 2010)

Why Water and Booty Shaking Should Be Part of the Seder (Yo Yenta – March 25, 2010)