Last night was officially the first night of Passover. For all of my Jewish friends, enjoy that dry, brittle matzah for the next 8 days. The first bite is oh-so-good, but after about 3 days of it (and no bread), we are ready for some rich, moist, chewy, fresh-baked bread.
I’m sure many readers have no idea what happens in a Passover Seder (the retelling of the story of Passover and the meal that goes with that retelling). So, here I am to share!
If you’ve seen The Prince of Egypt, then you know the story of Passover: The Jews are slaves in Egypt. Moses goes to Pharaoh to say, “Let my people go!” Pharaoh says, “No.” G-d sends 10 plagues to punish Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Finally, after the 10th plague (killing of the first born males), Pharaoh lets the Jews go. Then he changes his mind and sends soldiers after them. Through a miracle, Moses parts the Red Sea. The Jews go through the sea. Just as they reach the other side, the Egyptians are crossing the parted sea. Then the sea walls collapse, killing the Egyptian guards. The Jews are free, but have to wander the desert for 40 years (and the story goes on and on)… So, the big themes in the seder are the yearning for freedom, the thankfulness for G-d, and the remembrance of our forefathers being in slavery.
This year, Tim and I were already going to be in town for my
baby younger brother’s 18th birthday (even though I still think of him as being in 2nd grade), and my mom didn’t want us to have to drive back to Charlottesville tonight for the real first night of Passover. So, she did what we reform Jews love to do: improvise by starting Passover one night earlier. Does that technically mean we can still eat bread today, since it isn’t officially Pesach yet?
First comes all of the preparation of the food. My mom is a machine when it comes to preparing for the seder: matzah ball soup, charoset, chicken with matzah meal sprinkled on top, veggies, 5 boxes of matzah (did you know that it comes in high fiber also?), and all of the items for the seder plate. By the way, did all of these words make your head spin? Don’t worry, I’ll spell them out to you soon!
This year, since we were actually in town during the preparation time, I was able to make the charoset (my absolute favorite part of the seder). This is to symbolize the mortar that held the pyramids together.
The first thing is to get your apples. For our huge portion of charoset, we actually used a total of 4 Red Delicious apples. Nice and crunchy!
Then, keep slicing (or have your dad help and use his Muscle Man strength). Once they are finely chopped, put in the brown sugar and cinnamon. My mom went to the same chef school as I did. We don’t like to measure things out if we can help it. We like to add, taste, add, taste…
Then add the Manischewitz wine. For those of you that don’t know what this is, it’s a really sweet red wine. I mean, REALLY sweet.
And voila, there were have the charoset. Delicious! The best is to make a Hillel sandwich: matzah, charoset, and maror (horseradish). For someone that doesn’t like hot items, I really love the different textures and sweet and hot flavors of this “sandwich.” My mouth is watering right now just thinking of it!
Then comes the rest of the preparations. Setting the table and putting the Haggadas/songbooks out:
Finding the seder plate:
And prepping the rest of the food.
Once we start the seder, the entire thing lasts about 3 hours, including the meal itself. This is typically because we sing lots of songs (some more successfully than others), tell stories, laugh, joke, and enjoy each others’ company. Here are some highlights of the evening.
1. Dad hiding the afikomen (part of the matzah). I love his story that he tells every year about his seders when he was a kid, and his grandfather (my Poppy who passed away when I was a toddler) would hide one silver dollar for each child behind his back at the start of the seder. Throughout the evening, the kids would have to find a time to sneak away (under the table, around the back of the chairs) to steal their dollar. In our Seders, we have a special time when Dad will sneak off to hide it in another room. Then, Josh and I (yes, even as adults we get to participate in this) will run off and try tofind it later in the service. For some reason, Tim doesn’t push and shove to try to find it. This year, Dad hung the afikomen off the chandelier (on Josh’s side of the table… no fair!), and then went to hide it in the music room.
3. The songs. Josh (our resident musician) plays music throughout the whole seder on his guitar. When we get to a song, he will accompany us. During one of the spoken prayers (when it was his turn to read), he actually sang it as a Gregorian chant. We were in a fit of giggles over a Catholic theme to our Jewish evening.
4. During the portion where we talk about a story of four sons asking questions to their father about the seder. One of the sons was “simple,” and so that none of the “kids” had to be deemed as unintelligent, my dad acted the part. For about 5 minutes, he played the part perfectly. Let’s just say that what should have been 4 words continued on and on and on until we had tears streaming down our faces because of my dad’s acting skills.
5. The plagues. As we tell about the 10 plagues that G-d sent down to the Egyptians, we have cute little stuffed items that represent each of them. They are pretty adorable for something that is supposed to be so gross.
6. Mom’s matzah ball soup. Although technically I’m allergic to eggs, and matzah balls have lots of eggs in them, I had to eat them nonetheless. They are my most favorite of all the different Jewish foods.
7. Being together with family. We had our seder the day after my brother’s 18th birthday and the day that should have been my grandfather (and his twin Marshall)’s 88th birthday. While it should have been unbearable to deal with these two amazing men, there was something so wonderful about being together with our family, laughing, enjoying the beautiful snow, and celebrating the joys in our lives instead of the sorrows.
One final note: I am usually very obsessive when it comes to spelling, but you may notice that I went back and forth with the spellings of some of these words. This is because when we go from Hebrew to English, there are different possibilities to spell the words. You may see matzah as matza, matzah, matzo, matzoh, and many other ways. This is simply in the translation that we have these changes. There is really only one way to pronounce it, however.