Friday, March 27, 2009

This Is How We Do It - Matzah Style

The great and powerful Kym asked me to elaborate on how my family and John Dear's family celebrate Pesach (Passover), and me, I'm a giver, so here's a rundown.

Note: The following addresses how we celebrate Pesach in our own way. Please don't let me know that we're doing things incorrectly or not in accordance with halachah (the rules).

The Story
As I learned in Hebrew School, Pesach is the Jewish celebration that commemorates our time as slaves in Egypt and that, after the ten plagues, the Jews escaped from bondage into the desert and, eventually, into Israel. The holiday is called "Passover" because the Angel of Death passed over the homes of the Jews (whose doorways had been marked with lamb's blood) during the last plague (the Killing of the First-Born).

We eat matzah during Pesach to remember that, when the Jews escaped Egypt, they did not have time to allow their bread dough to rise and so, packed the dough on their backs to back in the hot, desert sun. The dough baked into flat crackers, so now we have matzah.

No Chametz
During the eight days of Pesach, those who observe do not eat or drink anything that contains chametz (From Chabad: Any food that's made of grain and water that has been allowed to ferment and "rise." Any food that contains grain or grain derivatives can be, and often is, chametz. ) In fact, we clean our homes so that no trace of chametz is present (or seal cabinets with chametz in it so that we can't get into it during Pesach). This observance can (and in my house does) even extend to using different dishes, silverware, kitchen utensils, pots and pans, and glasses. We also use tablecloths so that our plates and food are not touching tables that might have absorbed or been touched by chametz, and cover counters and refrigerator shelves for the same reason.

My family is less observant and when we were growing up, our matzah-eating was confined to the Seder (the ritual dinner celebrating Pesach). Now that we are older, my siblings and I are more observant and keep to the no-chametz rule (though I'm probably the most observant of the three of us).

Generally speaking, JD's family is more observant during holidays than mine is, so when we married, and because my faith motivated me to do so, I became more observant.

The Seders
The first two nights of Pesach (and I think the last one, but we never observed it) we have seders (ritual dinners). At the seder, we read from a booklet called a haggadah that guides us through the prayers and the retelling of our time as slaves in Egypt and the escape from bondage. JD's family uses a traditional haggadah, while my family uses a compilation of a traditional haggadah and a nursery school haggadah that my mom put together.

In addition to matzah, there are several other traditional Pesach foods. We eat gefilte fish, (several kinds of fish mashed up and formed into fish meatballs), with matzah and horseradish. We also have chicken soup with matzah balls. My family traditionally has brisket and potato kugel (potato pudding) as well.

On the table, as the centerpiece, will be the seder plate. This is generally a large platter with places for the symbols of Passover:

1. Salt Water (symbolizing the tears of the slaves);
2. Parsley or other leafy green (another vegetable can be used - JD's family uses canned potatoes; which we eat dipped in the salt water);
3. Hard-Boiled or Roasted Egg (a symbol of the life cycle);
4. Roasted Lamb Shank (represents the sacrifice of the lamb at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem);
5. Bitter Herbs (commonly horseradish, a reminder of the bitterness of slavery);
6. Charoset (pronounced ha-row (like a boat)-set; a mixture of diced apple, nuts, raisins and honey that symbolizes the mortar mixed to build the pyramids).

We also have a cup of wine on the table for the Prophet Elijah who is supposed to visit every seder and drink from his cup.

For me, the highlight of our family seders is the talking, joking, singing and laughing that goes on throughout the meal. Oh, and the food, let's not forget that. :)


Anonymous said...

Dude- AWESOME breakdown! thanks!

VA Blondie said...

Thank you for sharing! It was an excellent explanation.

Jill said...

Thanks for sharing! the Jewish culture fascinates me... I love learning about it :)

Jen said...

Very interesting. Busy night for Elijah. :)

~Jess said...

Great post! The Jewish faith fascinates me.

Jo said...

Thanks so much for the breakdown. Your last post had me wondering so much that I actually googled Pesach -- although the explanations I found were not as *clear* as yours.

Hoping all your prep goes smoothly and you and JD truly enjoy your holiday.


Anonymous said...

Super interesting - thanks for sharing.

And the food? That is always WAY important at any gathering in my mind ;)


Lorza said...

I love the run down on your family traditions. I have read several books that talk about it- but they speak as if the reader already knows! I am going to have to bookmark this as a referal to myself. I enjoy learning other cultures and ways of life. I need to post one day on my time on the Apache Indian Reservation. That was fun!

Io said...

I love going to seder. Although I will always remember the first one I went to, where I took a HUGE bite of horseradish and almost died of shock. I hadn't realized how powerful it was!

Me said...

Charoset sounds really good to me.

(My husband's family is Polish Catholic and they're into hard boiled eggs for Easter. I've never really known why but I bet they choose that particular food is for a similar reason to the Jews. Learn something new every day.