Tonight is the first night of Passover, one of my favorite Jewish holidays. I thought I'd tell you about what we'll be doing tonight: how we'll conduct the Seder, what we'll eat, and something special I sewed for the occasion.
A Passover Seder is all about asking questions. In fact, Judaism in general is about questioning. Nothing is taken at face value and critical thinking is fundamental to Jewish learning. Asking big questions is one of my key interests in life so I fit right in.
When we sit down to the Seder tonight there will be three Haggadahs at each seat (the Haggadah is the book of ritual and storytelling that guides us through the Seder). Why have more than one?
No one Haggadah is perfect. Each one has it's own perspective on the story of the Exodus from Egypt, from a very traditional telling to a modern, feminist one, you could collect hundreds of Haggadahs and each one would bring something new.
We read parts from two and each year we create a course pack of articles and passages pulled from various places and collected over many years. It's a child's job to draw the cover of the course pack each year.
Our Seder is full of discussion. Everyone has parts to read or sing, in Hebrew or English, depending on their ability and interests, and then there's time to talk about the ideas presented. It's structured, while also being open-ended.
The ritual foods go on the Seder plate in the center of the table. We got this one as a wedding gift. There's space for six symbolic foods: a roasted egg, a lamb bone, horseradish root, parsley, romaine lettuce, and something called charoset which is a sort of chutney made from apples, nuts, cinnamon, and red wine and is meant to look like mortar.
We have three pieces of matzah on the table tucked inside a matzah cover (this one was also a wedding gift). There's a part in the Seder where we break the middle matzah in half. We take one half and hide it for the children to find. It's called the afikomen, which means dessert, and when they find it they get a prize (don't worry, we also serve sweet dessert!).
When I was a kid my grandfather, Sidney, (for whom our middle daughter Stella is named) would wrap the afikomen in a napkin and slide it under the tablecloth. It inevitably got crushed under there and it was a pretty obvious hiding place.
At our house we take afikomen hiding to a new level. We're very stealth, but up until now we were also wrapping it in a napkin.
This year I sewed a special bag for the afikomen. A colleague of Charlie's gave me a piece of a beautiful Hebrew-print textile several years ago because she doesn't sew and didn't know what to do with it. Isn't it cool! I made this pouch the perfect size to hold half a sheet of matzah. It's lined it with linen.
Actually, I made four (one for each of our daughters and one for my new niece who will be at the Seder this year). We cheat bit and hide one afikomen for each kid so that everyone gets a prize.
There's a Jewish idea of hiddur mitzvah which is about using beautiful things that enrich your life experiences. I love this idea and I think these new afikomen pouches fit the bill.
And finally, the most important part of all – the meal. Here's what I'm making:
- gefilte fish on a green salad (the images above were taken a few years ago when a Boston Herald reporter came to my house to do an article about people who make their own gefilte fish)
- matzoh ball soup (I make the matzah balls, Charlie makes the soup)
- charoset and grated horseradish root
- hard boiled eggs
- brisket (our recipe is from my grandmother, but it's similar to this one from Smitten Kitchen)
- raw brussel sprout slaw
- chocolate dipped macaroons (the recipe is from Molly Wizenberg's wonderful book, A Homemade Life), lemon curd, sponge cake, and raspberries (I told you we had sweet dessert!)
To cook for passover you need to buy at least 3 dozen eggs. Probably you should get 4 dozen, though, so that you can make matzah brei for breakfast all 8 days. I love The New York Times Passover Cookbook for cooking during Passover other than on the Seder and use it quite a bit.
If you're going to be at a Seder tonight, chag sameach! And if not, I hope you'll make something special to use at your next celebration, whatever it may be.