Passover at Our House

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.

Haggadah

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.

Seder Plate

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.

Matzah Cover

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.

Afikomen Bag

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.

 

Afikomen pouches

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.

PicMonkey Collage

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)
  • kugel
  • 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.    

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for this fascinating peek into your family’s traditions, Abby. My experience with Judaism is limited to the semester I taught at a Jewish women’s college, but it seems like such a beautiful religion, I love learning more about it.

  2. Terrill says

    Sounds like a great evening! I miss the sit-down, formal Passovers I grew up with. This year, the girls will attend a seder with Ben’s mom at her temple in Wellesley.

  3. says

    Beautiful, thank you for sharing this. I always think of you an your family during the Jewish holy days, and it is nice to have this little peak.
    I have always loved Holy Week and all of the special traditions of the Catholic Church, but there really isn’t any universally traditional family things that are expected outside of the church services, fasting and prayer. I guess my young family is still figuring that part out, the traditions will come with time,

  4. says

    I’m glad you enjoyed this post, Casey. I will admit that I was a bit hesitant to write a post that dealt with religious practices. I’m glad you found it to be interesting.

  5. says

    Thank you for thinking of us, Jodi. It’s surprising what little things we do as parents end up feeling like traditions to our kids. Wishing your family a wonderful holiday.

  6. says

    I was amazed at how many different Haggadahs there are when I took a class at our shul years ago. One of these days I’d love to make a few quilts to illustrate my husband’s favorite one from when he was a child. I think it was a free one that one of the supermarkets handed out ages ago. :-)
    I applaud your culinary prowess. One year my MIL and I spent a few days making albondegas soup which is a Sephardic recipe for very tiny, tightly made matzah balls. We served it in hot chicken broth with ground walnuts. Yum yum! Most years we keep it simple for Pesach but I do fix us matzah brie most mornings. Chag sameach!

  7. says

    Hi Abby,
    How funny that haggadah in the first photo must be the most popular haggadah in the world…So many people I know have the same one and we have about 10. We collect different haggadot too but ours are in different languages…my mum reads her part at the seder in German, my daughter learnt spanish so she’ll read in spanish, my son who lives in Hong Kong reads in Mandarin and we’ve got a French version too!
    It’s interesting to see the different family traditions that develop over the years we’re vegetarian so we decided not to have a real shank bone and my daughter has been making shank bones for the last 15 years and it’s interesting to see how they have developed over the years. I love the idea of the afikomen bag and the ones you’ve made are beautiful and it’s nice that all the kids have their own special bag.
    Chag Sameach!

  8. says

    Abby, your afikomen bags are beautiful! I was going to make one this year (we hide it for my FIL to find) but ran out of time. I did, however, make a new matzoh cover to replace the one I had made super quickly (and with poor material choices) several years before after discovering my inlaws just used paper napkins.

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