“Why is this night different than all others?”First of The Four Questions
Every spring (April 5th this year), Jews around the world observe Passover, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the Exodus from enslavement in ancient Egypt. There are many timeless Passover traditions that are shared by Jews everywhere, but the food served at this holiday varies by region.
The reason for these different foods is the majority of Jews (80%), called Askenase (Hebrew for “Germany”), initially settled in Eastern Europe and Germany. The Sephardic (Hebrew for “Spain”) Jews were exiled from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition of the late 15th century to northern Africa and parts of the Mediterranean. The dietary rules for Passover and in general of the Ashkenazi Jews are very rule bound, especially when eating Kosher and “Kitniyot” (no grains and seeds, rice, corn, and peas). Sephardic Jews have no such restrictions and as a result, their Passover Seders reflect the exciting cuisines of their home countries. In addition to some of the more interesting Passover customs shown below, three different Passover Seder menus are offered here. You can experience these tasty recipes at home for the holiday, Jewish or not.
Matzoh (Mott-zuh)- Matzoh is one of the most iconic elements of Passover. During the Exodus from Egypt, the Jews fled so quickly that there was no time to waste waiting for bread to rise Instead, they ate unleavened matzah in their desperate escape from slavery. Jews eat matzoh in honor of their ancestors, and to celebrate their freedom. This special unleavened bread is kept on a separate matzah tray.
Finding the Afikomen – At the start of the seder, three pieces of matoh are piled next to the seder plate. The middle piece is removed and broken in two. The larger piece, called the afikomen, and is meant for desert after the seder. It is wrapped in a cloth and hidden in the house as a game for the children to find.
Elijah – An extra wine glass is set on the table as an offering to the prophet Elijah, whose spirit visits homes on Passover. At the end of the Seder, it is customary to pour wine into Elijah’s glass and open the front door so his spirit can visit the home.
Cleaning the House – Before Passover begins, it is customary to clean the house. The idea is to go into the holiday with a clean slate to ensure a successful Passover.
Telling the Passover Story – The Jewish people, led by Moses, asked the Pharaoh to free the Jewish slaves, and were denied. As punishment against Egypt, God sent ten plagues to convince the Pharaoh to release the Jews (Blood, Frogs, Lice, Flies, Pestilence, Boils, Hail, Locusts, Darkness, and Killing of the firstborn). The pharaoh repeatedly refuses Moses’ pleas to “let my people go”. With each denial, God unleashes a different plague on the Egyptian people. As a result, God sent the last plague, which would kill the firstborn male in each household.
The Jews were instructed to mark their doors with the blood of a sacrificed lamb so that the Angel of Death would pass over their homes. With this last plague, the Pharaoh finally relented, and the Jews were free to began their exodus from Egypt. The holiday of Passover commemorates these events.
Recognizing Persecution Today – The Jewish people have a long history of being persecuted. Passover is seen as a holiday to not only reflect on that persecution, but to recognize the oppression of people everywhere.
Hosting a Seder – The Seder is the foundation of Passover. Jewish people around the world gather on Passover to have a Seder. A typical Seder is comprised of a dinner as well as reading through the Haggadah (Passover prayer book), which includes the story of Passover and various prayers to recite during the Seder. In addition to a multicourse meal, it includes acknowledging each of the plagues set upon the Egyptians. The Passover Seder Plate is the centerpiece of the Passover meal. The symbolic foods placed on the plate are integral to the telling of the Passover story. .
Passover Seder Plate
The different foods on the Passover Seder plate each serves the purpose of retelling the story of Exodus. The symbolic foods of the Seder Plate come together to create an atmosphere which reflects upon, sympathizes, and celebrates the tragedy and triumphs of the Jewish ancestors and their Exodus from Egypt.
|Name||Symbol||Represents||What To Use|
|Zeroa||The Shank Bone||Pesach or Passover sacrifice: Jews leaving homes in Egypt||Roasted chicken neck, leg bone, or lamb shank bone|
|Beitza||The Egg||Representative of mourning and tears from being unable to to stop the destruction of the Temple. It also celebrates Spring, renewal, and rejuvenation.||Hard boiled eggs or haminados (eggs cooked over low-low heat for 5 -6 hours with water, onion skins, coffee grounds, tea leaves, and a splash of oil and vinegar).|
|Maror||The Bitter Herbs||Reminder of the bitter slavery and exile in Egypt||Grated horseradish wrapped in lettuce leaf|
|Chazeret||The Lettuce||The bitter enslavement of ancestors||A romaine lettuce leave|
|Charoset||The Paste||Symbolic of the mortar used when being forced to build Egyptian storehouses.||The are many variations based on finely crushed fruit, dried and fresh, red wine, and nuts. (See MHT’S Charoset recipe below).|
|Karpas||The Vegetable||Alludes to the backbreaking labor forced on ancestors||Parsley which is dipped in salt water and eaten.|
|The Salt Water||The tears shed by ancestors enslaved for so long||1 tbsp salt in 1 cup water for dipping vegetable and egg in before eating|
Passover Seder Menus
Below are three separate Passover Seder menus: Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and a “best-of” (in MHT’s opinion) combination of the two.
|Chopped Chicken Liver||Syrian Muhammara||Chopped Chicken Liver Spread|
|Gefilte Fish||Israeli Chopped Salad||Israeli Chopped Salad|
|Matzoh Ball Soup||Fava Bean Soup||Matzoh Ball Soup|
|Braised Brisket with Fruit||Moroccan Chicken with Olives||Chicken with Olives, Garlic and Lemon|
|Sweet Potato & Carrot Tzimmes||Spanish Spinach with Raisins & Pine nuts||Spinach with Raisins & Pine Nuts|
|Potato Kugel||Persian Rice||Persian Rice|
|Ashkenazi Apple Charoset||Turkish Date Charoset||Turkish Date Charoset|
|Chocolate Macaroons||Turkish Tishpishti (Walnut Cake)||Chocolate Macaroons|