Opinion: Liberation


It’s fashionable to look at Passover as a universal idea. This makes sense; after all, how much more universal can you get than the theme of human freedom? Also, it’s a lot easier these days to be outer-directed and feel outrage at injustice. Thanks to the Internet, millions can now watch YouTube clips of people being oppressed in the Sudan or demonstrating in the Middle East.

So, when Passover arrives, it’s not surprising that many of us would associate this powerful Jewish holiday with tikkun olam — with the global struggle for justice and freedom.

But there’s another dimension to freedom that has little to do with what’s happening in Africa and everything to do with what’s happening inside each one of us. This is a deeply personal and intimate view of freedom, and Passover is an ideal time to try to connect with it.

I got an unexpected lesson on this subject the other day when I asked my friend Rabbi Yoel Glick, a teacher of “spiritual wisdom” who was visiting from his home in the south of France, to share some thoughts on Passover.

“Our personal journey of freedom is reflected in the four names we use for the festival of Pesach,” Glick told me over coffee. “Each name represents a different step in this journey.”

In other words, each step is like a “mini seder” that we must experience before moving on to the next step. As Glick went on, I thought: “This is so Jewish. As soon as you think you’ve accomplished something, a little voice tells you: ‘Don’t get too excited — you’re not done yet.’ ”

The first name for Pesach — Chag HaHerut (the festival of freedom) — represents the first, basic step of our liberation, when we are released from physical bondage. It’s not a coincidence that one of the seder rituals at this stage is to break off a small piece of matzah (yachatz) and put away the larger one. This is a sign, according to Glick, that there’s still a lot more work to be done.

What is that work? It is to realize that the freedom to do anything is not the same thing as the freedom to do the right thing.

This is the second level of freedom, as symbolized by the second name of the holiday — Chag HaPesach (the festival of Passover) — which features, among other things, the sacrifice of the Pascal lamb.

Here, we are called upon to sacrifice our animal natures for the sake of our higher selves. Just as Moses sacrificed the material benefits of being a prince for the spiritual benefits of doing God’s work, we are challenged to rise above our animal desires — such as unbridled hedonism — and use our newfound freedom for a higher purpose.

By now, you’re probably thinking: “Hey, this is a pretty high level. What else can God want from us?” Well, like I said, with Judaism there’s always something.

As Glick explained it, once we have managed to discipline our animal bodies and to make the right choices, we slowly realize there is yet another bondage that has a hold on us — the bondage of the mind.

We are enslaved to prejudice, dogma and ideology.

So, the third step in our journey to personal liberation, which is symbolized by the third name of Pesach — Chag HaMatzot (the festival of unleavened bread) — is to free ourselves from dogmatic thinking.

That’s why this step is symbolized by the matzah, the flat bread that is made without yeast and is not allowed to rise. Yeast represents the ego, and the unleavened matzah represents the freedom of an open and expansive mind.

But hold on, we’re not out of the woods yet. There’s still the fourth name for Pesach — Chag HaAviv, the festival of spring — which ushers in the final level of personal liberation.

This final step is when we are liberated from our most fundamental fears, such as the fear of old age, sickness and death.

Glick calls it “joining the mind of God,” which represents the eternal and the timeless. We no longer fear the end because, at this level of spiritual consciousness, there is no end, only constant renewal. As we recite the final psalms of Hallel, we are reminded that there’s also no end to God’s love, and we experience a state of “never- ending spring” when every living thing is part of one single great consciousness.

Now, if you’re wondering how you can experience all this spirituality while the wine is flowing, the kids are yelling and the guests are arguing over whether Obama is good for the Jews, here’s some good news: After the seder, you still have 49 days to go. According to the kabbalah, we are to use the 49 days between Passover and the festival of Shavuot — the days of the counting of the Omer — to reach higher and higher levels of spiritual perfection.

And for those of us who preach tikkun olam, I have no doubt that this spiritual process includes the obligation to help with the liberation of others.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being Jewish, it’s that no matter how spiritually elevated we get or how many good deeds we’ve done or how much we’ve learned or how many people we’ve helped … we’re never done.

And that’s a pretty universal idea.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

The Aftermath


“Are you sure we won’t scare him off?” my aunt asked when I called to formally ask whether my boyfriend could come to our crazy seder.

That question echoed through my head as I introduced him to the gaggle of cousins and family members who greeted us at the door. Most of them had read my previous column for this page, in which I deliberated whether bringing him would be a good idea. I could read their thoughts, “Wow, he actually came!” While I’m sure some others were thinking, “Brave soul.” I could see the question, “Who is he?” in the eyes of some of my younger cousins, but all I did was introduce and smile. Once the initial surge was over, we pushed our way into the living room, which had become a makeshift dining room for oodles of family members. I could sense the engineering talent that it took to transform the space, as all 42 of us — family members, friends and guests — took our seats.

I had prepped my boyfriend for what he was going to encounter. From a Hebrew 101 lesson the night before, to a quick 1-2-3 seder crash course in the car ride over. With my sister as my partner-in-crime, we introduced the flight to Japan (yeah, don’t ask), our Mr. Potato Head chant (really not sure where that one came from), our sandpaper-clapping-won’t-stop-until-everyone-does-it L’Shana Haba’a routine and a lesson about the correct pronunciation of “Dayenu.”

The night began and as we sat around with sparkly crowns on our heads, since we are supposed to feel like royalty (great addition by the way, Leora!), I kept stealing glances at my guy. He did have a slight deer-in-headlights look, especially after we had heard the “Mah Nishtana” in Hebrew, Aramaic, Russian, French, Yiddish and Klingon. OK, kidding about the last one, but it’s close enough. But the look quickly faded into a silly grin, especially once the frogs started flying.

Frogs here, frogs there, frogs were flying everywhere!

It was about that time that I realized I had forgotten to warn him about the other plagues. He was definitely surprised once the “hail” — pingpong balls — were launched. One whizzed by and landed in front of us. I looked over and was met with a smile, so with a playful glint in my eye I tossed my pingpong ball…errr… hail backward over my head and turned around just in time to see it land perfectly in my cousin’s cup. Of course I asked if in true pseudo-Purim carnival fashion I had won a goldfish for my marvelous abilities — I’m still waiting for the answer. He definitely took it in stride when handfuls of “lice” (slimy glow-in-the-dark insects) were tossed around and landed inside more than one person’s crown, and he grabbed at the chance to don a zebra mask in tribute to the disease of the livestock.

Dinner came into fruition around 11 p.m. (so early!) and we all ate, talked and enjoyed ourselves. The night was going famously, and I hoped it would last through the third and fourth cups of wine, when the kids start falling asleep, and the adults become even more boisterous — if that’s possible.

As the night continued we pounded the tables, spilled many cups of wine, and turned the floor into an indefinable mish-mash combining plastic frogs, pieces of matzah, pillows that had slipped off chairs and a young child or two who had crawled beneath the tables to snooze.

I know for a fact that my boyfriend thought we were nuts as we “ooh-ah-ahhed” our way through the second-to-last song. But he didn’t just stare at me with concern in his eyes, he didn’t look at me like I was an escapee of the Hagaddah House of Horrors, he joined in. Perhaps he was a bit shy at first, but as he looked around and saw that we were all doing it, that we were all participating in these crazy traditions, he gained an inner confidence and began to mimic our movements. He adopted our mishegoss for a night, our sounds effects for “Chad Gad Ya,” meowing, bamming and “watering” along with the rest of us.

Was he tired after his first marathon seder? You bet. Was he amazed that it was past 2 a.m. when we finished? I know I was. Was he wishing he didn’t have to wake up at 7 a.m. to go to work the next day? I have no doubt. But he did it all with an open mind and a smile on his face, which is all I could have ever wanted, or asked for.

And yes, he even called me the next day. Did we scare him off? Nope — or should I say, not yet? I wonder when I should start prepping him for cousins’ camp “beach days”…. Hmmm. I think I’ll give him some more time.

Caroline Cobrin is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She can be reached at Carolinecolumns@hotmail.com

Food for Thought


Vica is tall, blonde and Jewish. She is my interpreter.

It’s February 2005 and I am in Vilna, Lithuania, at the Baltics Limmud Conference. I am here as part of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ strategic partnership with the Baltics communities to teach subjects as varied as “Judiasm & Sexuality,” “Conservative Judaism” and “The Meaning of Mitzvah” to a Jewish community whose knowledge of the Jewish tradition was decimated by 50 years of Soviet oppression.

Vica translates what I teach into Russian, the lingua franca of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, a remnant from the Soviet era. She is active in the burgeoning Jewish community in Vilna, and comes to Limmud to work as a translator and to participate in learning. Yet she dates a non-Jewish Lithuanian because there are so few Jewish men her age.

When I ask about her Jewish upbringing, she says she didn’t really have any.

“My mother is Jewish and my father is not,” she says. “My mother had forgotten most everything from her childhood and she was not allowed to practice or learn anything, so by the time I arrived she really didn’t know what to teach me. But once we went to shul on Passover, and I do remember the matzahs from the shul. I don’t remember what they were for, but I remember eating matzah once in shul.”

Vica remembers eating matzah. Don’t underestimate the importance of the taste buds. Jews are a smart people. We value good grades and we love a good debate. But at the beginning of all good Jewish learning, there is food.

In traditional communities, the Alef Bet is still taught by feeding Jewish children Hebrew letters covered in honey so they associate sweetness with Torah. After Moses and the leaders of the Jewish people affirm their covenant with God at Mount Sinai and have a dramatic vision of God, they sit down to eat and drink (Exodus 24:12).

On Passover, when the central mitzvah of the seder is to teach our children the story of the Jewish people, we eat. We eat spring and call it parsley. We eat bitterness and call it maror. We eat bricks and call it charoset. We eat poverty and call it matzah.

We teach our children the words, but when our children are denied the story for 50 years, when a mother “has forgotten most everything from her childhood” and “doesn’t know what to teach,” when nothing else remains, matzah, like a stubborn daffodil blooming after a hard winter’s frost, is what Vica remembers.

Why does food work so well?

Scientists will tell you that the senses of smell and taste are most strongly associated with memory. I think eating resembles what learning the Passover story should be — we allow something from outside of ourselves to enter us; we “digest it” and change it (it is we who must tell the story so that our children can hear it) and it changes us and nourishes us and stays with us forever.

The Passover seder is among the most observed holidays in the Jewish world. When other ties with Jewish life have frayed, Passover remains. The food of Passover has much to do with this fact. Too often, Jews feel disempowered to teach their children, or themselves, the Jewish tradition because they feel they do not know enough. But on Passover, the haggadah teaches — “all who are hungry, come and eat.” Everyone can eat. Passover remains.

But Passover cannot be enough. Matzah cannot be enough. During the rest of the year, what do our homes taste like? Will our children remember the taste of Shabbat dinner on Friday night? Will they remember blintzes on Shavuot? Latkes on Chanukah? Honey and Hebrew letters? Will they remember the smell of cooking food to be delivered to a family who is mourning? What will remain beyond matzah?

Rabbi Daniel Greyber is the executive director of Camp Ramah in California and the Max & Pauline Zimmer Conference Center at the University of Judaism.

 

PASSOVER FOOD: Treats to Leaven Desire for Dessert


Passover desserts are a challenge to the cook because so many ingredients are forbidden, among them flour, grain, cornstarch, baking powder or baking soda. So we substitute matzah meal, potato starch and versatile fresh egg whites to bake all of those traditional favorites — and lots of new ones, too.

The good news is that it is not difficult — all of these carefully tested delicacies are fairly simple to prepare and will be a welcome addition to your seder dinner, as well as for family meals during Passover.

For all the chocolate lovers, the food processor Cocoa-Pecan Cookies will become a favorite. Just prepare the dough and have the children or grandchildren help by dropping them by the spoonful onto the baking sheets. The batter can be kept in the refrigerator and a fresh batch of cookies can be baked each day.

Something new for the holiday, use the charoset ingredients to make a Passover Fruit Cake filled with nuts and dried fruit that offers a tasty and a crunchy treat. It is similar to the Italian delicacy known as Panforte that originated in Sienna. The mixture is tossed together in a large bowl, spooned into parchment-lined baking pans, and baked for an hour and a half. The good news is that these loaves will easily keep for the eight days of the holiday.

During Passover last year we were invited to the home of Alice and Nahum Lainer, who love to entertain. Alice served a delicious Apricot Torte, and I persuaded her to share her recipe for this wonderful pastry. Because some Jewish households do not use matzah meal or cake meal, the combination of egg whites, apricot puree, spices and a topping of apricot jam make an ideal dessert. It is the perfect after-dinner pastry to serve your guests, accompanied by a glass of sweet wine or hot tea.

For another sweet treat, pass a plate of Rocky Road Clusters, everyone’s favorite. They are made with only three ingredients, chocolate, marshmallows and pecans. Simply melt the chocolate, add marshmallows and nuts, and fill small paper cups with the mixture. This is another great project to do with the children.

Bring a platter of the Cocoa Pecan Cookies or Rocky Road Clusters as an edible gift to share with friends and family at the Passover seder meal.

Alice’s Apricot Torte

1 1/2 cups blanched whole almonds, plus 1/4 cup sliced for garnish
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter or nondairy margarine for pan (one-quarter)
1 cup sugar, plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups diced dried apricots
Zest and juice of 1 small lemon
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
8 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup apricot jam
Passover powdered sugar (recipe follows, optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Place whole nuts in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and sliced nuts in a single layer on another baking sheet. Toast nuts until golden and aromatic, five to eight minutes. Shake the pans halfway through toasting to make sure nuts brown evenly. Set aside to cool.

Brush a 10-inch spring form pan with melted butter or margarine, sprinkle with sugar and tap out excess. Set aside.

Place 1/4 cup sugar, whole almonds and apricots in the bowl of a food processor; process until finely chopped, one to two minutes. Add lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and pulse to blend. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the sugar on high speed until light and fluffy. Transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites with salt and lemon juice until frothy. Slowly add 1/4 cup sugar, and continue whisking until peaks are stiff but not dry. Fold beaten whites into egg yolks. Add apricot and almond mixture, and fold in until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. If necessary, cover torte lightly with foil to avoid burning. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the torte, and release from pan. Allow to cool completely on wire rack.

Place apricot jam in a small saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and strain. Brush onto cooked torte. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and powdered sugar.

Makes one 10-inch torte.

Passover Powdered Sugar

1 tablespoon Passover potato starch
1 cup sugar

In the bowl of a food processor, combine potato starch and sugar. Process until very powdery and resembles powdered sugar, about two minutes. Let sugar settle for about one minute before removing processor cover.

Makes about 1 cup.

Passover Fruit Cake

2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
2 cups pitted dates, thinly sliced
2 cups dried apricots, quartered
1 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups toasted whole almonds
1 1/2 cups toasted walnuts pieces
3/4 cup coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate, optional
3/4 cup matzah cake meal
1 tablespoon potato starch
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla or orange juice

Heat the oven to 300 F. Brush one (5-by-9 inch) loaf pan or two (3-by-7 inch) loaf pans with melted unsalted butter or non-dairy margarine and line with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dates, apricots, raisins, almonds, walnuts and chocolate, if using. Combine the matzah cake meal, potato starch and sugar and mix well. Add to fruit mixture and mix evenly. Beat eggs and vanilla to blend. Using a rubber spatula or hands, stir into fruit mixture until well blended. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan and spread evenly, press into corners of pan.

Bake until golden brown, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes, then turn out of pan. Peel off paper and let cool on rack.

Wrap in plastic wrap and foil. Chill at least one day or up to two months. To serve, place cake on a wooden board, and using a sharp knife, cut in thin slices.

Cocoa-Pecan Cookies

1 1/2 cups toasted chopped pecans
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup matzah cake meal
1/4 cup potato starch
5 large egg whites
1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped semisweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Combine pecans, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, cocoa powder, matzah cake meal and potato starch in a food processor and pulse on and off until nuts are finely grated. Add 1/2 cup of egg whites and pulse to blend.

Transfer batter to a large bowl and stir in the nuts and chocolate. In a separate bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the remaining egg whites until soft peaks form, add the remaining sugar and beat until a stiff meringue forms. Using a rubber spatula, mix half of the meringue into the pecan/chocolate mixture and then fold in the remaining meringue.

Drop batter by well-rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets, leaving 1 inch between cookies.

Bake for eight minutes. Cookies should be dull, but very soft. If not dull, bake for one more minute. Transfer parchment to a rack to cool, before removing.

Makes about two- or three-dozen cookies.

Rocky Road Clusters

1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1 cup miniature marshmallows or large marshmallows cut in quarters
1/2 pound semisweet chocolate, melted

Place small paper candy cups on top of a large tray and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss pecans and marshmallows together. Add melted chocolate and mix well. Spoon chocolate mixture into the candy cups and refrigerate for several hours until firm. Store in refrigerator.

Makes about 24.

 

PASSOVER: Try to Avoid Asking the Fifth Question


While there are only four questions posed in the haggadah, most seders struggle with the unasked fifth question, “When are we going to eat?” It is asked, not only by hungry children, but also by adults who feel disconnected to the rituals of their ancestors. As if reenacting the hurried way in which the Israelites left Egypt with Pharaoh’s army bearing down upon them, families today rush through the seder. While they are supposed to be reenacting the Exodus through the rituals of the haggadah, instead, unbeknownst to them, they emphasize the hurried nature of the experience. Whether due to hunger or boredom, Jewish families are fast-forwarding to the food and neglecting the command to “see themselves as if they left Egypt.”

I remember my own childhood seders, when eating prior to the motzee (blessing) over the matzah was strictly forbidden. How could a 7-year-old sit for an hour or more in a seder that was largely done by rote and in Hebrew? I was able to remain focused only because I was mesmerized by my zayde (and slightly terrified by the glare he would give if any of his grandchildren got out of order). If I would dare reach for a carrot or any other food item on the table, an adult hand, like one of the Divine plagues unleashed against the Egyptians, would quickly respond with a light slap on my hand. My family did not know about the rabbinic rule stipulating that after reciting the blessing over the karpas (parsley or any green) at the beginning of the seder that any food grown from the ground may be eaten. With great wisdom the ancient rabbis created this rule in order to avoid the fifth question. Therefore, at our seders today we put carrots and celery on the table for people to eat after the parsley.

Once the question of hunger has been resolved, then the issue of boredom can be addressed. Abbreviating the haggadah is fine, if relevance is found in other ways. Ask your own questions, like “Why is it important to remember the Exodus?” and “When do we feel enslaved in our own lives?” as a means of making the seder relevant. Why are questions so important? Because they reflect interest and concern. We ask questions when we care about things. To make the seder relevant, we must ask our own questions and let the answers (there should be no singular answer) give us new meaning.

Reducing the need for the dreaded fifth question beforehand makes us more relaxed until it’s time for the bountiful food, family inside jokes and the rest of a warm and celebratory evening. The seder guests become sated, coffee is served, conversation is plentiful until the announcement, “It is time for the second half of the seder.” During my childhood seders, we never had to make the announcement, because at some point after the meal my uncle would walk a couple of steps over to the couch and take a nap. Some time later (I have no idea whether it was 15 minutes or an hour) when he would wake up, we all knew it was time for the second half of the seder.

Through classes and discussion groups I have discovered that many families do not complete the seder. “Is there really a second half to the seder?” I am asked. But how is this possible? Without the second half, there are only two cups of wine, no afikomen and no opening of the door for Elijah. Without the second half of the seder, there is no completion — there is no hope. So how can families fulfill these second-half rituals? Don’t serve dessert until the very end.

I want to preface this suggestion with an acknowledgement that it is contrary to the traditional Jewish law to eat dessert after partaking of the afikomen. But for families who do not usually complete the rituals of the seder, I would rather they embrace my suggestion. It has become clear to me that most seders fall apart over coffee and cake. Just as the national anthem indicates for many people the beginning of a ball game, dessert means that it is time to go home. With the coffee cup empty and only crumbs remaining on the dessert plate, people begin to think about the next day.

Excuses begin to be offered: “The children need to wake up for school tomorrow” (I would love for children to tell their parents that Passover should be a day off from school), “I have a busy day tomorrow.” Before the haggadot can be brought out again, coats are on, lips are puckered and another Exodus begins. Therefore, finish the meal, clean up some of the plates and then just as they are expecting dessert, bring out the haggadot again. Be gentle with them the first time — perhaps only 15 minutes. But you can do enough in 15 minutes; eat the afikomen, open the door and welcome Elijah, drink two more cups of wine and even sing a couple of songs at the end of the seder. Finally, bring out the coffee and dessert and enjoy the end of an evening that is no longer rushed. Who knows, perhaps they will enjoy the second half so much that, within a couple of years, dessert can be put back in its proper place.

One of my favorite rituals actually occurs during the second half of the seder. Unbeknownst to many Jews, the Cup of Elijah is supposed to remain empty until the fourth cup of wine (see your haggadah). Rather than just pouring wine from the bottle for the Cup of Elijah, it is our custom to pass the Cup of Elijah around the table and each participant pours some wine from their cup into Elijah’s. We open the door each year at Passover with the hope the Elijah will come to announce the coming of a messianic era, a time when wars will cease, hunger will be nonexistent and peace will reign. But we are partners with God in creating this perfect world. So this year, pass around the Cup of Elijah, ask each person to pour a little bit from their cup and as they do, to think about how they will help to bring about the messianic era. What acts of kindness will they perform, how will they save the environment and in what ways will they contribute to the betterment of humanity? How do we acknowledge and thank God for the blessings of life? By engaging in tikkun olam — the perfecting of His world. The full Cup of Elijah represents the Divine-human partnership and serves as a reminder of what ultimately the Exodus should mean to us.

What should be the goal of your Passover seder this year? Make it more meaningful than last year. Ask more questions to show that you care. Challenge more people to reflect on the lessons of the Exodus. Help expedite the coming of Elijah. When your seder is more than just a rushed meal you can truly feel as if you were redeemed from Egypt.

Rabbi Stewart L. Vogel is spiritual leader of Temple Aliyah.

 

How to make a seder child’s play


For parents of squirmy kids, a Passover seder can seem longer than the 40 years our ancestors spent wandering through the desert. Fortunately, all it takes is a little forethought and creativity to keep the younger set from getting as jumpy as the frogs in Pharaoh’s bed at the big event. The following suggestions should help you plan a family-friendly Seder that promises to hold the attention of all kinds of kids — wise, wicked, simple and those just plain unable to ask.

Set the Stage
You’ll immediately pull children into the exodus experience by adding scenery to the seder. Drape sheets across the ceiling to give the table a tent-like feel, or pitch a freestanding Bedouin abode in the corner. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, ask guests to sport full Israelite attire. It’s amazing what can be done with some sheets, robes, pillowcases and towels.

Not Quite Ready for Primetime Seders
Set an early seder start time, thus keeping the evil Pharaohs lurking within your kids at bay a bit longer.

It’s in the Bag
Hand out goodie bags at the door to your most wiggly guests. Include Passover stickers, mini-books and kosher-for-Passover candies.

Open a Mini-Matzah Factory
Dig up a matzah recipe on the Internet and let kids have a go at baking the afikomen. The dry crumbly results may not be Manischevitz material, but they’ll leave your pint-sized bakers feeling more a part of Passover, and the extra dough can keep little hands occupied during the seder.

Serve Up Some Plagues
Scatter plastic frogs, beasts and insects (locusts) and other plague-related knick-knacks around the table.

Recline in Style
Help kids use fabric paint to decorate plain pillowcases with Passover related art. Since reclining is the name of the game during the seder, these meaningful creations will be put to good use.

Stretch the Festive Meal
Grumbling tummies are prime perpetrators of seder-night meltdowns. By serving the matzah ball soup upon arrival and offering up platters of carrot and celery sticks as karpas, you can squelch pre-festive meal kvetching faster than your kids can say, “Let my people go!”

Who Wants to be a Matzahnaire?
Passover is all about asking questions, but the big four are only the beginning. Keep kids excited and involved with the seder by intermittently morphing into a game show host. Be sure to award correct answers to holiday-themed questions with special Passover prizes.

Give a Taste of Slavery
Just as little heads are beginning to nod off, “discover” an envelope addressed to all the children at your seder table containing a letter from the Pharoh himself. Read the edict — commanding all children to begin building pyramids, immediately — aloud; pull out the blocks you stored under the table prior to the seder and let the enslavement begin.

Try a Change of Venue
Whether everyone moves to the living room to sing Passover songs or takes a walk outside to the pool to send a baby Moses doll off in a basket, a field trip away from the table during the course of the seder works miracles.

Chop It Up
It’s much more fun to eat a Hillel sandwich when you helped in making the charoset and maror. In my family, making horseradish sauce is an annual pre-seder event complete with Shlomo Carlbach music. Since only those old enough to safely handle a knife are allowed to participate, the kids consider it a virtual rite of passage.

Put a Spotlight on Stories
The true purpose of the seder is to pass the story of Exodus down from one generation to the next. But why stop there? Ask a few of your senior guests to come prepared to share a true and entertaining tale about their lives. When kids start to stray, pass a play microphone to one of these individuals. Their tales are sure to turn little heads back toward the seder table.

Finally, keep in mind that keeping children occupied during a seder is liable to take far more effort than simply bribing squirmy kids with chocolate-covered macaroons or sticking them with a teenage baby sitter in the playroom for the night. By taking the time to orchestrate a kid-friendly seder, you significantly up the odds that your fidgety children will one day do the same for your fidgety grandchildren.

Add Inclusiveness to Your Seder Table


 

Imagine going to celebrate a hypothetical holiday with Martian relatives on their planet. You don’t know the language, you don’t know the customs, you don’t know the purpose of the holiday. You might cope by seeing yourself as an anthropologist, witnessing the strange rites of the other. Still, even if you care deeply about your Martian family, the experience isn’t going to feel familiar or personally meaningful. Yet if this is your own family, you might want to become more involved.

For non-Jewish partners, even with the best good will, the seder experience can be strange and unfamiliar. Jewish family members prioritize coming together at this time of year. Festive preparations have been made: There’s a feast that includes ritual foods such as matzah and special items on a seder plate. There may be lots of Hebrew reading accompanying the meal. Or perhaps the family gathers but with no apparent religious themes. Each family’s Passover is unique, yet there are some ways to orient and integrate non-Jewish guests and family members.

For one thing, some universal themes are celebrated at the seder. The greens and hard-boiled egg on the seder plate celebrate the renewal and rebirth of spring. The story of the exodus of the Hebrew slaves can be seen as a celebration of freedom and has become a paradigm of liberation for many peoples, including African American slaves and Tibetan Buddhists. Bringing alive these elements of the story can be an invitation to all people to be part of the celebration.

At some seders, people move beyond the traditional Passover text to have conversations applying the seder themes to their own lives. They see themselves as moving through bondage, liberation, wandering in the desert, and seeking the “promised land” in very personal ways and discuss how each guest feels enslaved or stuck in his or her life. They may say, metaphorically, as you cross the Red Sea, what do you want to leave behind? What do you want to take with you? In what ways can you identify with the Jewish people who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years — where are you confused or questioning? What is the “promised land” for you? A new job? More time for yourself? Less clutter in the house?

If we make the Passover story our own we receive the gift of living within a myth that is larger than our individual selves. All people throughout history have experienced the tight, stuck places of Mitzrayim (Egypt). All people want liberation either from addictions, financial stress, health problems or some other issue. The bigger story that we are part of helps normalize our own trials and tribulations. It gives meaning to the grand journey of life. And the big story is much more accessible to non-Jewish beloveds than the very specific rituals of the seder.

If you don’t think all the members of your Passover gathering would want to focus on spiritual insights and sharing, maybe you and your spouse would want to prepare for Passover together by having these conversations. As the years go by, non-Jewish family members may learn to chant the four questions in Hebrew, spill drops of wine for each of the 10 Plagues and hide the middle matzah for the kids. But nothing will supersede the value of being invited to step into the mythic story of Passover as an insider and full participant.

This article is reprinted with permission of juliegberg@yahoo.com.

 

Let My Students Go


 

To celebrate Passover, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy preschoolers spent time in ancient Egypt.

Teachers and students transformed hallway bulletin boards into a colorful representation of the story of Passover. The journey begins with the pyramids, and then students pass through a parted Red Sea with thick tulle and crinkled tissue paper on either side — some gauze and cellophane even hang above. Life-size kindergartners silhouettes represent the Israelites dancing at the other end of the sea, coffee-stained butcher paper evokes the desert, and the trip ends in Jerusalem.

“[The artwork] makes the holiday come alive for the children, so that it’s just not just a flat learning experience,” said Cecelie Wizenfeld, the school’s early childhood director. “They’re a part of it.”

Wizenfeld is not alone in her efforts to find memorable ways of helping children connect with the holiday. While model seders, seder plate illustrations and handmade afikomen bags have become standard educational fare in the classroom, many Southland religious and day school teachers are finding that creative and unusual holiday projects make more of an impact.

Second-graders at Adat Ari El Day School will reenact the Exodus from Egypt as they embark on a two-hour journey around the school grounds. Head of School Lana Marcus will play the role of Moses, while sixth-grade students will dress up as taskmasters, following the children. Other journey highlights include the parting of the Red Sea (the sprinklers will come on), receiving “manna” from heaven (teachers will drop marshmallows from above) and finally, the arrival to the Promised Land (a grassy area on the property) and pitching tents, eating, singing and dancing in celebration. Afterward, teachers will lead a discussion about the journey.

By second grade, the children have a familiarity with the holiday, but “acting out the story of Passover makes the children think what [the Exodus] must have been like for the Israelis,” said Sari Goodman, the school’s general studies director.

Rather than focusing on the journey like the students at Adat Ari El, this year the kindergartners at the Brawerman Elementary School of Wilshire Boulevard Temple decided what material things they would bring on such a journey and, in turn, what they value. Each child decorated a “Passover backpack” and chose a few items from home to bring to Israel. In past years, these prized possessions have included teddy bears, prayer books, baseballs and pictures of family.

Rabbi Elissa Ben-Naim, who oversees the Judaic studies department, said that these activities allow the children to “enter into the text of the haggadah in a new way.”

The fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Temple Isaiah’s religious school experienced yet another aspect of the Exodus when they attended a special weekend retreat at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu on April 15.

One of the weekend activities was a homelessness simulation in which students received “eviction notices” on their cabin doors. Students worked together to combat their plight and attempt to get back on their feet.

“We’re equating homelessness with the Exodus of the Jewish people,” said Lisa Greengard, the synagogue’s youth group director. Greengard hopes that this modern take on one of the key aspects of Passover will help children empathize with our ancestors and ultimately, make the holiday more meaningful.

Temple Israel of Hollywood’s fifth- and sixth-grade religious school students will indulge in a “chocolate seder” in which the regular items on the seder plate are replaced by their supposed chocolate equivalents. Roasted eggs are substituted with chocolate eggs. Instead of dipping parsley in salt water, the students will dip strawberries in chocolate sauce. Chocolate milk will replace wine. Trail mix with M&Ms is the new charoset.

Carrie Frank, a Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion rabbinical student who is interning at Temple Israel, adapted the chocolate seder — a concept typically aimed at college students — to make the experience more relevant to younger students. Her goal is to help the children move beyond the story of Passover and take in the core values of the holiday and the concept of enslavement.

By getting the kids’ attention with tasty treats, Frank hopes to touch on deeper issues. She replaces the 10 plagues with what she deems the “10 modern plagues,” so the seder will include more familiar issues like hunger, inequality and disrespect. When the youngsters sip their cups of chocolate milk, they will be reminded of the things for which they are thankful.

“With the kitsch thrown in, it allows you to sneak in some of the good stuff, like values,” Frank said. “And they will absorb that.”

 

Spiritual Cleaning


More than 3,300 years ago, God swept us out from our slavery in Egypt, where we had toiled for more than 400 years. He did not wait for a United Nations resolution on the matter — the Almighty acted unilaterally, and for this we are forever grateful. Remembering the Exodus from Egypt is central to our lives as Jews — so central, in fact, that we mention it in the “Shema” every single day, as well as in the “Kiddush” on Friday night.

And yet there’s something very ironic about Pesach. Why is it that getting ready to celebrate our liberation from slavery involves so much hard work? First, we need to remember that during Pesach we are not allowed to eat, own or even benefit from the type of leavened products, or chametz, that we normally enjoy all year round: bread, crackers, pasta and even wheat germ. Who enjoys wheat germ, you ask? Well, I do. It’s in my favorite shampoo, so during Pesach the bottle gets booted into the garage with all the other verboten chametz.

The haggadah is our Passover playbook, which tells us that God took us out of Egypt “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” These are useful images to keep in mind, because when you are preparing for Pesach you’re going to need both a mighty hand (two would be better) and an outstretched arm to get to those hard-to-reach crevices behind the couch where your kid stashed a packet of Oreos a few months back.

While cleaning for this Festival of Freedom, many of us will scrub our homes to within an inch of our lives, finally sitting down to the seder tired, yes, but serene in the knowledge that our homes are not only sparkling clean, but, more importantly, kosher for Pesach. Yet many women (who generally do the bulk of the Pesach cleaning) can get carried away with it all. In their zeal to create a kosher-for-Pesach home, they run themselves ragged and may be so exhausted by seder night they can barely stay awake past the soup. Frankly, women like this make me nervous. I’m just not willing to begin Pesach cleaning the day after Purim (besides, we need another week to finish the shalach manot) but I also don’t want to feel behind in the Pesach-cleaning Olympiad. I take comfort from the assurances I have received from several esteemed Orthodox rabbis who wish that the women would calm down about this. They say that one should be able to clean a home for Pesach (not including the kitchen) in just a day or two. If you insist on cleaning the ceiling, they say, it doesn’t make the home any more kosher, and if the cost to the woman and her family is needless stress, it’s surely not worth it.

In a way, our ancestors were lucky. When Moses gave them the green light to escape from their Egyptian taskmasters, there was no time to say, “Wait! I didn’t finish sweeping the floor yet! And the pots and pans still need to be put away!”

No siree.

When Pharaoh finally agreed to let our people go, we had to skedaddle. Little could we guess that we wouldn’t enter the Promised Land for another 40 years.

So why can’t we just commemorate our liberation with some traditional Jewish comfort food, like chicken chow mein? Why does scrubbing down the house and eating hard, crummy matzah, which tastes stale even when it’s fresh, remind us of freedom?

The answer, I believe, is that freedom is not just a physical reality — it’s a spiritual condition. And without a structure to our lives, there’s no freedom; there’s only chaos. It’s kind of like how gravity works: without gravity, every thing and every one of us would just float up into the atmosphere, hither and thither. Similarly, our value system is our “spiritual gravity” — it’s the structure that keeps us grounded morally. It gives us enough space to grow, but not so much space that we’ll just float around aimlessly, experimenting with potentially disastrous lifestyle ideas. It’s no coincidence that God gave us the Torah — His blueprint for living — after our liberation from slavery. As slaves, we weren’t free to make choices for ourselves. But as a newly liberated people, we needed guidelines. And who better to give them than the Creator Himself?

Similarly, the chametz that we search for before Pesach isn’t just physical. Our sages teach that the chametz is a metaphor for the “leavening” in our own personalities — the arrogance and egotism that can puff us up higher than a loaf of freshly baked bread. That’s why preparing for Pesach means more than looking for an old candy bar left in a jacket pocket. It means spring-cleaning our souls, trying to rid ourselves of pettiness, selfishness and tunnel vision. We’re multitasking — vacuuming with one hand, but also taking an inventory of our character, and trying to refocus on the things that really matter: our families, our values, God and the Torah He gave us to help us live a meaningful life. Only when we have swept this spiritual chametz away can we really connect with the deeper meaning of Pesach.

If we can manage to take this spiritual inventory, then when we sit down to our seders, we will be free — truly free — to enjoy this pivotal rendezvous with God, just as our ancestors have done for more than 3,300 years. We will be celebrating not just our liberation from slavery, but our reconnection to the tradition that has ensured our miraculous survival as a people.

Who knows? Perhaps any people able to digest this much matzah must surely be an indestructible people indeed.


Judy Gruen writes the popular “Off My Noodle” humor column, available on her Web site, www.judygruen.com. She is also a columnist for Religion News Service.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Laemmle Theatres serves up more Jewish documentariesthis weekend under the banner of their cleverly titled screening series “Bagelsand Docs.” At Laemmle Monica, early risers can catch “Undying Love,” a film thatrecounts the stories of young couples whose relationships were affected by WorldWar II. “Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good,” and “Ruthie and Connie: Every Roomin the House” will also be shown as part of the morning screening series thisweekend, at the Laemmle Fallbrook and Sunset 5, respectively. Bagels notincluded. www.laemmle.com

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Sunday

Short and stout? Think again. Encouraging a reexamination of such houseware stereotypes, Long Beach Museum of Art unveils its new exhibition today, “Teapots Everywhere.” Designs by Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring are just two of the more than 250 mold-breaking variations featured in the show. Other contributors include Cindy Sherman, Ron Nagle and Tony Marsh, promising kettles in every size, shape and material imaginable.11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Sunday). Runs through Sept. 14. $5 (general), $4 (students and seniors), free (children under 12 and for everyone on the first Friday of the month). 2300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. (562) 439-2119.”Mona Lisa/Van Gogh” by Noi Volkoy.

Monday

Zehava Ben lends her unique voice and singing style totwo new CDs that manage to feature many of the same Israeli standards and, atthe same time, sound completely different. In “Beit Avi” (“My Father’s House”)Ben is accompanied by the Symphonic Orchestra of Hadera, lending a soulful,classic Mediterranean sound to songs like “Hanasich Hakatan” (“The LittlePrince”) and “Zemer Noge” (“Sentimental Tune”). In “Laroz Variations,” Ben’spairing with top Israeli electronic music producer Haim Laroz adds trance beatsfor a world-fusion treatment of those same melodies and others. $15-$17. www.israel-music.com

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Tuesday

The tale begins when Ivy League-educated Richard Rubin takes a job as a reporter in the small Mississippi town of Greenwood. Part coming-of-age story, part courtroom drama, “Confederacy of Silence: A True Tale of the New Old South” dispels some assumptions about the New South just as it corroborates others, and is out in paperback this month.Atria Books, $14.

Wednesday

Do you aspire to hobnob, but can’t afford thegrand-a-plate dinners quite yet? Benefiting Lifeline to Argentina, an emergencyrelief project that helps Argentine Jews, Charity Stars sponsors an artexhibition and wine tasting on the beach in Santa Monica. At $25 a ticket (inadvance), it’s a good deed you can afford, plus excellent preparation forplayers-in-training. 7:30-10:30 p.m. $25 (in advance), $35 (at the door).Hamilton Galleries, 1431 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 936-5674 orcharitystars@yahoo.com

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Thursday

Grab a date and head out for good jazz and good food tonight. Steve March Torme (as in Mel Torme’s offspring) performs at The Vic in Santa Monica, the upstairs part of the romantic Victorian. Expect some old standards like “Blue Skies” and “Stardust,” both from his new album “The Essence of Love.” Just be sure to make a reservation. That’s the only way you’ll find out the password required to gain entry to this modern-day speakeasy.8 p.m. and 10 p.m. $10 (cover). 2640 Main St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (888) 367-5299.

Friday

Jennifer Maisel’s “The Last Seder” tells the story of a family’s last gathering before the father, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, will be placed in a care facility. Through the course of the play, the ritual of the seder becomes a channel for the family’s healing. Having helped launch the careers of playwrights like Christopher Durang and Wendy Wasserstein, the Ensemble Studio Theatre (through their West Coast branch, “The L.A. Project”) presents a staged reading of this new play tonight and Sunday.8 p.m. (June 27 and 29). $10. Theatre/Theater, 6425 Hollywood Blvd., fourth floor, Hollywood. (213) 368-9552.

Miriam Meditations


When you first move to Los Angeles from New York, it’s hard to immediately jump into the dating scene. In Manhattan, you get used to falling in love almost every other block — so easy is it to bump into yet another adorable woman outside say, the 92nd Street Y, Zabar’s, Makor, the midtown area. This makes for many a lovely stroll there.

You can’t converse so easily here. Sure, I find myself driving right next to many, many terrific-looking single women. At least they look single at the traffic light, applying makeup in their Cabriolet. Sometimes they sing along to their CD player or fix their hair in the rearview.

Can someone explain if I’m picking up the signals: If she’s talking on the phone, does this mean she’s too busy to roll down a damn window and say hello? I’m getting tired of waving my baseball cap.

Too much driving and dreaming makes me practically a native here, I suppose. When I complained to my friend Stuart back East, he said: “Slow down. Pull over. Take a class.”

Jewish meditation groups are popular now in many a yoga temple/locker room, so I signed up. My first instructor, Miriam, offered a unique “practice,” featuring a mix of Torah and hatha. This involved a lot of stretching and davening as a way of bringing us to mindfulness.

Alison, one of my classmates, said breathlessly how Miriam started a whole “Chasidica-aerobica” discipline years ago. I eagerly took to repeating over and over Miriam’s chant, “Om shalom.” I figured I’d attain enlightenment, or giggles.

After a session one evening, Miriam invited me to her little cottage in Venice and showed me how to touch and kiss her mezuzah. She said she liked “doing a mindless ritual every day” — one mindless ritual every day, but at the same time, “be aware” that she was doing it. “To be mindful that you’re doing it mindlessly.”

A fascinating woman, Miriam, and quite unlike most I’ve met here, at least on this side of Mandeville Canyon. A favorite quote of hers, from Abraham Joshua Heschel, was stuck onto her refrigerator in sweeping black calligraphic form: “It takes three things to attain a sense of significant being: God, a soul and a moment — and the three are always present.”

I tried for weeks to get my mind around this concept. But I was too busy to live in the present: this is Los Angeles. Even God would have to work his beard off for more exposure if he lived in Los Angeles.

But Miriam’s smile lifted the room like a chuppah. Her shoulders were softer than the pillows our forefathers rested upon in Jerusalem. And she looked beautiful carrying a candle, so I took her to join my family in San Diego for a seder. It’s a rather Reform affair — this year, we used the new “Dr. Seuss Haggadah”:

“One gefilte, two gefilte, three gefilte four/red horseradish, white horseradish/what do you mean you don’t want more?”

On the drive south, Miriam and I stopped to meditate, finding ourselves in our own little bubble of oneness right there at the Self-Realization Fellowship Center meditation garden in Encinitas. We sat on a bluff, the purple ocean and algae down below. After an hour, we reached a point where she said “I’m sorry” to a passing dragonfly. She taught me to let go of just about everything, except my family.

In Del Mar that weekend, Miriam showed us the deep mystery that is the real religious experience. Modern religion kills this feeling, she explained, showing how the triangles of the Star of David symbolize fire and water, with the heart center of it containing an ineffable mixture of the two. Nice.

My parents naturally loved her, and I still have the photographs to prove it. But after our return, via the San Joaquin Hills toll road, something changed. I was trying to sell out, nobody was buying, I had many irons in the fire and was getting burned by every one of them — well, you know. Life in L.A. By Shavuot, she found a new boyfriend, one who she claimed was a monk.

I said to her: “You mean a saint?” (Women often tell me how their previous boyfriends were “saints.”) Miriam said no, Jason was really a monk who lived in a monastery making beer. They were wilder than you think, these guys, she said. That hurt.

I think often now about a midrash that Miriam elucidated and performed for my family in San Diego. This was a “folkloric sentiment” that could point out, she said, the blessing of life. She stood before us, pulling two pieces of paper from her pocket. One said: “The world was created for me.” Which made us feel great. Then she held out the other piece of paper and read it: “I am nothing but dust.”


Hank Rosenfeld will appear on “The Savvy Traveler,” KPCC 89.3, May 18 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

A Date With Passover Memories


Once a year, soon after Purim, my parents lug down the hydraulic press from their attic. For those of us more comfortable in the world of DVDs and CD-ROMs, a hydraulic press is an old-fashioned contraption that looks like a wooden bucket perched on a little metal table, with a metal pole you turn to squeeze whatever you put inside — often, grapes to make wine. My parents use it to make halek, the date syrup that is the Iraqi-Indian version of charoset.

I won’t give too many details about the arduous process that results in the glossy brown, intensely sweet halek, but for starters, let me just say it ain’t easy. My parents produce enough halek not only for themselves, but for three daughters, eight grandchildren and numerous seder guests. Halek remains a favorite breakfast and snack food during the week of Passover. That’s a lot of halek, so my parents begin with 15 pounds of pitted, crushed dates. After the dates are soaked overnight, the hydraulic press strains and liquefies the fruit so that the halek retains every drop of honeyed essence. The liquid is then boiled until it thickens; it is mixed with ground walnuts before serving.

I know some families who make halek without the dramatics of the hydraulic press (a cheesecloth and hand-squeezing can do the trick). But my parents wanted to reproduce the exact process they knew from India, for my great-uncle Elias — the family’s master halek-maker in Calcutta — used a hydraulic press. In fact, Uncle Elias used to send us halek in sealed containers for 15 years after we moved from Calcutta to Philadelphia. When my parents bought the hydraulic press in Philadelphia’s Italian Market, they continued the tradition on their own.

The haggadah tells us that on Pesach we must re-enact the story of the Exodus. But for many of us, Pesach is also a time to re-enact the customs of our parents and grandparents. Elana Goldberg of Teaneck, N.J., doesn’t have a hydraulic press, but she devotes hours to making a sweet dish the way her bubbe did. The fried dough cake filled with raisins, prunes and raspberry jam, then soaked and baked in honey, lemon juice, cinnamon and sugar, brings back a taste she treasured as a little girl.

"I thought it was heaven. It was the highlight of the seder for me," Goldberg remembers. Today, with two sets of twins, 8 and 5, and a 3-year-old, Goldberg still puts aside a whole night to recreate this piece of her grandmother.

"Somehow it’s not Passover without it," she said, "and the only way to get it is to make it myself."

Journalist and author Patricia Volk ("Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family," Knopf, 2001) sets her table with an inventory of heirlooms: Aunt Lil’s nut dish with squirrels on the side for charoset; Granny Ethel’s silver platter for matzah, and "place plates" to put under each place setting; Poppy’s silverware; Aunt Dorothy’s stemware; Nana’s "peacock plates" and salt cellars in peacock-blue clear glass; her father’s silver repoussé kiddush cup, and great-grandmother’s vase.

Looking for the afikomen is the thread that takes Ed Koch back 50 or 60 years.

"My father always hid the matzah under the sofa pillow, year after year," recalled the former mayor of New York. "But we always played the game. We’d look everywhere, and then look under the sofa pillow. We received a few coins, but for a 7-year- old, it was a treasure."

Today, when Noah and Jordan, his 5-year-old grandnephew and 8-year-old grandniece, look for the afikomen, "there’s no fix. You gotta really find it."

Their reward?

"We’re up to a dollar," Koch said. "You don’t want to spoil the kids."

At the Passover workshops he presents, Dr. Ron Wolfson, vice president of the University of Judaism and author of "The Art of Jewish Living: The Passover Seder," (Jewish Lights, 1996) suggested matching the four cups with different varieties of the many good kosher wines now on the market. Last year, however, Wolfson got a complaint from a participant after Passover.

"Your idea backfired," the man said. "Everybody was looking for heavy Malaga. That’s what they remembered from their youth."

"That taught me an important lesson," Wolfson said. "The great attraction of Passover is that we not only recite the haggadah — this historical document — but we also live and breathe and eat and touch and smell the history, with the additional layer of family memory. The seder becomes a family reunion, a powerful reliving of family history."

Wolfson enjoys reliving one particular episode of his own family history that took place on Passover, although he may not have relished it as much years ago.

"I almost didn’t get engaged to my wife because of gefilte fish," he recalled. "When my future in-laws came to our family seder for the first time, they offered to make the gefilte fish. We sometimes had up to 50 guests, so they bought 100 pounds of fish, and worked for a week preparing it. They chopped it up by hand in a gehocker [a cleaver], poured cups of sugar on it, shaped it into balls, stuffed the mixture into the fish skins and sliced it. That was their tradition from Germany and Poland. My family, originally from the Russian Pale of Settlement, never saw gefilte fish like that before. They never tasted gefilte fish like that before. They expected it to be bland and unsweetened, and they were in shock."

"Familiarity is comforting," said Dr. Rhonda Yoss-Kaplan, a psychologist in Port Washington, N.Y. "It’s grounding. It connects you to your own personal history and identity, to what’s gone before and what you will hand down to your children."

The discomfort associated with change, she added, is the unknown aspect of things that are new and different.

But traditions don’t have to be rooted in history. Anyone can start a tradition at any time, Wolfson pointed out.

"I would welcome anything that opens up the seder as an interactive experience that has the family’s mark on it," he said.

He enhances his own seder in numerous ways. Steamed artichoke hearts for karpas (the green vegetable that serves as the appetizer) allow nibbling until the meal is served (there’s parsley for the traditionalists). A "Chad Gadya" competition engages anyone who wants to prove they can get through the long last verse in Aramaic or English without taking a breath.

Aliya Cheskes-Cotel, director of education for the New York Metropolitan Region of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, listed many customs she follows from her childhood: the kids hide the afikomen and the adults search for it; everyone sings two songs off-key, the way Grandpa Isaac did; each person saves a piece of the afikomen and puts it away in a drawer until next year’s seder, when it is eaten.

So it does, in this era where the new rubs shoulders with the old. Miriam’s Cups, puppet shows, magic tricks, updated plagues, kosher-for-Passover pasta and nouvelle cuisine notwithstanding, an element of the old persists. Zinfandels and Cabernets haven’t yet totally supplanted Malaga. Some things change, it’s true, but it’s also comforting to know that some things don’t.

So when I asked my 9-year-old daughter, Shoshana, what one thing she would want to make sure her seder included when she grows up, I wasn’t surprised that she answered me without hesitation.

"Halek," she said, licking her lips.

I’d better learn to use that hydraulic press.


Rahel Musleah, the author of “Why on This Night? A Passover Haggadah for Family Celebration” (Simon & Schuster, 2000).

Leaving Mitzrayim


It was my third seder of the week, but this one was unlike any other. It was a "Seder of Women’s Voices," and I felt privileged to be one of the few men in the room among a 150 or so women. At one point during the evening, the woman sitting next to me casually turned and asked me a simple question, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the rest of the evening. "How did you become a feminist?" she asked, and then waited expectantly for my response.

"I grew up in a home with a mother and three sisters," I said, as if that somehow explained it all. Of course, even as I said the words I realized that they barely touched the surface of the numerous forces, experiences and influences that have gone into opening my own awareness to what she meant by "feminist."

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that being someone who accepts the equality of men and women as a given, and feeling that it is important to champion the need for women’s too-often hidden voices to be heard and celebrated, has simply grown to be an unconscious expectation of my life. What other choice do we have, if we are to play a role in the messianic dreams of Jewish life? What other role model can I embrace as a rabbi, if I want both boys and girls who grow up in my congregation to feel equally empowered to experience Judaism as fundamentally their story, and their challenge to use it as a platform from which to know that they can truly make a difference in the world?

I thought of what to me is the most important idea in the Torah — that all human beings are created in the image of God. I particularly felt the power of Godliness that night in the voices of women — teaching, singing, reading, asking difficult and important questions about Jewish life in America — including why so many people are turned off and away from synagogue life, and how we might use sacred moments to inspire us to work for the liberation and equality of all.

I prayed for women who were slaves to family violence, and men who were slaves to their own passions. I prayed for women who huddled with their children in hunger to be liberated from their poverty. I prayed for women, men and children who are enslaved by sickness and disease without medical insurance or the hope of healing.

In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 106b) it is written, "The Blessed Holy One wants the heart." Embracing a life where men and women help each other to fulfill their destinies as creative, loving, expressive human beings who together can bring more godliness into the world, seems to me the only way to really open the heart to God’s presence. This week, I realized that it has been over a year since my father’s open-heart surgery. I think of that phrase from the Talmud every time I see him. God wants our hearts. But God wants them open, warm and loving.

Every year we read in the haggadah, that each of us is commanded to see ourselves as if we personally were liberated from bondage. Now I know that liberation takes many forms. For my father, "liberation from bondage" took the form of freeing his arteries from their personal Mitzrayim, the "narrow places" which had suddenly threatened his life. And as we shared the seder together, I was filled with awe and gratitude once again. Each of has our own Mitzrayim from which we need liberation. Facing our personal enslavements, and having the courage to embrace our own liberation, is ultimately the greatest challenge of every Passover.

Why Is This Seder Different?


Every year, the retelling of the story of Passover sparks the same intergenerational debate around our family’s seder table. Like singing "Dayenu" or eating charoset, we look forward to our traditional discussion of the nature and extent of anti-Semitism. My father, with my grandmother cheering on, argues that anti-Semitism is alive and, alas, well.

My two sisters and I disagree. Raised in liberal, heterogeneous communities, we describe a time and place where ethnic differences are celebrated, where they are taken in stride, and where surely no one is persecuted on their account.

We proudly tell him about the Korean American who gave an oral presentation on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in our public high school history class. He rolls his eyes and cites litanies of anti-Jewish actions in places like Los Angeles and Paris. We accuse my father of clinging to an obsolete ghetto mentality of victimization; he accuses us of making generalizations based on the distinct liberal bubble in the northeast where we grew up. We are naive, he warns, to think that the world has come to terms with religious difference.

My sisters and I have come to look forward to this Pesach time debate; it is part of our holiday ritual. In arguing for the demise of anti-Semitism in America, we feel downright patriotic, celebrants of tolerant, multicultural America. We are also lauding our success as a generation. As a post-religious cohort, our generation has moved such differences past their potential to divide and to instigate hatred since these were experienced by our parents and even more by our grandparents.

This year, the seder will be different. For the first time in our generation’s memory, we have confronted a period of world history rife with blatant anti-Semitism. For sure, the anti-Jewish sentiment is not coming from next door. But the media has brought the accusations and hate against Jews expressed daily in Gaza City, Islamabad and Riyadh to our living rooms.

Young American Jews, who have long considered the Arab-Israeli conflict as a battle between two nations thousands of miles away, this year might be wondering why the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a anti-Semite’s must-read, is a best-seller among young Egyptians, citizens of the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state. Even the most assimilated, unaffiliated American Jew, who still clings to the concept of a post-religious age, can no longer be deaf or blind to the hate directed against him. For example, even those American Jews who have long ceased to celebrate Purim could not help but react to a headline published in early March in a Saudi government daily, "Jews Use Teenagers Blood for Purim Pastries."

As a generation of American Jews raised on freedom of choice, Judaism was a part of our identity that we willingly embraced or rejected. We are a generation that treats Judaism as one component of our complex identities, one that we can elect to change and accommodate to the demands of the modern world.

We are, all of us — or so we have believed — Jews by choice. And thus we are shocked by this wave of anti-Semitism, because it does not differentiate between the temple-goer and the unobservant, between Reform and Orthodox, between Israel supporter and anti-Zionist.

Our generation of American Jews does not fit one prototype.

The simple son will come to the seder seeking information. With his parents he will discuss the intifada, the Saudi peace plan, the world views held by Islamic fundamentalists and the nature of U.S. foreign policy responses. The daughter who does not know how to ask might be so removed from Jewish practice that she chooses to absent herself and, perhaps, to spare embarrassment and hurt, is no longer invited to the seder. But if she does attend, she will need to be encouraged before she can begin to ask questions. But she will probably not connect Daniel Pearl’s last words — "I am a Jew , my mother is a Jew" — to her own life.

The evil son will come to the seder table angrily, maybe against his will. He will flippantly disassociate himself from the seder rituals, hurting his parents and grandparents. He will question the need for a Jewish state, though, unlike the simple son, he is fully aware of Jewish history and suffering.

The smart, respectful daughter and son will come to the seder with emotional reactions and questions prompted by their careful reading of current events. If it’s a good seder, they will probably leave more confused and upset about Israel and the war on terrorism than when they arrived.

This year, a new intergenerational discussion will dominate our seder. This year, my sisters and I will come to the table, respectfully conceding to our father that anti-Semitism has not perished. But we will also come to answer and provide comfort to our parents.

We will try to persuade them that, while they may be right, after all, that anti-Semitism is our condition, we may also be right when we insist that it is not our immutable destiny.



Dafna Hochman conducts research on terrorism and national security at a foreign policy think tank in Washigton, D.C. Her prior work includes Seeds of Peace International Camp in Maine and the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development in Herzliyah, Israel.

Pre-Pesach Culinary Blues


The pre-Pesach season is both exciting and disturbing to my family. Exciting, because due to our exuberant cleaning for the holiday, emptying drawers, overturning mattresses and, in general, preparing the house for a visit by Martha Stewart, we find all kinds of things that have been missing in action for months.

Today, one son found a Game Boy game under a bookshelf and two week’s worth of allowance in the sock drawer. He even found something relevant to the task at-hand, which was the vestiges of a Chips Ahoy! package, still full of crumbs. My daughter found a long-lost favorite hairbrush in the closet and some packets of candy under her bed. She has no idea how the candy, a brand expressly forbidden by me, got to her room, but is sure that she had nothing to do with it.

The countervailing bad news in this otherwise sunny scenario is that we eat some strange and even terrible dinners before the festival of freedom. See, I hate to waste any food, and I have no pride whatsoever when it comes to reaching back into the recesses of the freezer or pantry and patching together something resembling a meal, even from scraps of pita bread with a terminal case of freezer burn.

A few days ago, for example, I cleaned out another freezer shelf and used it to offer up the following "meal" (perhaps this is a stretch) for the six of us: 13 fish sticks, a lone piece of petrified pizza, a cup- and-a-half of roasted pistachios, a bowl of corn and two cheese blintzes. My kids looked with horror at this sorry excuse for a family dinner and begged for cereal and — appealing to my sense of Pesach preparation — noted that we still had five boxes left. After standing guard to make sure they ate at least two fish sticks each, I gave in and watched them practically run over one another to make a real dinner out of Honeycomb, Crispix and milk.

During the rest of the year, as soon as the kids see me after school, they ask impatiently, "HiMaWhatsFaDinna?" But, once they come home and see we are wiping down linen closets and dusting off toys to make them chametz-free, they are too frightened to ask. And if they dare, it is with a quivering voice.

My husband, who has learned a thing or two in nearly 15 years of marriage, just eats what’s offered. He knows that brisket is just around the corner on seder night. The kids begin pleading for pizza. They are so earnest in their appeals, they even offer to do extremely uncharacteristic things, such as clean their own rooms and bathe without waiting for any parental threats or intimidation.

And they know they will soon get their pizza, because at a certain point, I will run out of food. And because no one is eager to eat Pesach food before absolutely mandated by law, we, along with about 4,000 of our neighbors, start hitting the kosher pizza joints. Let me tell you, if there was ever a proving ground for our perseverance as a people, you can see it in the lines at the pizza shops in the waning days before Pesach. No one has chametz in the house anymore. No one wants to cook. Everyone is turning their kitchens around to be kosher for Pesach, and we will wait as long as it takes, sometimes for days, for a hot pizza and calzone.

Well, my pantry and freezer are pretty bare right now, so this will probably be the last night I can get away with serving another in the series of pathetic pre-Pesach portions. Tonight we are having three thawed-out chicken drumsticks (age indeterminate), six bagels (with only moderate freezer burn), pretzels (only semi-stale), peanut butter and canned peaches.

With the yom tov only days away, we’re so close to repast redemption, I can almost smell the brisket now.

New Plagues


At last year’s seder, my friend, Jason, then 14, asked about the Ten Plagues: how could Egyptian deaths be justified even by those of us spilling 10 guilty drops of wine? It’s a fitting question by which to begin Passover 2002 in light of recent plagues: the World Trade Center attack, escalating Mideast violence and the variety of personal challenges that many of us face.

The haggadah urges us to place ourselves smack into the story of liberation. "Because of what God did for me…" Yet we’re stuck in the Sea of Reeds, still labeling all today’s bad guys as "Egyptians" and all our good guys as "Children of Israel." We can begin to answer Jason’s question only by opening the discussion of how we interpret suffering, starting with the metaphor of the plagues.

Are the Ten Plagues merely a just reward perpetrated against the "axis of evil" by a God who is "on our side"? Or are we called upon to move beyond "us" and "them" and make a larger ethical accounting in the face of human suffering? What can we learn by moving beyond the literal story that helps us resolve the critical dilemmas of our day?

Often this year, while struggling with a lung cancer diagnosis, I have confronted the politics and spirituality of suffering. Innocence and guilt today are linked through the mind-body connection. We talk about the "inner Pharoah," fighting the "inner slave," as if we know which part of us plays what role. Faced with a personal dilemma for which there is no understandable cause, our first recourse is to speak the language of the plague, as if perpetuating tragedy is God’s way to search for justice. Seeking "God’s will" is the current generation’s effort to rationalize pain. It is a step backward in the abuse of religious metaphor, like blaming the victim.

Our sages were far more sophisticated about cause and effect than we moderns might expect. The first lesson of the plagues is that no one is immune from them. Ten plagues were brought against the evil Egyptians, with ample Talmudic commentary offered to support each one. However, 50 plagues were brought against innocent Job, for no reason at all.

The sages do not flinch from blaming the sufferer for past acts. But they go beyond, interested in how we, the human family, react when suffering occurs. After the first plague, blood in the Nile, the Egyptians worked together to find a cure. But when the plague persisted, they gave up and never again attempted to turn their destiny around.

As I fight my own disease, the concerted support of doctors, nurses and my dear community makes the difference. I have never been left to feel that the search for a solution is futile. If I am facing the first plague, my community is with me.

A humorous midrash regarding the second plague has it that the croaking began with one frog alone, but eventually the frogs shrieked en masse. After Sept. 11, good people refused to croak, but acted en masse for the best interests of all.

Each plague presents a distinct opportunity, a moment of truth, in which individuals can make the difference for good or ill. The fourth plague, hail, is commonly read as hardship meted out against the recalcitrant Egyptians. This stops us from seeing the story as a metaphor, a story about the mystical cooperation of two alien forces, fire and ice, to serve a higher purpose. In that way, the hail plague offers hope, that two conflicting elements, Palestinian and Israeli forces, could work together for peace.

This year, let’s move the Passover story along, more than good and evil, Pharoah and slave, sick and well. Liberate the plagues.

Strangers at the Feast


My worst Passover was my first in Los Angeles, more than half a lifetime ago. I had nowhere to go the first night, and the second night, a college friend took me to an institutional seder that was so sterile and faceless that I went home early and, paraphrasing Scarlett O’Hara, vowed, "As God is my witness, I’ll never go without a seder again."

And I haven’t, because since then I’ve made one every year. Only during a two-year sojourn in my extended family’s Expected Attendance Area have I failed to haul out the haggadot and start rounding up everyone who wants a place at the table.

There were only five of us at the first seder I made, in 1978, including a live-in boyfriend and a non-Jewish guy I knew from work who had always wanted to go to a seder. I had taken my 23-year-old self to J. Roth (of blessed memory) and bought copies of the most up-to-date haggadah I could find in those days before feminist, peacenik and other alternative haggadot were in mass circulation.

It was the first seder at which I drank the third and fourth cups of wine, because my family never got back to the service after shulchan orech. But no one got tipsy, because Live-In Boyfriend and I were pouring Manischewitz; nobody knew from Baron Herzog back then.

The next year, we had to put both leaves in the garage-sale Formica dining table. By 1983, the spring we lived in New Hampshire, we had graduated to fake French provincial, my parents’ old dining room set. Two years later, I made the seder about eight minutes after Live-In Boyfriend moved out.

The following spring, the love of my life had his feet under my seder table (and still does). Ten years ago, leftover marinated green beans from our wedding luncheon made a nice cold side dish. Many pages of our haggadot have been papered over with new readings.

Blood relatives are rarities at our seders: once, years ago, an uncle and aunt happened to be in town; more recently, one of my sisters lived in Los Angeles for a couple of years. My husband and I have no family in Southern California, and because guilt infliction seems to be effective only from parents to offspring, I haven’t been able to persuade my Arizona-based mom and dad to join us.

So every year we troll for folks who need a seder and don’t have one. We find them in the synagogues we belong to, sometimes in classes and at work. Every year the Introduction to Judaism program at the University of Judaism, where my husband studied for conversion six years ago, sends us two or three people. This year the role of "the gentile who’s always wanted to go to a seder" will be played by the lone Christian in my husband’s Hebrew class.

Many of the faces around the table change from year to year. People move in and out of town, in and out of our lives; we change jobs, attend different schools, find ourselves hanging out in different circles than we did the year before.

Some perennials have developed, though: folks from shul who like our combination of fun, attention to the haggadah, and enough good food to feed an army, and a longtime friend whose husband always seems bemused by our seders, which are nothing like the ones he grew up with in London.

My best friend, Barry, used to come every year and complain that we never had enough unattached gay men at our seder. Finally, he passed up our first night a couple of years ago to go to a seder that was all gay men. He came back. We’re family.

I identify with our ancestor Abraham, who always was more comfortable welcoming passersby into his tent than he was depending on the kindness of strangers. While there have been years when we’ve been invited to someone else’s home for seder, I decline with thanks. Tempting as a work-free seder might be, there are people who count on us now.

Tomorrow night, my husband and I will sit side by side and gaze out over the mixed multitude in our living room. Our dog will lie under the table, waiting for something to drop. We’ll tell the story, sing the songs, eat and drink, talk about Egypt and deliverance. And even if Elijah doesn’t show up, the Shechinah will be there.

Seder Storytelling


There’s much to be done as we turn to this month’s Pesach passage to freedom: menus to be planned, guests to be invited, homes to be cleaned of their chametz (leavening). I start thinking about the most important aspect of a successful seder: creating a fun-filled, positive Jewish experience which, for the time it takes to tell, sing and eat, will help us relive the story of our exodus from Egypt.

Whether you believe the exodus from Egypt is historical reality or myth containing the power of religious truth, the Pesach story tells Jews who we were, who we are and how we must live our lives. Our seder is supposed to be a transformational experience. Through it, we recall symbolically and spiritually our central story: Once we were oppressed, then we cried out, “Enough.” The Source of all Healing and Salvation provided us with leaders, courage and strength to walk forth to freedom.

The Seder as More Than Recitation

For many Jews, the seder has become the rote recitation of ancient words and the mindless performance of meaningless rituals. But it was not meant to be that. In fact, when the ancient rabbis created the seder, it was an engaging pedagogical innovation to provide parents with a multisensory, experiential tool with which they could teach their children. In fact, the haggadah preserves the rabbis’ discussion of the teaching theory behind the seder. Remember the passage about the four children? It was never intended as a reading in the haggadah, but rather as a theory of teaching.

The Four Children as Teaching Theory

In the haggadah, the rabbis speak with reference to four children: one wise, one rebelliously cynical (often misinterpreted as “wicked”), one simple and one who does not know how to ask. The wise child asks, “What is the meaning of the laws and traditions and rituals which God has commanded us? This wise one, seeing himself or herself as part of the experience, seeks understanding of the Exodus and of the Pesach rituals. She/he requires a seder experience that is intellectual and comprehensive.

The rebelliously cynical child asks, “What is this service to you?” “You,” this one insinuates, not herself or himself, because she/he already is distanced from the story and experience. The cynic requires a seder experience led by a patiently engaging facilitator, who uses drama, visuals and learning games to retell the story.

The simple child asks, “What is this all about?” This child, plainly unclear about the significance of the experience, requires a seder filled with age-appropriate meaningful explanations.

As for the child who does not know how to ask, you shall begin teaching from the beginning; starting with the story and using the symbols and foods to pique his or her interest.

All of these children need their seder leaders to become vibrant storytellers. Our seder should model itself on positive bedtime story reading adventures, not the experience of having major surgery without anesthesia.

My wife Michelle and I have three wonderful yet very different children. We have learned that the differences between our children require that we rear each child in a manner unique to his or her specific needs, behaviors and aptitudes. Similarly, our seder experience must come alive, offering each child (and each participant) the entrée into Pesach that is appropriate to his or her learning style. One child thrives on play-acting; another wants to discuss the personalities of the main characters. A third is happy with singing and dipping the food. So we use the haggadah and our own creative ideas to provide each with tailored learning activities within the seder.

Adults Are Kids, Too

But what about adults? Does this haggadah passage teach us anything about the learning needs of adults?

Diane Pickton Schuster, director of the Jewish Lives/Jewish Learning Project at the Center for Educational Studies, Claremont Graduate University, and Isa Aron, professor of Jewish education at Hebrew Union College’s Rhea Hirsch School of Jewish Education, interpret the ancient rabbis’ discussion of seder learning theory as it relates to how adults learn. In their article, “What Congregations Need to Know about the Adult Learner,” these scholar-teachers explain that synagogue learning opportunities, worship experiences and even home rituals like the seder need to take into account the different ways we each approach our Judaism.

Schuster and Aron teach: “The wise one may be symbolized by the congregant who has already learned to read some Hebrew and/or has had some experience with Jewish texts. She/he tends to be self-directed … to probe more deeply. The rebellious one represents the skeptic who asks, ‘What do these Jewish texts and traditions have to do with me … especially when there is pressing business (synagogue or personal) which needs our attention?’ The innocent one might signify the spiritual seeker who might be grappling with tough questions about ‘Who am I as a Jew?’ and ‘How can I find greater meaning in my life?’ The one who does not know what to ask might be the silent one, a congregant raised in a totally secular household, a woman discouraged from receiving a Jewish education, a man who suffered a humiliating experience preparing for his bar mitzvah, or perhaps a person who was raised to believe that only scholars and rabbis are qualified to be at the table of Jewish learning.”

The Four Children Inside Each of Us

In my own growth as a Jew and as a teacher of other Jews, I have found that at different times in our lives, each of us has assumed the Jewish role of the wise one, the skeptic, the spiritual seeker and the silent one. I have learned that a family’s home seder, in its commitment to touching all attendees — adults and children alike — needs to be a Jewish experience that addresses the particular approaches to Judaism of each of these types of Jews. You see, our story teaches that we were all part of the exodus from Egypt and that we were all at Mount Sinai when we received the Torah. So now, we all have a right to be part of the continuing saga of Judaism — including the skeptic and the one who does not know how to ask. We can start by welcoming the skeptic and allowing him/her to question even the most basic tenets of our faith and tradition. We can start by teaching the innocent one, touching the soul of the spiritual searcher and engaging the mind of the wise one. As Jewish storytellers, we want to reach out to those want to show up and find ways to engage those who dislike showing up.

This Pesach I will remember (metaphorically and dramatically) when I went forth from Egypt. This Pesach our family seder will provide all participants with opportunities to enjoy and celebrate and learn. I hope you will all transform your seders into such engaging experiences that the story can be retold joyously.

Senior Seders


The Passover holiday contains countless traditions. There’s the matzah and the sweet wine, the charoset and haggadot, the gefilte fish and the good fortune we celebrate. But perhaps most importantly, there is the gathering together of family and friends — the people who make the singing, reading and eating around the seder table meaningful and special.

It is a fact not lost on the various directors who run L.A.’s Jewish senior and retirement homes. Each year these men and women organize seders for the elderly residents who may no longer have family or friends to join them. Full Passover menus are planned, dining rooms are decorated, the best silverware and glassware come out of the cupboards. And together the seniors sit down to a seder where they ask the Four Questions, recite the blessings and — yes — even sip the wine.

“Although some may have family, unfortunately many do not,” says Desiree Williams, the rental coordinator at Westwood Horizons near UCLA. “This is the only opportunity they have to be with folks of similar beliefs and continue the Passover tradition.”

For the most part, residents do not prepare the food as they once did in their own homes. Many are frail now, with little stamina. But to the seder table they bring an earnest desire to sing and help recount the Passover story. And in doing so, they find companionship in one another and in the staff members who assist them. This human element — the fact, at least, that they have each other — becomes as important an ingredient as the apples and nuts and hard-boiled eggs.

“There’s involvement,” says Williams. “And that’s the key. The interaction is there.”

At the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda, a “traveling microphone” will circulate through the dining room so that residents can participate in the service. According to Rabbi William Gordon, who will lead the seder, residents also make suggestions as to what should be on the menu.

It is, indeed, a fancy affair. Betty Brown, director of Food Services, plans to use real china and silverware, white and mauve tablecloths and strictly kosher ingredients. Flowers will adorn the tables and servers will wear black and white — “their gala uniform.”

Some residents leave the home to have Passover with family, but most remain. Family members are invited to join them there, says Rabbi Gordon, though “too few come.” This year, Brown and her staff will feed approximately 350 people for the first seder. Her menu includes matzah ball soup, gefilte fish balls, roast turkey, matzah stuffing, honeyed carrots, stewed fruit compote and sponge cake.

The average age of the residents is 90, says Rabbi Gordon. But that doesn’t stop them from following the paperbound haggadah that he and his wife, Deena, have compiled.

Age, however, does make a bit of difference at Stanford House, an independent and assisted living home at Olympic and Robertson Boulevards.

“Because of their age, they tend to be impatient,” says executive chef Jeffrey Cooper, who will lead the seder this year for 128 residents between ages 55 and 101. In 1998, during a 40-minute seder, “they were crawling the walls,” recalls Cooper with a laugh. Last year, he cut it down to 20 minutes. But this year he’ll try for half an hour — “short and sweet.”

The menu will be “kosher-style,” with gefilte fish made from scratch, matzah ball soup, asparagus and a choice of matzah-stuffed veal roast with demiglaze or Cornish hens with orange glaze. Then for dessert, residents will find a mouth-watering assortment of brownies, sponge cake with strawberries, baked apples with apricots and store-bought Passover candy.

Cooper ensures that all chametz is removed from his kitchen, and he fondly remembers one resident who helped him burn the bread crumbs each year. (The man passed away a few months ago at 97.)

“It’s very depressing,” says Alan Goldstein, director of Shalom Retirement Hotel in the Fairfax district. “Very few have family, so we have rabbis that come talk to them, and the staff is here to lend an ear. It’s important to be accessible,” he continues. “It’s like we’re one big family.”

Of the 150 residents between ages 65 and 100 who will attend this year’s seder at Shalom, approximately 70 percent used to make their own seders. Now, “a very sumptuous [kosher] menu” will be prepared for them, explains Goldstein. It will include matzah ball soup, salad, roast turkey, brisket, sweet potatoes and cake. And each person will receive his or her own seder plate.

Residents will light the candles, pour the wine and sing with the accompaniment of a live music ensemble — familiar activities for these seniors who celebrate Shabbat together each Friday night.

At Westwood Horizons, residents also regularly lead Shabbat services and will participate in the singing and reading for Passover as well. According to Desiree Williams, the rental coordinator, more than 200 residents are expected to attend the seder, and some have invited family members. Some may have aides with them at the table, but “the majority are on their own,” says Williams. “They develop friendships with one another.”

Seniors who wish to participate in a seder this year can also attend various community seders. The Jewish Home for the Aging will offer a second-night seder, which it expects will draw 450 people. The Westside Jewish Community Center will hold a first-night seder for 75 to 150 people. Both will feature kosher food.

While some families do attend, “most people who come don’t have anybody,” says Olga Moler of the Westside JCC. “They are mostly the elderly — those who are alone.” So transportation to and from the JCC will be available for a small fee.

Above all else, say the seder organizers, the goal is to create a warm, haimish environment for the elderly this Passover. For the seniors living in mostly Jewish retirement homes, “we do everything to accommodate that,” says Williams of Westwood Horizons. “It’s important for them to be in a Jewish community.”

The Jewish Home for the Aging Community Seder, April 20, 5 p.m., $35 for family members of residents; $50 for all other adults and seniors. Call (818) 774-3015 for reservations. Westside JCC Community Seder, April 19, 6:30 p.m., $25 for adults and $19 for senior members; $30 for adults and $24 for senior nonmembers. Call Olga Moler at (323) 938-2531 ext. 225 for reservations.

Dear Journal


Sharon Ann Dror, born deaf, didn’t enjoy seders with her hearing family while growing up in a traditional Jewish home in Santa Monica. She could read lips, but she couldn’t see peoples’ faces as they read from behind their Haggadot. &’009;

“I felt frustrated and bored,” recalls the 38-year-old marketing manager, the founder of the Jewish Deaf Community Center. “I couldn’t understand anything. I just read the Haggadah by myself, over and over. I wished that I could hear.”

Passover wasn’t the only time Dror felt shut out of Jewish life. Her parents attempted to enroll her in Hebrew school but couldn’t find one willing to take a deaf child. Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf in Arleta, offered religious school in sign language, but it was far away and Dror didn’t know how to sign. She was raised in the oral communication method, which means she communicates by reading lips.

Dror was finally able to attend school at Chabad in Westwood, where “the rabbis had to keep moving their mustaches so I could read their lips,” she says. &’009;

Those experiences turned Dror into an activist.

In 1992, Dror, now the mother of three deaf children, founded the Jewish Deaf Community Center to create more opportunities for deaf Jews in L.A. The JDCC provides seders, High Holiday services and other programs with a traditional Jewish bent and kosher food (Temple Beth Solomon is Reform). &’009;

Ultimately, though, Dror became dissatisfied with the center’s annual sign-language seders. “The problem was that many deaf Jews did not have a Jewish education, so they didn’t understand what was going on,” she says.

The result, this year, is a brand-new, multimedia educational seder, developed by Dror and JDCC board member David Rosenbaum with a grant from the Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation.

On March 31 at Burbank Temple Emanu El, up to 170 deaf Jews and their relatives will gather at small tables, family style, with a leader at each table. They’ll gaze at two large TV monitors at each end of the room that will project Haggadah text and pictures describing essentials such as the seder plate. There will be a voice for hearing people to follow as well.

“The seder will be totally accessible for everyone,” Dror says. “For deaf people, the key is that the seder is visually oriented, because deaf people are visually oriented. I’m hoping that when our deaf participants go home, they’ll say, ‘I finally understood the whole Haggadah, for the first time ever.'”


The JDCC seder costs $25 per person. For tickets and information, call (818) 845-9935 (voice); (818) 845-9934 (TTY); or (818) 845-9936 (fax).

Temple Beth Solomon is also hosting a seder at the Sportsmen’s Lodge on April 1, the second night of Passover. For information, call (818) 899-2202 (voice); (818) 896-6721 (TTY); or (818) 899-2123 (fax).

Dear Deborah


Sharon Ann Dror, born deaf, didn’t enjoy seders with her hearing family while growing up in a traditional Jewish home in Santa Monica. She could read lips, but she couldn’t see peoples’ faces as they read from behind their Haggadot. &’009;

“I felt frustrated and bored,” recalls the 38-year-old marketing manager, the founder of the Jewish Deaf Community Center. “I couldn’t understand anything. I just read the Haggadah by myself, over and over. I wished that I could hear.”

Passover wasn’t the only time Dror felt shut out of Jewish life. Her parents attempted to enroll her in Hebrew school but couldn’t find one willing to take a deaf child. Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf in Arleta, offered religious school in sign language, but it was far away and Dror didn’t know how to sign. She was raised in the oral communication method, which means she communicates by reading lips.

Dror was finally able to attend school at Chabad in Westwood, where “the rabbis had to keep moving their mustaches so I could read their lips,” she says. &’009;

Those experiences turned Dror into an activist.

In 1992, Dror, now the mother of three deaf children, founded the Jewish Deaf Community Center to create more opportunities for deaf Jews in L.A. The JDCC provides seders, High Holiday services and other programs with a traditional Jewish bent and kosher food (Temple Beth Solomon is Reform). &’009;

Ultimately, though, Dror became dissatisfied with the center’s annual sign-language seders. “The problem was that many deaf Jews did not have a Jewish education, so they didn’t understand what was going on,” she says.

The result, this year, is a brand-new, multimedia educational seder, developed by Dror and JDCC board member David Rosenbaum with a grant from the Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation.

On March 31 at Burbank Temple Emanu El, up to 170 deaf Jews and their relatives will gather at small tables, family style, with a leader at each table. They’ll gaze at two large TV monitors at each end of the room that will project Haggadah text and pictures describing essentials such as the seder plate. There will be a voice for hearing people to follow as well.

“The seder will be totally accessible for everyone,” Dror says. “For deaf people, the key is that the seder is visually oriented, because deaf people are visually oriented. I’m hoping that when our deaf participants go home, they’ll say, ‘I finally understood the whole Haggadah, for the first time ever.'”


The JDCC seder costs $25 per person. For tickets and information, call (818) 845-9935 (voice); (818) 845-9934 (TTY); or (818) 845-9936 (fax).

Temple Beth Solomon is also hosting a seder at the Sportsmen’s Lodge on April 1, the second night of Passover. For information, call (818) 899-2202 (voice); (818) 896-6721 (TTY); or (818) 899-2123 (fax).

The Year Ahead


Tahel shanah u-virkhoteha! Let the new year begin with all its blessings. With this hearty declaration, the Rosh Hashanah feast begins in my home. But, like many families of Sephardic and Mizrahi (Eastern) origin, we don’t actually eat the meal until we have recited many blessings in the context of a special Rosh Hashanah seder.

The seder consists of symbolic foods that represent our wishes for the new year. It is called a “seder yehi ratzon” (may it be God’s will), because we ask God to guide us and provide us with bounty, strength and peace in the year ahead. Many of the foods are blessed with puns on their Hebrew names that turn into hopes that our enemies will be destroyed.

The Talmudic origins of the seder date back to a discussion by Rabbi Abaye about omens that carry significance (Horayot 12a). He suggested that at the beginning of each new year, people should make a habit of eating the following foods that grow in profusion and are therefore symbolic of prosperity: pumpkin, a bean-like vegetable called rubia, leeks, beets and dates. Jewish communities throughout the world have adapted this practice, creating seders of their own.

This version of the seder was conducted in Calcutta, where my family is from. Though it delays the main meal by a few extra minutes, your Rosh Hashanah celebration will be enriched, infused with the blessings of life none of us should take for granted.

Arrange seven bowls on a platter and fill them with the following fruits and vegetables: dates; pomegranates; apples in honey; string beans; pumpkin; spinach and scallions. The original custom calls for a fish head to represent fertility, as well as a sheep’s head: a tangible symbol of our wish to be heads, not tails; leaders, not stragglers. The sheep’s head (the brains were removed and cooked) also served as a reminder of the ram that saved Isaac’s life; we recite the story of the binding of Isaac on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. In my family, however, we have discontinued using these last two items: the fish because its Hebrew name, “dag,” sounds like the Hebrew word for worry, “d’agah”; the sheep’s head … for obvious reasons.

1) Dates: Temarim

Advance preparation: Stuff pitted dates with walnuts. At the seder: Pass around the bowl of dates and, before eating, recite together: “May it be Your will, God, that all enmity will end. May we date this new year with peace and happiness.” (The word for “end,”yitamu, sounds like tamar, the Hebrew word for date.)

Barukh atah Adonai, elohenu melekh ha-olam, borei p’ri ha-etz. Blessed are You, Adonai, Ruler of the universe, Who has created the fruit of the tree.

2) Pomegranate: Rimon

Advance preparation: Peel and remove all seeds from the pomegranate. Place the seeds in a bowl. If pomegranates are difficult to find, you may substitute figs, which also have numerous seeds. Try counting the number of seeds — if you have the patience.

At the seder: Pass around the bowl of pomegranate seeds and, before eating, recite: “May we be as full of mitzvot as the pomegranate is full of seeds.”

If you haven’t counted the number of seeds, guess the average number a pomegranate has. Hint: It has something to do with the number of mitzvot in the Torah.

3) Apples in honey: Tapuah ba-d’vash

Here’s where Ashkenazic and Sephardic tradition meet.

Advance preparation: Slice apples and dip in honey, or create a traditional apple preserve by cooking apple quarters in a small amount of water sweetened with sugar and spiced with whole cloves and rosewater until they are soft.

At the seder: Pass around the apple and before eating, recite: May it be Your will, God, to renew for us a year as good and sweet as honey.

4) String Beans: Rubia or Lubia

In India, we used a long bean with many seeds in the pod, called lubia, which is so similar to the original rubia that it may be the same vegetable. (The Soncino Talmud translates rubia as fenugreek, a tiny, bitter seed.) This bean is available in Indian and Chinese grocery shops. Otherwise, substitute string beans.

Advance preparation: Boil beans and place in bowl. At the seder: Pass around beans and before eating, recite: “May it be Your will, God, to increase our merits.” (The word for “increase,” irbu, resembles the word rubia.)

Barukh ata Adonai, eloheinu melekh ha-olam, borei p’ri ha-adamah. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who has created the fruit of the earth.

By this point in the seder, the sweet foods have been replaced with vegetables. For children who are not vegetable lovers, it’s good to know that the smallest bite is enough to fulfill the requirements of reciting the blessing. As I did when I was a child (all right, I still do it), you might encourage your children to reserve a piece of apple, pomegranate or date to sweeten their palate after munching on beans, spinach and scallions.

5) Pumpkin or Gourd : K’ra

Advance preparation: Boil pumpkin or gourd. If you use pumpkin, you can mash it and sweeten to taste with brown sugar or honey, cinnamon and ground cloves. Or, open a can of pumpkin pie filling!

At the seder: Pass around pumpkin and before eating, recite: “As we eat this gourd, may it be Your will, God, to guard us. Tear away all evil decrees against us as our merits are called before You.” (K’ra resembles the word for “tear” and “called.”)

6) Spinach or Beetroot Leaves: Selek

Advance preparation: boil spinach or beetroot leaves. At the seder: Pass around spinach or beetroot leaves, and before eating, recite: “May it be Your will, God, to banish all the enemies who might beat us.” (Selek resembles the word for banish, “yistalku.”)

7) Leeks or Scallions: Karti

Advance preparation: Slice leeks or scallions. Cook leeks in a little broth if desired. At the seder: Pass around leeks or scallions and before eating, recite: “May it be Your will, God, to cut off all our enemies.” (Karti resembles “yikartu,” the word for “cut off.”)

Add the following English version of the blessing, if you like. It’s from the “New Year Siddur” by Dr. David De Sola Pool, published by the Union of Sephardic Congregations: “Like as we eat this leek may our luck never lack in the year to come.” De Sola Pool’s other translations of the blessings are equally as “punny.”

You can also create your own translations of the blessings, or think up new ones based on the symbolic foods. And if you still want to end the seder by wishing for heads, not tails, consider the vegetarian version: a head of lettuce!

In any case, may the year a-head be full of blessings! Tahel shanah u-virkhoteha.


Rahel Musleah is a freelance journalist and the author, with Rabbi Michael Klayman, of “Sharing Blessings: Children’s Stories for Exploring the Spirit of the Jewish Holidays” (Jewish Lights, 800-962-4544).

Why is This Seder Different From All Other Seders?


Every seder presents its own challenges, whether it’s in deciding which haggadah to use or how much wine to add to the haroset. But for families of people with special needs, the usual frenetic Passover planning can go into overdrive as they search for ways to make the seder meaningful for all their loved ones.

Fortunately there are a number of Jewish resources that can help. The New York-based Jewish Braille Institute, for instance, provides haggadot in Braille, large print or audiocassette versions for the blind and visually impaired. The institute carries nearly every haggadah imaginable, from the “Women’s Haggadah” to the heavily traditional “Birnbaum” edition and even the standard “Maxwell House” version.

Israel Taub, associate director of the institute, said the aim is to keep people who lose their vision involved with their family’s holiday celebration.

“Say Grandpa has led the seder for many years, but now, even with special glasses, cannot see well enough to read the haggadah,” Taub said. “He is then forced to sit on the sidelines, trying to remember what comes next. He no longer feels like the patriarch of the family. Along comes JBI and the first thing we want to do is get Grandpa back at the head of the table. So we send him the materials he needs to put him there.

“It’s the same with any holiday. We need to find a way of including someone with a visual impairment, rather than having them feel excluded or, which is especially true of the elderly, becoming a shut-in,” Taub said.

The materials are free (even the postage is paid for by the U.S. Postal Service), although a certification of visual impairment, usually in the form of a doctor’s note, is required. The organization also loans audio books to people with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. For more information, call (800) 433-1531 or visit the JBI website at www.jewishbraille.org.

Relatives of the deaf and hearing impaired face the opposite challenge: How to make the seder visually stimulating in the absence of sound. Jan Seeley, administrator of Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf, said her congregation uses props like frog puppets during the reading of the plagues to keep people, especially children, interested during their community seder.

“You also need to make sure the room is logistically good for signing,” she said. “Everyone should be seated so they can see the leader. It’s also nice to make sure the lighting in the room is bright enough — some of those banquet rooms at hotels can be awfully dim — and that if there are curtains or a backdrop [make sure] it is dark and the pattern is not too busy. A backdrop that is light in color doesn’t work for us because it makes a signer’s hands blend in.”

Seeley said the congregation follows a traditional service, but with a twist — like having a finger spelling contest for the song “Had Gad Ya.”

“It gives us a visual break in the service,” she said. “To watch someone sign for three hours is just exhausting.”

Like the third and fourth of the fabled Four Sons, autistic, developmentally delayed or learning disabled children have a tough time grasping the meaning of the Passover experience. A traditional seder, with its heavy reliance on sitting still and reading from a book full of archaic and unfamiliar words, simply will not work. Instead, parents of these children, like Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, often find it easier to create their own service.

“The requirement of the Passover seder is fairly broad,” said Artson, who was recently appointed dean of the University of Judaism Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and whose son, Jacob, has autism. “You have to mention certain things, but the core of the haggadah is in the telling of the story.”

Artson said his family follows the traditional ceremony through all the brachot until they reach the midrash about the journey out of Egypt. They then close their books and tell the story through a mixture of music and drama.

“We actually dress the kids up and they enact the story, confronting the Pharaoh and signing songs about the plague and marching to freedom. Then we go back to the table and complete the seder, which meets the halachic requirements.”

Artson, along with Ruth Lund, has compiled a booklet titled “Kid’s Songs for Passover” to help families in creating their own seder rituals. It is available free through the Board of Rabbis of Southern California at (323) 761-8600.

The rabbi said the important thing is for each family to make the seder something their children and loved ones can appreciate, each at their own level.

“Forcing children to endure an endless ritual they don’t understand is a perversion of the intent (of the seder),” Artson said. “This is our ‘kid phase’ of life, so we have a seder that is different than the one we will have ten years from now.”


Seder Ceremonies


When the Weber family invites the Wolfson familyfor seder, we are asked to prepare a presentation on some aspect ofthe seder ceremony. The presentation could be a d’rash , an explanation of whatthe Haggadah is trying to say. But, over the years, our presentationshave also been given as a play, a song, and a take-off on a gameshow.

Not everyone in your family may be able to dothis, but there is no better way to encourage participation in theseder than by asking people to prepare something in advance to bringto the table.

2. Buy time .

The seder ceremonies of my youth never lasted morethan 20 minutes. That’s how long it took to say Kiddush, do Karpas , breakthe matzo, and fight over who was the youngest grandchild who couldsay the ” Mah Nishtanah .” After a few minutes ofeveryone-take-turns-reading-a-paragraph, my Uncle Morton would askthe infamous fifth question: “When do we eat?” End ofceremony.

One way to buy time to spend on the telling of thestory is to offer your guests something to nibble on between thevegetables of Karpas and the meal. My very creative wife Susie oftenprepares an edible centerpiece. She and the kids slice jicama verythin and with “Jewish” cookie-cutters, stamp out jicama Stars ofDavid, Torah scrolls, and Kiddush cups. She places the shapes on theend of bamboo shishkabob skewers and inserts them into a head of redcabbage placed in a wicker basket. She adds color to the display bycutting flowerettes of green and red pepper, carrots, celery andother vegetables, and placing them on skewers and into the cabbage.The result is a spectacular vegetable bouquet which we use as acenterpiece on the seder table. After Karpas, we invite our guests totake the skewers out of the cabbage and dip the vegetables intosaucers of pesahdik salad dressings placed around the table.

Our friends Gail and Shelley Dorph buy time byusing artichokes for Karpas instead of parsley. They then dip theartichoke leaves into dressings for nibbling until the meal isserved.

3. Tell the story.

Thecore of the seder experience is the telling of the story of theExodus from Egypt. The traditional text of the Haggadah contains fourdifferent tellings of the story, each one beginning with a question(“Mah Nishtanah,” the questions of the four children,” Tzet u-l’mad ,”and Rabban Gamliel’s questions), a response, and praise for God.Think of ways to tell the story that supplement the Haggadah.

One year, we were invited to a seder where thehost family put on a skit. Stan Beiner’s “Sedra Scenes” is a goodsource. Another family we know of uses puppets and storybooks.

The most unusual telling, however, had to be thefamily who presented a magical version of the Ten Plagues in costume.The father played the Pharaoh who, after complaining about howthirsty he was, asked one of the kids to fetch him some cool clearwater from the Nile. The child left the dining room and returned witha pitcher of water and an empty glass. As the “Pharaoh” poured theclear water into the glass, it turned red. It turns out the fatherwas an amateur magician who incorporated a variety of magic tricksinto their telling of the story. It was amazing — andunforgettable.

4. Ask questions.

The Haggadah invites questions. Encourage yourguests to liberate themselves from the book and discuss what it isthe Haggadah is trying to tell us. A favorite point to do this isafter the recitation of the Ten Plagues.

“What are 10 things that plague us today?” is aquestion anyone, no matter what their Judaic knowledge level, cananswer.

When the Haggadah tells us that we should feel asif we were redeemed from Egypt, what does that mean?

What are we doing about Jewish continuity — inour family, in our community?

The discussion resulting from these questions canbe the highlight of your seder.

5. Have fun.

Having fun is serious business, especially at theseder table. The seder was never meant to be dull. Quite thecontrary, it is to be a relaxed, informal educationalexperience.

Some families add favorite songs children learn inreligious school: “Go Down Moses,” “One Day When Pharaoh Awoke in HisBed,” and others. A favorite parody is “The Ballad of the Four Sons.”We read “Only Nine Chairs” by Deborah Uchill Miller (Kar-Ben Copies),a hilarious account of a family seder.

6. Be inclusive.

Scratch the surface of most Jewish adults andyou’ll find a child who was upset at not finding the afikoman . We created a way toinclude everyone in the afikoman search. We make a chart with theorder of the seder ( Kadesh,Urhatz , etc.) and select one letter fromeach word. We put these 14 letters on 3 x 5 cards and then hide themaround the house. We tell the kids that each of them must find atleast one of the cards for us to find the real afikoman. When thekids find all the cards, they bring them to the table.

Then, we ask the adults to figure out ajumble-word-search two-word clue from the letters. The letters spell”at refrigerator.” Once the clue is deciphered, everyone runs to therefrigerator and finds the real afikoman. Then, of course, everyonewho participated in the search gets a prize.

7. Use materials.

One of the problems in keeping the young childreninterested in the seder is that most haggadot are not designed forthem. When our kids were in nursery school, Susie created a “Pat theBunny”-type haggadah using the coloring sheets sent home from class.She added tactile materials to the sheets where appropriate; cottonballs on pictures of sheep, sandpaper on pictures of the bricks ofthe pyramids, grape scratch-and-sniff stickers on pictures of theKiddush cups. She put these in a loose-leaf notebook and made copiesfor the kids at the seder. They were immediately engrossed in thebook, following along and participating at their own level in theirown very special way. Susie also gave each child a “goodie bag”filled with Passover symbols, frog stickers, a bookmark, even moisttowelettes for the inevitable spills of wine.

8. Hiddushim (innovations).

Each year, experienced seder leaders look for newideas to incorporate into the ceremony. Here are a few of myfavorites.

Instead of filling Elijah’s Cup with wine at thebeginning of the seder, wait until just before opening the door andpass Elijah’s cup to each participant who pours some of her/his wineinto it. This is a demonstration of the need to act to bring theMessianic era.

The Sephardim pick up the seder plate and place itover every person’s head during the recitation of ” ho lahma anya ,” the invitationto participate in the seder. Another Sephardic custom is to beat theleader with green onions during the singing of “Dayenu” as a reminderof the plagues.

Save your lulav from Succot and use it instead ofa feather to collect the last vestiges of chametz during the annual searchon the night before the seder.

Ask a set of modern “Four Questions” to discuss atthe ceremony.

Challenge your guests to sing all the verses to” Had Gaya” inone breath. Sing it with sound effects; choose a person to create the sound ofa goat, a car, a dog, a stick, fire, etc., which they make after thewords are sung. The most interesting sounds will be for the Angel ofDeath and Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu.

9. Choose a good haggadah.

There are 3,000 editions of the Haggadahcatalogued in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary andevery year more versions appear. Jews have always felt comfortable inputting together haggadot that reflect their particular slant onexperience of the seder. So, we have “The Haggadah for the LiberatedLamb” (a vegetarian Haggadah) and “The San Diego Women’s Haggadah” (afeminist Haggadah).

We have traditional unedited texts and greatlyabbreviated liberal texts. We have new “family” haggadot and that oldstandby, the Maxwell House Haggadah. In the Conservative movement, wehave the Rabbincal Assembly haggadah, “The Feast of Freedom.”

Choose a haggadah that fits your family’s needs.Since the cost of multiple copies is often quite substantial, pickone that will last a number of years — in style, substance andconstruction. Remember, the book itself should stand up to extensiveuse.

10. Prepare.

Of course, the ultimate haggadah may be one youyourself put together. With inexpensive printing widely available, itis not difficult to edit your own haggadah text. With the help ofguidebooks, you can develop a text that reflects your understandingof the seder story and that fits the needs of your family. This willtake some time, but the reward will be a seder experience that ismeaningful and memorable.

Kiddush cup by Hieronymos Mittacht, 1763. Above, “Sisters of the Van Geldern Haggadah” by Moses Lieb Wolf,1716.

Photos from “Jewish Art,” 1995.


Dr. Ron Wolfson is vice president and directorof the Shirley and Arthur Whizin Center for the Jewish Future at theUniversity of Judaism

What goes into a communityseder? Try 2,000 matzo balls and one creativerabbi

A Meaningful Feast

By Wendy J. Madnick, Valley Editor

It’s hard enough to cook, clean and still make aseder meaningful for yourself and a dozen relatives. So how do rabbisand caterers manage the same feat for 300 Passover guests?

That’s the challenge of the community seder, a LosAngeles institution ever since the first recorded one was helddowntown at the Olive Street Shul in 1912.

Since then, various area synagogues have hostedseders on the second night of Passover for their members, as well asfor those who have nowhere else to go.

Last year, 200 people attended Shomrei TorahSynagogue’s seder, and organizers expect even more to attend thisyear. The 1997 guest list was comprised mainly of families andseniors, most of them single.

Leading a large seder is “an interestingchallenge,” said Rabbi Elijah Schochet, spiritual leader of the WestHills congregation.

“The best approach would be to individualize themeaning of freedom for each guest at the seder. I try to get all thepeople from nine to 90 years old to think of their own freedom andthen to talk about using freedom wisely and humanely,” he said. “Evenin a chaotic seder, one can find a rare moment forintrospection.”

Last year’s community seder “did turn out to be aspiritual high, a very participatory seder,” he said. “We had a lotof children present and it was even possible at certain moments tohave dialogue among those present, reactions to the prayers beingread.”

Rabbi Ron Herstik of Temple Solael, also in WestHills, said he sees the community seder as an opportunity forcongregants and guests to experience what it is like to be part of anextended family, “without the mishegas associated with beingpart of a large family.”

“For many people, the prospect of making a sederfor 30 people can be quite daunting,” he said. “So this [communitymeal] becomes an opportunity to be with family and not have to worryabout making preparations that would dissuade many people from evenhaving a seder.”

Herstik is a veteran of these affairs. For nearly20 years, he led the community seders at the congregation he foundedin San Diego. He said the key to leading a large service is to makecreative use of the haggadah. To that end, he has compiled his own,and encourages his congregants to do the same.

“It is a very rich holiday. Virtually anyone whois interested can put together a haggadah that will address thetraditions and also contemporary concerns,” he said.

Caterers also need to develop a strategy to handlea meal that includes many courses at irregular intervals. The keys toa successful celebration are preparation and great recipes, accordingto Michael Cohen, owner of Majestic Catering and currently in-housecaterer for Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge as well as ShomreiTorah.

In the months before the holiday, Cohen orders hisgroceries, including 25 cases of chickens, 100 boxes of matzo, 50boxes of matzo meal, four cases of apples and about 40 pounds offresh dates for the charoset and the tzimmes.

The week before Pesach, the marathon begins. Thefirst two or three days are spent making the various kitchens kosher,then Cohen and his staff go to work preparing all the individualitems.

“The charoset is the most fun, because everybodylikes to sample it,” said Cohen, who has 21 years of seder cateringexperience. “I also make a chicken breast with matzo farfel. That’smy specialty,” he said.

And then the intensive work begins: making 2,000matzo balls.

“It’s the most time-consuming part, because youcan only make so many at a time,” he said. “I put up six pots toboil, but the pots just fit so many and then everybody’s eating themas quickly as we’re making them. And then I always get calls from afew friends and neighbors asking ‘Michael, do you have a few extra?’A lot of people don’t mind making a brisket, but matzo balls are alot of work.”

With his father, Murray, brother, Steve, andsister, Paula Gootkin, also in the business, the Cohen family gathersfor its seder each year on the third night of Passover.

Schochet sees a trend with communityseders.

“What we find happening within the congregation ispeople who care about the Passover seder getting together with goodfriends who also care, rather than being with family members who areindifferent,” he said. “In a way it’s sad, but I can understand. Theywould rather have their children be with other like-minded familieswho enjoy the service and know the songs. So they use the first sedernight to fulfill their family obligations, and then have the ‘real’seder the second night.”

Slaves to the Sponge Cake, No More

A new book showcases perfect Passoverdesserts

By Robert Eshman, Managing Editor

My grandmother’s Passover sponge cake was a thingof wonder. High as a pillbox, it had hardly more flavor. As a stagingarea for the season’s first strawberries and a slug of Cool Whip – weate that back then – it was dutifully bland. By itself, it was morescience project than dessert. We would nibble off the crusted sugartopping, then use the rest in a contest to see whose slice couldabsorb more spilled milk. Cups, if not quarts, of liquid disappearedinto each slice.

We don’t have sponge cake to kick around muchlonger, it seems. In the new issue of Martha Stewart Living, thearbiter of taste for those who can’t afford to run with the Town andCountry set, Eric Asimov all but recited kaddish (though Martha wouldn’tcall it that) for the once obligatory Passover dessert. European chichas usurped Settlement and Sisterhood cookbook recipes, and nuttortes and flourless chocolate cakes are as commonplace inrestaurants today as the profiteroles and cherries jubilee ofold.

Once you’ve had a slice of acclaimed Berkeleychocolatrice Alice Meydrich’s hazelnut chocolate nut torte withchocolate honey glaze – a dense, supple and flourless wonder – noamount of guilt or nostalgia will lure you back to the sponge.

I was introduced to the glories of the Europeantorte by Ellen Straus, the matriarch of the Straus Dairy in MarinCounty, where long ago I spent a perfect spring cleaning milkingbarns and digging fence posts. Ellen, the daughter of AmsterdamJewish diamond merchants, made the kind of desserts for which AliceWaters, 200 miles to the south at Chez Panisse, was being hailed as aculinary messiah. She crushed Zweiback biscuits, blended them withmelted (homemade) butter, topped them with just-picked ripe elephantheart plums, and just before baking drizzled the top with slicedalmonds and sugar.

Few people have the talents of Alice Meydrich orEllen Straus. That’s where a new cookbook, “Fabulous & Flourless:150 Wheatless and Dairy Free Desserts” by Mary Wachtel Mauksch(Macmillan, $19.95) comes in. The title is unfortunate, because thebook itself is more about fabulousness than flour- or dairy-lessness.I don’t know whether Mauksch is even Jewish, but she has compiled,perhaps inadvertently, the perfect Passover dessert cookbook.

Using ground nuts for substance and egg whites forleavening, most of her recipes enable kosher cooks to effortlesslyglide over the twin no-no’s of a meat Passover meal: no dairy and noflour. The Prague-born Mauksch draws on childhood memories torecreate instructions for cakes, cookies, roulades, puddings,soufflés, tarts and tortes. Some recipes use a nip ofcornstarch, rice flour or spelt – all forbidden on Passover – butmost, like Aristocrat’s Torte or Walnut Fig Cake, do not. (Therecipes, Mauksch freely acknowledges, work as well or better withreal butter. Try butter from the Straus Dairy, available at La BreaBakery). There are non-dairy cream fillings, ices and glazes withwhich to finish the desserts, and Mauksch includes helpful sectionson ingredients, substitutions and sources.

I plan on making one of her Chocolate HazelnutCakes into a pyramid shape, glazing it with chocolate, and serving itas a reminder that once we too were slaves to sponge cake.

Aristocrat’s Cake

Mauksch writes that this recipe comes from hermother’s 19th century Viennese cookbook.

8 1/2 tablespoons unsalted lactose-freemargarine

2/3 cup sugar

6 extra large eggs, separated

6 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, grated

1/4 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 1/3 cups grated blanched and toastedalmonds

1 recipe Rich Chocolate Cream (see below)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Grease two 8-inch springform pans; setaside.

3. In a small bowl, cream the margarine and addthe sugar. Beat until fluffy.

4. Add the yolks one at a time, beatingconstantly. Mix in the chocolate.

5. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites with thelemon juice until firm and creamy.

6. Fold the almonds and the yolk mixture into thebeaten egg whites.

7. Divide the batter equally between the pans.Bake in the upper part of the oven until the cake shrinks from therims, about 35-40 minutes.

8. Remove the cakes from the springforms, let coolon a rack.

9. When cool, cut each cake horizontally into twolayers. Cover three of the layers with one-quarter of the ChocolateCream, then stack all the layers, ending with the plain one. Decoratetop and sides with Chocolate Cream. Serves 8-12.

Rich Chocolate Cream

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, grated

8 tablespoons unsalted lactose-freemargarine

1. Fill a large pot with 2 inches of water. Bringit to a simmer.

2. In a bowl large enough to fit inside the pot,combine the yolks and sugar and beat over the simmering water untilthick and double in volume.

3. Add the chocolate and continue beating.

4. Remove the bowl from hot water. Cut themargarine into pieces and add gradually, stirring to incorporatebetween additions. Makes 1 cup.

Bring On the Blowtorches

Behind every good kashering job is an army ofworkers

By Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor

A short, heavy-set man sits perched on the insideedge of the life-size sink, the corners of his dirty white apronfalling into the speckled muck near the drain. In one hand is aparing knife, in the other Easy-Off heavy duty oven cleaner.

He sprays. He scrapes.

His shoulders hunch and his eyes squint as he digsthe point of the knife into the gunk at the base of the faucet. Heattacks the little area between the knobs. He makes sure that thebrown stuff cowering inside the engraved “H” and “C” know the wrathof Pesach cleaning.

Or whatever it is they have him doing this for.The isn’t Jewish. But he is among an army of shul and cateringemployees without whom many a matzo ball would never see the light ofchicken soup.

“The first time I heard about it, I thought it wasa joke,” says Noe Molina, who has learned the rigors of Passover asan assistant for three years at Elegant Event, Edmond Guenoun’scatering service at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills.

Now, on the Sunday morning before Pesach, as steamrises around him and fumes from the most caustic agents on the marketmake his eyes tear, Molina is pretty sure it is serious.

For dozens of kosher caterers across Los Angeles,this week brings with it rigorous scrubbing, scraping, scouring untilevery speck of chametz is routed out, lest a tiny crumb render akitchen unfit for Passover.

Martha Urrutia, who has been the cook for ElegantEvent for five years, has been making Pesach for 18 years sincemigrating here from her native Guatemala. She started working in thehome of Pat Fine, and when Fine started her kosher catering business,Urrutia went with her.

“I knew something about cooking, but I didn’t knowanything about Jewish food or customs or traditions,” Urrutia says,as she whisks a bag of chametz cookies out of the kitchen and intothe Beth Jacob social hall, where about a dozen tables are stackedwith the green marble-trimmed non-Passover china, ready to hide inthe closet for the next two weeks.

“I never thought it was crazy,” she says of theyear-round and Pesach laws of kashrut. “I think they have to followtheir own beliefs, because that’s what’s been written and that’stheir tradition. And then I have to follow that, because I work forthem.”

Urrutia says she enjoys working for koshercaterers, although the challenge of coming up with flourless dessertsis somewhat daunting.

“For me it’s quite an experience. I never thoughtI would be working for Jewish people,” she says.

Today, as she kneels below a sink with a scouringpad and a bucket, the reality is all too tangible.

Steam rises all around the kitchen, as the hottestwater, the most potent brews of Lime Away and the yellow stuff markedonly “Professional Strength” is used to wash walls, sinks andcounters. The refrigerators drone steadily as four workers, intenseand driven, attack the place. They worked last night for hours, thencame in early this morning.

Now, the moment of truth has arrived.

Enter the rabbi.

The man in the thick salt-and-pepper beard and thewhite shirt is here for the kashering part. The mashgiach, kashrut supervisorfor the Rabbinical Council of California, must proclaim that thecleaning job is satisfactory so that he can begin thekashering.

Molina looks a bit nervous as the rabbi inspectsthe dishwasher, most of it sitting in pieces on the counter. Therabbi runs his fingers underneath a metal ledge. It comes upgreasy.

“They always miss the parts they can’t see,” hesays, confirming his theory as he runs his fingers over the back ofthe refrigerator handle. “But they do a very good job here. It’s veryhard work,” he adds.

The mashgiach turns on the 25 burners on thestove. He covers the grill with foil and puts it on full blast. He’scovering it, he explains, so that the heat stays in and the metalgrates, which come into direct contact with food, get so hot theyglow.

He brings to a boil a 20-gallon vat of water,ready for kashering utensils.

The convection oven and standard ovens are alsoplaced on the highest setting. But that won’t be enough. They’ll needthe treatment of that fire-breathing apparatus men dream about: theblowtorch.

As the rabbi aims the nozzle first at the metalsurfaces on and around the stove top, some of the workers drop theirsteel wool to stare.

“The dirt in a catering kitchen is not like thedirt at home,” the rabbi explains.

As he turns down the flame, the lights start toblink. No, it’s not time for a break. It’s simply Urrutia cleaningthe light switch.

In fact, it won’t be time for a break for a while.After all, this is just the beginning. Next comes the real work:seder for 1,000.

As the catering kitchen was kasheredupstairs at Beth Jacob, downstairs mashgiah Mordecai Rube and a BethJacob employee used a blowtorch to kasher pots and pans.

Photos by Shlomit Levy

Hospital Chaplains Help Patients CelebratePassover

By NaomiPfefferman, Senior Writer

On each seder night at Cedars-Sinai, patientsseparated from their families will be able to enjoy the holiday witha flick of the TV remote.

On their television screen they will discover aseder, aired at 4 and 5 p.m., led by Jewish chaplain Rabbi Levi Meierand Cedars-Sinai leaders. The videotaped seder “is unique in theworld,” says Meier, who began the tradition some 20 years ago.

The newestvideotape, completed just last month, will be accompanied by akosher-for-Passover seder meal, including brisket, baked chicken, andeven a mini-seder plate with karpas , charoset and maror .

“The video is geared toward hospital patients,”the rabbi says. “To alleviate the loneliness, we let them know thatwe are their family; that they are sitting at our table.”

During the four intermediary days of the holiday,when work is permitted, Meier, an Orthodox rabbi and practicingpsychologist, visits his usual 30 to 50 patients per day. He asks,”How is this Passover different from other Passovers?” and remindspatients that “We all go through Egypt, and we all come out.”

Each Pesach, the rabbi has his own visitor, aformer heart transplant patient who was grateful to celebratePassover in the hospital some years ago. Every erev Passover, he comes toMeier’s office to hug him and say, “Thank you.”

Of course, there are some patients who do not wantto observe the holiday, and for the rabbi, that’s fine too. For thosewho are terminally ill, the memorial service Meier leads on the lastday of Passover has special meaning. “It may be the last time a sonor daughter sees their parent called to the Torah,” the rabbiexplains. “If a patient cannot move, we move the Torah towardthem.”

Downtown at L.A. County-USC Medical Center, RabbiMartin Ryback, the retired director of chaplaincy for the SouthernCalifornia Board of Rabbis, has his own tales of Passovers past. Only2 percent of the patients are Jewish, but the rabbi makeskosher-for-Passover food available to anyone who wants it.

Ryback recalls a young Russianémigré, the victim of a car accident, who was in severepain on the 12th floor burn ward not long ago. His parents, who spoketo the rabbi in Yiddish, wondered why God had punished their onlyson. When the doctors were able to save his leg, they regarded it asa Passover miracle.

Then there was the homeless man, a resident ofSkid Row, who arrived at the hospital after a heart attack some yearsago. Over his Passover meal, he described growing up in a poorOrthodox Jewish family in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Afterhis hospital stay, Ryback tried to find the patient some temporaryshelter. But after two weeks, he simply disappeared.

At the UCLA Medical Center, Rabbi Kalman Winnickwalks down the halls, carrying haggadot and a box of matzo. He,too, is making kosher food available to Jewish patients, who make upnearly 15 percent of the hospital’s clientele. “I’m not going topretend things are terrific for patients,” explains the 37-year-oldchaplain. “But if I can make things just one tiny bit better, that’saccomplishing a lot.”

Top, a silver seder plate from Austria,1815. Photo from “Jewish Art,”1995.

Above, Rabbi Levi Meier leads the Cedars-SinaiMedical Center annual seder, which is held early and videotaped sopatients can watch the seder during Passover in thehospital.

Pesach with the Roths of Frankfurt, 5731

By Marvin Wolf

It was Pesach, 5731, and I, a captain in the llthSignal Battalion in Kaiserslauter, Germany, needed a place for seder.The Jewish chaplain for U.S. forces in West Germany told me he knewplenty of Jewish millionaires at whose homes I would be welcome, buthe couldn’t recommend them.

“What do you mean?”I asked.

“After the war,’45, ’46, Germany was in ruins,” heexplained. “Terrible times. Nobody had money except the Occupationforces and a handful of Jews who had survived the camps and got amonthly pension — government reparations.

“In Frankfurt, a few of these Jews recruitedstarving, desperate German girls and opened brothels. Got theirrevenge, and got rich, too. They’re in other businesses now, but doyou really want to spend Pesach with such people?”he asked.

“Guess not,”I replied.

“Then I’ll ask Louis Roth,” said the chaplain.”He’s probably the poorest Jew in Frankfurt — but a very interestingman.”

I found his four-room walkup in a stadt project, rows of grimconcrete apartments slumped around asphalt quadrangles. In Louis’spotless home, a few sticks of severe Nordic furniture tiptoed acrossbare floors; only a calendar relieved the monotony of whitewashedwalls.

A compact man in his 60s, his face was deeplylined and he moved with the stiff, painful tread of an octogenarian.Louis effusively accepted the matzo and kosher-for-Pesach cannedgoods my cousin had provided. In flawless English, he introducedAnna, a Saxon wife less than half his age and at least twice hissize, and their flaxen-haired daughter, a giggling 9-year-old withDown syndrome.

Louis opened his haggadah and we began in theusual way: Moses, Pharaoh, plagues, the Angel of Death, the Exodus,bread of affliction, bitter herbs, wine. Seamlessly, he continuedwith his own tale: A newspaperman critical of National Socialism, hiscareer as a columnist ended in 1933 with a midnight warning from apolice pal that he would be arrested at dawn. Hegira took him toFrance, where he wrote for a wire service until Paris fell and theGestapo hunted him down.

Lucky Louis avoided the extermination camps andpassed an agonizing captivity among political prisoners in a Belgiandungeon. In 1944, a Sherman tank flying the tri-color broke down thewalls. Louis slept three days in a hotel, ate the most glorious mealof his life — K rations — and went to work reporting the war. In1945, he returned to Frankfurt.

His health broken, Louis survived on a tinypension supplemented by selling tickets at the Operaplatz. There he met Anna, ahomely farm girl who eked out a living scrubbing floors. Often, afterthe house lights dimmed, he found her a seat where she could listento the music she loved.

One night Anna was raped. Upon learning that shewas pregnant, she attempted suicide. Louis proposed marriage,protected Anna from disgrace and gave the hapless child the onlything of value he owned: his name.

I had swallowed a hundred questions, but now Iinterrupted. “I don’t understand,” I said. “After all that theGermans did to you, after the war, why didn’t you go to Israel, orthe States?”

“There have been Roths in Germany for at least1,000 years,” he replied. “I couldn’t let a few gangsters drive mefrom my home.”

On the long drive back to my base, I decided thatcousin David was wrong. Tally up the things that really count, andLouis Roth was the richest Jew in Frankfurt.

Marvin Wolf in uniform, c.1971.


Marvin Wolf, an author and raconteur, willshare more tales from his years in uniform at Temple Mishkon Tephilo,201 Main St., Venice, at 6:00 p.m. Sunday, April 19. Call (310)392-3029 for details.

A Woman’s Voice


My Passover seder was once again acclaimed by oneand all as the best ever. Good thing, too, since, as befits a holidayfilled with questions, anxiety had dogged my every step — rightuntil the last moment.

First, I worried about the weather. Passover felleven later last year than this, and though there was not a sign of ElNiño and it had been unseasonably warm, I, of course, wasconcerned about the possibility of rain. And I worried about thetable setting, for this was to be my first seder al fresco, served not onlyoutside but on plastic.

“I’m sure everyone will understand,” said mymother. But I was not so sure. Fearing that my friends would think Iwas cheap or lazy, and not nearly the Martha Stewart I pretend to be,I left frantic messages of warning: This seder would be “casual”; besure to bring sweaters and dress for the chill.

Then, I worried about the food. Wendy gave methree kosher chickens; Alice was bringing two briskets. But what ifit still wasn’t enough?

“You’re worried for nothing,” my mother said. Butby now, she was worrying too — not about my seder in Los Angeles butabout my cousin Lorraine’s in New York, to which Mom and Dad werebringing a platter of fruit. We spent hours debating the relativemerits of pineapples, strawberries, cantaloupe or a mix of all threeand grapes. A worrier’s delight.

With my mother thus preoccupied, I turned tocousin Rita. She was busy fretting about the table settings for herown second-night seder, and hadn’t caught up to the matter of food.So I went on alone. Beyond the natural concern that my guests woulddie of starvation, I was agitated about one cousin who eats onlykosher, another who eats only vegetables, and those friends who areallergic or who are on the Zone Diet or the protein diet or puttingtheir faith in Phen-Fen before its link to heart-valve irregularitieswas revealed. I felt the kind of apprehension that made me long forYom Kippur, when no one eats at all.

When my worries had boiled and condensed into afine fumé, I baked a turkey breast and, for good measure, apotato kugel (doubling the recipe) and an extra dessert — an orangenut cake.

Little did I know that, in the midst of myobsession, my friends were worrying too. The day before, Laura hadcalled, tormented about the shape of the hard-boiled eggs she hadbeen requested to bring.

“Why did you give me something so easy to do?” sheasked, in exasperation. “I’m only good at hard tasks. I couldn’t peelthe eggs without leaving half the white in the shell. I threw out abunch, and those that I kept are so deformed, they’re practicallyabstract.”

Finally, it was 6 p.m., Erev Pesach. Wendy, whose matzoballs are internationally celebrated for flotation, came through thedoor frothing about her soup.

“Tasteless,” she declared it, and the matzo balls,she insisted, were like lead. So she salted the pot, added water toit, and nursed it like a baby, worrying, all the while, that she hadpaid too much for the chickens, and vowing that next year she wouldbuy them closer to yuntif, when the kosher market sells them at half price.

Alice and Ted arrived, their brisket kept warm ina huge brown insulated box. Alice declared the meat stringy and hersauce “too intense.” By turns, she threw herself into apoplexy,worrying that the meat would be either too hot or too cool andwondering why she couldn’t turn my stove top to “On.”

Meanwhile, Kari came in, disturbed to find thatthe chicken would be served unheated: “It’s fine with me,” she saidwith a glare of disapproval so firm that I threw the chicken into themicrowave, returning only to see her and Judy eyeing each other’scarrots with suspicion. Whose would be best?

Then, in sauntered Mary, warning one and all thather chocolate cake “is much better than it looks.” Debra, not to beout-mortified, suffered the indignity of contributing only bottledgrape juice. “I can cook, too, you know,” she said.

And with that, the seder itself began.

You’d think that my worries would end there andthen, but you underestimate my talent for a good hard-boileddistress. Last year, as seder leader, I kept my worries about theHaggadah to a minimum, refusing to rewrite it completely, making duewith the one I had first compiled when all my guests were feminists.I felt queasy about forgoing the washing-of-the-hands ritual, and, asfor music, my company never gets beyond the first verse of “Chad GadYa.” I am a worrier, not a perfectionist.

But Marty, who co-leads the seder each year, hadbeen worrying for me. Concerned that the seder would go over theheads of the children, he brought along “Uncle Eli’s Haggadah,” fromthe Internet. Every ritual, every historic reference had its own Dr.Seuss-like rhyme.

“I think the seder is for children,” he said, hisvoice filled with obligation.

What are these worries about? My mother says thereare “good problems” and “bad problems,” and these about Passover areof the first, happier, variety.

How wonderful it is to worry about such smallthings. The weather, the table, the food and the guests. Even thepossible closing of Pacific Coast Highway in the event of mudslide –these are the concerns, the privileges of love.

Bad problems, of course, we know all too well.Heart conditions, unemployment, death. To know only good worries isto be in a state of bliss, to be part of a natural order in which theminutiae of life is resolved by time, and to learn once again thatGod is in the details.

The first night of Passover turned out to be thehottest night of the year. We sat on the patio, telling the story ofthe Exodus to freedom, by the light of the full moon. Warmed bygentle breezes, we ate eggs (deemed perfect), soup (thick andflavorful), brisket (masterful), carrots (both recipes divine) andthe world’s greatest Passover chocolate cake. The children understoodit all.

“The best Passover ever!” they all declared. I’mworried that this year’s won’t be half so good.

Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist for TheJewish Journal, is preparing for Passover. This is her updated columnfrom last year. Her e-mail address is wvoice@aol.com.


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