Friday, April 3, 2009

The Passover Seder

My favorite celebration of the year! We are blessed enough to be able to gather with approximately twenty wonderful people each year to have Seder. Our close friends Gray and Paul are the hosts, and Paul is a gifted leader. They both slave for days to prepare, and one of my favorite parts is arriving early enough to help Gray get the matzo ball soup ready. She will only allow us to bring a token as far as the food goes — my part is a fruit platter — so I always try to help serve during the meal and help with clean-up too.

We’ve been going to Gray and Paul’s since the year that our son Nate was born, so this will be our 23rd year at their house! Now that’s the kind of hospitality that Jews are famous for! Our daughter Dani has been going since before she was born, and this year she will be unable to attend since she’s studying in Italy. She says that’s the only thing that could keep her away :-)

“Seder” means the “order of the service” and refers to the sequence that the rituals take place as we retell the sory of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt. The most iconic part of the preparations is the removal of all leavened products from the house. During the Passover festival (8 days in most of the world, 7 days in Israel), no leavened products and only foods that are kosher for Passover are served. Some Sephardic Jews allow the use of corn, rice, and legumes during Passover, but the Ashkenazi Jews (my family) eliminate these as well as leavened products. I’m not sure exactly how that developed over the years, but I’m sure I could google it if I were so inclined!

Anyway, the Ashkenazi cuisine centers around lamb, chicken soup with matzo balls, gefilte fish, matzo-based kugels and casseroles, vegetable tzimmes, lots and lots of horseradish (fresh ground, of course!), and delicious desserts. Even though the food list is restrictive, the menu can be quite varied: after all, this is a feast time and a festival!

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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