Tradition strikes again this week with the beginning of Passover, the Jewish holiday to celebrate the exodus from slavery in Egypt.
Monday at sundown marked the beginning of the eight-day holiday in which the family gathers for a seder. The celebration, which literally means order but is a service and meal, follows a litany of dietary rules.
Tuesday night I headed to Denver with Tanner, the photographer, for the seder on the second night of Passover at my parents house.
Seders tend to be vastly different depending on how conservative the family is. I have sat through seders as long as five hours and as short as 20 minutes.
Preparing for Passover begins the night prior to the seder with the search for chametz, or leavened bread. My family takes everything that’s not kosher for Passover, which is different than keeping kosher in daily life, out of the pantry and puts it in the basement for the eight days of Passover. This includes all fermented grain products and legumes (beans, corn, peas, rice as well as their derivatives such as corn syrup).
Tuesday’s seder started with my mom lighting candles and my dad saying a prayer over the first glass of wine (we drink four by the end of the meal).
The contents of the seder plate are also explained. Each item has a meaning starting with the beitzah, a hard-boiled egg, to represent new life that comes with spring.
Charoset, an applesauce textured mixture of nuts, apples, wine and spices, represents the mortar used in building the pyramids of Egypt.
The maror, bitter herbs, sit next to the charoset in representation of the bitterness of enslavement.
Finally the zeroa, a roasted bone, that represents the offering of a sacrificial lamb who’s blood was put on the door posts of Jewish houses so the Angel of Death would pass over rather than killing the first born child, and karpas, spring greens representing hope, sit on the plate.
The youngest child participating is then asked to recite the four questions in Hebrew, the basic idea of which being why is this night so different?
The leader of the seder is then expected to answer the child. This is generally where my family gets a little goofy. One year my mom brought out masks of the plagues to explain. Another year there were finger puppets of the plagues.
By the time we get to dinner, songs have been sung, representational food has been eaten, everyone has taken turns doing various readings from the haggadah, the prayer book used during the seder, and my family is hungry.
Like a child with A.D.D., we get sidetracked and start telling Uncle Vic’s jokes, the likes of which include “So a duck walks into a pharmacy and asks for chapstick. he say’s put it on my bill.”
It used to be that Uncle Vic would sit at one end of the table and tell these jokes and at the other end my grandfather, his brother, would shoot nasty glares down to his end.
The idea that Uncle Vic wasn’t taking the seder seriously was just unacceptable to my grandparents, but in all actuality it just egged Vic on.
Dinner ensues and the jokes continue. This year we had gefilte fish, matzah ball soup, beef tenderloin, apple kugel, potato kugel, broccoli, fruit salad and finished the meal with kosher-for-Passover brownies as well as something my family calls “The Big Lin,” a kosher-for-Passover super-sized version of the Little Debbie Swiss Roll.
Once dessert is finished the kids are asked to find the afikoman (pronounced ah-fee-ko-man), a piece of matzah, which I steal from my dad about halfway through the first part of the seder.
The kids have to find it because the seder cannot end until everyone eats a piece of the afikoman.
Since, according to tradition, the afikoman must be eaten, the kids hold it hostage and negotiate with my dad before they give it back. This year everyone below the age of 30 got three gold dollars and my dad got the afikoman back.
To finish off the seder we have two more glasses of wine, say a few more prayers, symbolically invite Elijah, the prophet, in for a glass of wine and sing a couple more songs.
The last thing said at every seder, whether 20 minutes or five hours has passed is “La-shanah haba’ah birushalayim,” or “next year in Jerusalem.”
L’chaim and B’tay avon (to life and eat well).
Verve editor Liz Sunshine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A: Pronounced Ma-roar and is generally represented with ground horseradish.
B: Pronounced Cha-row-set and is a mixture of chopped nuts, wine, apples and spices.
C: Pronounced Car-paas and is generally represented with celery or green onion and is dipped in salt water during the seder.
D: Pronounced Bait-tz-ah, which is a roasted egg.
E: Pronounced Ze-row-ah, which is a roasted bone, representing the lamb that was sacrificed to save the first born children of Jewish homes.
F: Pronounced Ha-zer-et, which is additional maror used for dipping in the Charoset.