Next Friday night is the start of Passover. For many of us, it may be the first seder in-person with family and friends since 2019. To help make Passover possibly more special, I thought I would share some helpful tips and information.
We are grateful to those of you who helped raise over $9,000 for our Passover 4All program, making sure that no family goes without Passover.
One challenge of Passover this year is the potential shortage of shmura matzah (handmade in small batches with a higher level of supervision than most other types of matzah). Approximately 15-20% of the shmura matzah in the United States is made in Ukraine (the largest factory is in Dnipro and this year they opened a new matzah bakery in Uman).
Approximately, 180,000 pounds of shmura matza from Ukraine already made it to the United States before the end of February. Yet, on February 24, two shipping containers laden with the remaining 20,000 pounds were slated to head out of the port in Odessa on their way to the United States. Two hours before they were to be loaded onto a ship, Russia invaded and the matzah remains.
Two weeks ago, I participated in a board meeting with leaders from Camp Solomon Schechter. Irit Eliav Levin, a board member from Seattle, shared an informative d’var Torah about Passover. With her permission, I am sharing a few of her “fun facts”:
Seder plates seem to be standard, yet here are some new additions to the seder table:
- Cup of water - The Cos Miriam, or Miriam’s Cup, represents the wells that would follow Miriam throughout the desert. When she passed away, the wells dried up.
- Orange – This is attributed to Susannah Heschel, professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College and daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. She included an orange in recognition of gay and lesbian Jews, and others who are marginalized in the Jewish community. In her ritual, each person takes a segment of the orange, and before eating it, says a blessing over the fruit. The seeds are spit out as a rejection of homophobia.
- Beet - Vegetarians use this in lieu of the shank bone to symbolize the blood the Israelites put on their door.
- Scallions - Persian Jews use these during the singing of Dayenu as "whips" to remind us of what it was like to be slaves.
- Olives - In support of world peace (including Ukraine).
- Water Bottle - In support of voting rights (in response to the Georgia law disallowing water distribution to people waiting to vote).
- Potato - In support of Ethiopian Jews, who were fed potatoes and rice by Israeli doctors when they first arrived to help them adjust to a new diet.
- Sunflower/sunflower seeds - In support of Ukraine (which provides 47% of the world's sunflower oil exports)
- Coffee -- To wake us up to the modern day plague of Antisemitism
During the Yachatz part of the seder, we break the middle piece of matzah, which becomes the afikomen. Tradition teaches us we break the matzah as our spirits were broken by Pharaoh's evil decrees. The Midrash says the three matzah pieces represent the Cohanim, Levites, and Israelites, with Levites in the middle being the one we break. Moses was a Levite who was broken away from his people, wrapped up in a blanket, hidden away, and then brought back to end our enslavement – just as the afikoman is wrapped up, hidden, and brought back to end our seder.
One of the four questions we sing is different from the version we find in the Talmud. Today, the fourth question is about how we sit at the table and recline to remind us we are free. However, in the time of the Mishnah reclining during a meal was standard practice. The Talmud instead asks, “On all other nights, we eat roasted, stewed, or cooked meat, but on this night we eat only roasted meat.” Roasted meat was symbolic of the sacrifice and was consumed during the time of the Temple. Sephardic seders today often include roasted lamb to remind us of the Temple sacrifices.
We translate one of the ten plagues as frogs (tzefardeah) while some commentators believe they were crocodiles.
During the Passover story, Aaron announces the first three plagues and Moses the next seven. It is believed the initial plagues are connected to the Nile and it is through the Nile that Moses’ life was saved, so he was unable to plague the river.
Some believe Moses may not have ever been born. Midrash says that upon hearing Pharaoh’s evil decree of killing all baby boys, Moses’ parents - Amram and Yocheved - decided to get a divorce, rather than risk losing a child. Miriam, their daughter who was around age 6, told her parents “Your actions are worse than Pharaoh’s, for his decree is only against male children. You are ruling against any possible girls as well.” So, her parents remarried and then Moses was born.
Passover would not be Passover if we did not talk about food. Click here for some fun recipes from JewishBoston.com. And, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) and The Nosher have teamed together for this new, free recipe ebook, “15 Recipes For a Modern Passover.” Why not try some of these kosher for Passover global recipes?
I would be remiss if I did not mention the passing this week of Gerda Weissmann Klein (z”l) at the age of 97. Gerda was a Holocaust survivor, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and her book was turned into an Oscar winning documentary. She was also one of the few Jewish women who survived The Death March to Volary (800+ kilometers over 106 days) in 1945. Gerda, who spoke in Portland several times, would always share the story of meeting her husband, Kurt, who was the US Army officer who liberated her and the other women. You can hear her story here and read more here. May her memory be a blessing.
Shabbat shalom and enjoy your preparations for Passover.