Passover – The Exodus, Again And Again

Foodie Friday

Apr 22, 2011 by

It’s that time of year again for Jews. The challenge of confronting what Passover means to each of us. For observant people, and in this case I am thinking about the women in particular, it entails engaging with the many requirements related to purifying our environment and freeing it from ‘chametz,’ which for most people means things with yeast in them or any of the five species of grain:  wheat, spelt, oats, barley, and rye. Just think of it as Spring Cleaning on steroids.

My grandmother did it all: rid all her shelves of offending products, changed her 2 sets of Kosher dishes for 2 different sets of kosher Passover dishes. Her house, which was already immaculate, became even more pristine for the holiday. My grandfather observed the night-before Passover ritual of going through the house with a candle and feather to sweep the deliberately placed tiny piles of chametz into an envelope he took to the synagogue the next day to be burned. I remember trailing behind him as a young child, mesmerized by the candle, the feather, the quiet chanting I didn’t understand.

Driving from the suburbs of New York to Akron, Ohio to attend my grandparents’ Seder meant memorizing the ‘Four Questions’ in Hebrew which are asked by the youngest person at the table to start the unfolding of meaning behind the ritual meal.  The seven tunnels of the Pennsylvania Turnpike marked my increasing comfort with the melody and words.

I didn’t organize or lead my own Seders until 1973 when I lived in Victoria, British Columbia and another Jewish woman from New York and I decided we wanted to hold one together. Given our histories, we were certain we needed to find a Jewish man to lead it, and set out to find one, not the easiest task in that place at that time. Eventually we found one who accepted. The experience was revelatory. He knew less than we did, he was pedantic about what he did know, and lacked both a sense of humor or desire for depth.  It started my own journey toward deeper Jewish learning and responsibility.

The themes of Passover are many.  We eat Matzo – the unleavened bread that reminds us of the rush from Egypt to liberation. In contemporary terms, matzo and refraining from things that rise reminds us to guard against our own arrogance, our ‘puffed-upness.’ Humility isn’t an easy virtue for most of us and 8 days of having to resist some of our favorite foods can strain the Jewish soul.

The topic of Slavery and what it means is central. Slavery is not something of the past. The politically active members of my community reminded us of the terrible reality in our own country and around the world.

Personally, I wrestle with my ‘inner Pharoah,’ and the ways I oppress myself, the ways of thinking and behaving that keep me from being free.

As serious as this all sounds, there is always an element of lightness and singing and jokes. At my congregation’s community Seder we sang a cluster of Passover songs downloaded from the internet and sung to melodies we all know: Our Passover Things (sung to “My Favorite Things”) There’s no Seder like our Seder… you get the idea.

And of course there is the food – once you finish going through the Haggadah, the guide to the ritualized order of the Seder. Every year we ask why we don’t make some of these glorious dishes during the year: the wonderful variations on ‘haroset’ – representing the mortar used to hold the bricks together while in slavery. Gefilte fish accompanied by eye-watering horseradish. Even Matzo, available year-round, can be delicious.

This year I continued my experimentation with Sefardi-style Haroset and developed this fabulous version:

Sefardic Haroset – 2011


½ cup  chili-covered pineapple (available at Trader Joe’s)

½ cup dried cranberries

½ cup dried apricots

2 tablespoon candied ginger

1 cup mixed raisins

1 cup cashews

1 tangerine – skin and all (you can also use 5 kumquats or 1 Meyers lemon)

¼ cup sugar

½ sweet wine

1 T cumin

1 T ground coriander

2 T cinnamon

¼ t. cayenne

1 T. fennel seeds


Pulse them in a processor until you have a paste-like consistency. Taste to achieve the mixture of flavors that please you.  This combination of spices delivers layers of flavor. The bit of heat isn’t too much and the fennel seeds give a lingering licorice flavor at the end.

About the Author

Rebecca Crichton Has Written 40 Articles For Us!

I try to stay aware of one main concept: We see things through different lenses. We get caught in our own belief systems and most of us are pretty attached to being right. I am one of those inveterate Life Long Learners. I like new ideas, new experiences, new people, new challenges.
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