Even for the most secular Jews, Passover is revered as a sacred time that represents the arrival of spring and a time of renewal. Of the major Jewish holidays, Passover ranks as the most spiritual and generally follows weeks of in-house preparations for the holiday and the new season: cleaning, purifying and making the home kosher in the lead up to the Seder ritual, which is held on the 14th day of Nisan on the Hebrew Calendar.

Orthodox Jews will often burn the leftovers of non-kosher foods as the holiday approaches and will go to great lengths to ensure all evidence of leavened bread is removed from the property. For the more secular, Passover is the ideal time to begin a spring cleaning regimen that will often include the donation of old clothing to various charities and vigorous housekeeping.

The annual holiday meal at Passover is also called a Seder, which literally means “order” in Hebrew. The Seder involves the retelling of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Ancient Egypt, often told by an elder in the community or within the family. Traditionally, family and friends will gather in the evening to read the text of the Haggadah, a spiritual work that contains the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. It includes special blessings and rituals, commentaries from the Talmud and special Passover songs.
Ronnie Elgavish, an architect, designer and writer working in Israel, styled the Passover scenes you see in these photographs by Michal Lenart, which were published for hafatzim.com. Ronnie, whose blog theroomservice.net features expository texts on lifestyle and design, is a friend of mine (and a fan of Martha’s!) and he told me a bit about the Seder in a recent discussion:

The complete holiday spiel might take around 3-4 hours of reading the book, singing about 5 traditional songs, drinking a few glasses of sweet, red wine – in sync with various phases of the storyline, enjoying the meal – and exchanging gifts. Since bread is traditionally forbidden during the 10 days of Passover, Matza bread is eaten instead – in commemoration of the quickly cooked dough made during exodus. As part of the Ritual, the Matza bread (usually shaped Orthogonal or Circular with tiny holes) is revealed for the first time- on top of the Seder table; and since Passover is a holiday with a very specific type of Kosher-ness, many families hold a separate set of dinnerware for this holiday only.

Because of the emphasis placed on fine dinnerware, Ronnie says that houseware stores in Israel often see a big spike in their sales:

Sales are increased in ridiculous percents as shoppers are not only looking for a nice display as entertainers – but for giving away gifts as well. New collections of all brands and designers, local and international - are therefore presented everywhere – from mid February onwards.

The Seder table is traditionally set in a formal manner, and family members come to the table dressed in their holiday clothes. For the first half of the Seder, each participant will only need a plate and a wine glass.

At the head of the table is a Seder Plate containing various symbolic foods that will be eaten or pointed out during the course of the Seder. Placed nearby is a plate with three matzot and dishes of salt water for dipping.
The six items on the Seder plate, include:
  • Maror and Chazeret: Two types of bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery which the Jews endured in Ancient Egypt. For maror, many people use freshly grated horseradish or whole horseradish root. Chazeret is typically romaine lettuce, whose roots are bitter-tasting. Either the horseradish or romaine lettuce may be eaten in fulfillment of the mitzvah of eating bitter herbs during the Seder.
  • Charoset: A sweet, brown, pebbly paste of fruits and nuts, representing the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt.

  • Karpas: A vegetable other than bitter herbs, usually parsley but sometimes something such as celery or cooked potato, which is dipped into salt water, vinegar, or charoset at the beginning of the Seder.

  • Zeroa: A roasted lamb bone, symbolizing the Pesach sacrifice, which was a lamb offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.

  • Beitzah: A roasted egg, symbolizing the korban chagigah festival sacrifice that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.
For a lovely description of a traditional Passover menu, including recipes, visit epicurious.com.

Chag Semeach! (Happy Holiday!)


רוני אלגביש said...

Happy Passover Andrew - and all blog followers!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post Andrew. I love learning about different religious events and cultures and feel that I have a much better understanding of Passover now.


Thanks, Pru. Ronnie was my instructor in this matter!

רוני אלגביש said...

Don't be so modest, Andrew - the credit is yours! And Pru - why not to come over and celebrate Passover from a closer point of view, in Israel? :) Happy Holiday!