Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Our family celebrates Passover. At least, we used to. For a number of years, we got too busy, and we allowed this precious tradition to lapse. Recently we have begun again.

We usually celebrate Passover on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, rather than according to the Jewish Passover calender. Maundy Thursday is the best, because that is the day when Christians remember the Last Supper of Christ, which was, incidentally, the Passover. This year, we held our Passover Seder on Good Friday because Shawn was in Florida until then. We did it early in the day, about 1 p.m., which puts a damper on some of the questions ("Why is this night unlike any other night?"), but we dealt with that by not asking the questions.

Here is the table prepared for the Passover meal. We use a large pitcher of grape juice instead of wine because (a) it tastes delicious, (b) it is very affordable, and (c) we do not drink alcohol around here.

I try as much as possible to keep Kosher for this meal. Most of the foods are prescribed and symbolic, but we also have a salad. Salad is parve, which means it can be eaten with either a meat meal or a dairy meal. Passover is a meat meal, which means I have to cook everything without using any butter, milk or cheese. So... no Parmesan in the salad dressing tonight! We used an olive oil balsamic vinaigrette.

This is parsley and salt water. The parsley reminds us of the hyssop branches that the Israelites used to paint the blood of the lamb on their door frames. The salt water stands for their tears while they were in bondage, and also the salt water of the Red Sea that God parted for them.

Here you see homemade matzah. I bought the boxed kind one year and never heard the end of it. Boxed matzah is not particularly tasty. I made up a recipe that I used for years, just flour, water, oil and salt. But this year I found a new recipe to try, and everyone loved it.

The bitter herbs are possibly the most famous part of the Passover meal. They are supposed to bring tears to your eyes in remembrance of the agony of the slavery the Israelites suffered as slaves building the pyramids for Pharaoh. Since we are Christians, the bitter herbs also remind us of the bitterness that sin brings to us while we are in bondage to it. This year's bitter herbs (aka horseradish) were about seven times stronger than usual. David and Jonathan customarily have a contest to see who can load the most horseradish on his matzah. This year, it very nearly knocked them out of their chairs. I was worried for awhile.

Below, you see one of our very favorite Passover dishes. Charoseth. It is supposed to look like the mortar the Israelites used to hold their bricks together while they were building, which it does. Although it is not the prettiest stuff, it is absolutely delicious... apples, honey, cinnamon, walnuts and lemon processed in my Cuisinart. The sweet taste of this on a piece of matza--after the bitter herbs--soothes your mouth and reminds you of the hope of deliverance. Jewish people think of the deliverance from Egyptian slavery, but as Christians, we also think of the great deliverance from sin that Jesus provided for us through His sacrifice of Himself. A friend has called this dish, "Hope," because hope is easier to say than charoseth.

Another dish without any significance: roasted vegetables. Again, these are parve. It took me a number of years to get this right, something that tasted good and also kept the meal kosher. For a long time I was stymied over how to do potatoes and vegetables with no butter (I do not do margerine). These are carrots, red potatoes, red peppers and parsley, coarsely chopped. I shook them in tupperware with kosher salt, pepper, thyme, olive oil, granulated garlic and dried onion. Then I roasted them with the lamb until they were tender, stirring gently every 30 minutes until they started to soften.

Here is the lamb. Roasting. The aroma in the kitchen--roasting lamb, grape juice, horseradish all mingled together in the air--has a profound effect on us now. It is sort of the way the smell of pumpkin pie and turkey signify Thanksgiving, only much deeper.

Below you see the most amazing part of Passover. This is called the "Unity." It is three pieces of matzah wrapped together in a napkin. A proper Jewish mother would have a special piece of linen sewn to hold them in a pocket. Someday I will make one of these. For now, a paper towel suffices. One of the biggest problems Jewish people have with Christianity is that they say we are a polytheistic religion because of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), while they are entirely monotheistic, with one God only, no Jesus. So it is fascinating to me that this thing is called a Unity, when as a Christian, I see it as a clear picture of the Trinity. Right before we serve the meal, Shawn takes out the Unity and slips out the middle matzah. This middle matzah is called the afikomen (which, incidentally, means "I have come."). He breaks the afikomen into two pieces, and replaces one piece at the center of the unity. The other piece, he wraps separately and hides away somewhere in the house.

Then we eat dinner.

This year, our dinner was especially delicious.

After dinner, you send the kids on a contest to find the afikomen. Perhaps this is where we got the idea to do Easter eggs hunts in the Christian tradition. I hope that when I was describing the afikomen earlier, you caught how it symbolizes Christ, who was removed from His unity with God and separated from His glory. This is the bread that Jesus took after supper and broke, saying that it was His body, broken for us.

When the kids bring it back, you generally give them coins, or chocolate money. This year we didn't hide it (I set it in a different part of the kitchen), or send the kids to find it (they are just too big now), or have any chocolate coins. We only had chocolate. I am afraid it was probably not kosher; I think there was milk in it. However, that is what we had for dessert. Un-kosher chocolate. And almonds.

And coffee.

And here is the table after the feast. It was a good celebration.

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