(Quick note: all but one of the links in the paragraph about music go to YouTube videos.)
So… sundown tonight starts the eight-day Jewish holiday of Passover. I largely enjoy the holiday. The seders on the first and second night are quite a bit of fun, and the food is amazing. Wine, horseradish (my brother and I are making the horseradish sauce from scratch this year!), homemade haroset, brisket (So. Much. Brisket.), surprisingly amazing desserts (surprising because of the Kashrut restrictions for Passover) and more… the food is wonderful.
I’d be lying if I said that the food at the seders isn’t what makes it for me. It’s a bit of a joke that most Jewish holidays (with the exception of Yom Kippur, since it’s a fasting holiday) basically just exist as an excuse for massive feasts, but there’s some truth to that. Jews really know how to eat, and Passover seders are just one really good example of that.
It’s also the time of year when certain traditional foods taste amazing, despite actually being gross the rest of the year.
We have one tradition that does, actually, sound kind of gross when describing it…
We take cool, salty water, and put a hard-boiled egg in it. Yeah… it’s basically a cold, salty, hard-boiled egg soup. And it’s funny, because at any other time of the year, it genuinely is gross… yet it’s one of my favorite appetizers during the seders for some reason.
Another one is Manischewitz. Admittedly, I don’t like most wines. I’m a sweet wine person. I can down a bottle of Moscato or Reisling in a day, but I won’t be touching that Cabernet Sauvignon, thanks. But Manischewitz… usually, that’s too far. Imagine if someone took a full bottle of Moscato, then added a full bottle of simple syrup and artificial grape flavoring to it.
That, in a nutshell, is Manischewitz. And any other time of the year, I can’t drink it. It’s way too far on the other end of the sweet scale and basically just gross to me.
Yet even that is nice and tasty during the seders (although we have Moscato and Moscat this year, too, which… good).
As for matzah… I think people who don’t like it fail to realize how versatile it is. “Fried matzah”, which is basically an omelet made with egg and crushed matzah, is wonderful. Plus, my mom makes this amazing thing called “matzah and cheese”, which can be best described as a lasagna made entirely out of matzah and cheese. It’s meant to be a sort of mock mac and cheese, but it doesn’t really bear a relation to that. But it’s most definitely a comfort food, and I look forward to it every year. Plus, there’s the ever wonderful matzah with cream cheese, chocolate-covered matzah, and matzah pizzas, which is another food I can’t eat during the rest of the year, but will happily scarf down during Passover.
So yes, I love matzah. It also is really good for… well… it can help… um… let’s just say that it works a holy hell of a lot better than Pepto Bismol.
It’s also the only time of year I drink soda anymore. Dr. Brown’s makes a delicious kosher for Passover cream soda, and this is when I enjoy it (the rest of the year, I largely drink coffee, tea, and water… and AriZona Green Tea with Ginseng and Honey… and scotch, rum, daiquiris, bourbon, whiskeys, and mixed drinks with alcohol in them).
Now, our seders are long. My dad is, as a few of you might know, is a Hazzan, so you can imagine the music. He always has to play guitar during the seders. And we read through most of the story, and a couple of the commentaries, too. There’s the traditional songs, like Ma Nishta Nah (usually sung by the youngest children at the seder), Dayenu, Eliyahu HaNavi, Adir Hu, and Chad Gad Ya, and then there’s contemporary “parodies”, like a Passover version of “My Favorite Things“, “There’s No Seder Like Our Seder“, “Take Me Out to the Seder“… most of which I actually find kind of cringe-worthy, but whatever.
And then there’s the Afikoman (אֲפִיקוֹמָן). The word means “that which comes after” or “dessert”. Yes, it’s a piece of matzah. The tradition in our house is that the youngest children “steal” the Afikoman during the clean up after the meal, and then, for it to be returned, they bargain for gifts. I will never forget one Passover from when I was a little child, in Connecticut, when we stole the Afikoman and my cousin, as part of hiding it, taped a whole bunch of napkins (wrapped like the Afikoman was in them) to the ceiling in the room where we were holding the seder. I can’t remember where the actual Afikoman was, but I will never forget that image… it was awesome.
Admittedly, I grumbled as a kid over the Kashrut restrictions in place during Passover, and no, I don’t keep them now (I honestly don’t keep Kosher at all, personally), but, even though I’m an atheist, I do look forward to this time of year, as I get to be surrounded by family and friends, enjoy a massive and tasty meal two nights in a row, and just have a good time.
Chag Pesach Sameach, everyone!