Filed under: Passover | Tags: four sons, haggadah, matzah, Passover, seder, seder plate, The Forward
The modern American Seder is as varied as the families who gather to celebrate it. There are more than 1,600 Haggadot to choose from, including a hip-hop version for those who want to rap their Seder tunes, an ecological Haggadah that asks us to consider the trees and a 30-Minute Seder that has you nibbling the gefilte fish sooner rather than later. There’s no single right way to conduct a Seder.
Here’s 10 ways we’ll be adding some fun to our family festivities this year.
When you say the blessing over the first cup of wine, it’s traditional to recline and lean to the left, as royalty did in ancient times. After all, “now we are free” to sit any way we want, even if we are stuck sitting on a dusty, rickety, folding chair that was schlepped up from the basement. We’ll pass out pillows and tell everyone to relax and lean any way desired. We’re pretty sure that our nephew who goes to Oberlin will lean to the left, while Uncle Murray, who voted for George W., will tilt to the right.
We dip parsley, a symbol of spring, in salt water, which represents the tears of the Israelite slaves. We’ve been crying over subzero temperatures this long winter. The Gates of Freedom Haggadah instructs us to ask guests to step outside to look for a sprouting crocus. We’ll also ask them to put the snow shovel back in the garage.
When it comes to retelling the story of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt, you find out to what kind of Seder you’ve been invited to. If the preschoolers grab costumes and masks, you know the host will be passing the macaroons before 8 p.m. If the person sitting next to you hands you a 10-page script and a bongo drum and says, “Your part is Shifra, the midwife,” it’s going to be a very long night.
“Why is this night different from all other nights?” Because we have a few more questions:
1) Who told Uncle Murray he could bring his new lady friend?
2) Why is a box of Pesachdik brownie mix $8.19 when Duncan Hines is $3.99?
3) Will anybody eat the Sephardic charoset, with dates and figs?
4) Why do we gain weight on Passover when the food is so bad?
The Four Sons
Traditional Haggadot include the story of the four children: wise, wicked, simple and the one who does not know how to ask a question. We have always disliked this name-calling. Experts warn us not to label our kids; and how dare anyone call one of the kids simple?! He just has learning differences when it comes to math. Last year, when we looked around the table we saw one child Googling to find out what animal a shank bone comes from. Another was texting that the matzo balls are sinkers. The youngest was posting selfies on Instagram, and Joshie wasn’t asking any questions — he had his headphones on. Maybe there’s something to this old rabbinical parable after all.
We’ve been known to move Hanukkah to a more convenient date during winter break, and we know people who move things around on the Seder plate. Vegans say to replace the roasted egg, the beitzah, with a small white eggplant, or substitute a nice piece of tempeh for the shank bone, the zeroa. We once substituted a random chicken bone when the supermarket ran out of lamb bones.
Although charoset is a ritual food, there’s no official recipe. Ashkenazi Jews use sweet wine, apples and nuts; Sephardic Jews dip their fingers into the charoset and make a wine-soaked handprint under their mezuza, marking the doorway so that the Angel of Death will “pass over.” We prefer the less messy Sephardic custom of putting dried apricots and dates in the recipe. When it comes time to taste the bitter herbs, called maror, authors Rabbi Alan and Jo Kay suggest in “Make Your Own Passover Seder” to ask guests to share a bitter moment, like the end of a relationship, or the loss of a job. This sounds like an idea from the Buzz-Kill Haggadah.
The sixth spot on the Seder plate is for chazeret, a second bitter vegetable. We don’t need more bitter. Instead, we’ll fill this spot with a bridge toll receipt, symbolic of the many rivers our family and friends drove across to get to the Seder.
Everyone looks forward to that first bite, but it gets old quick — long before the other four and half boxes in the family pack get eaten. The kids look forward to the afikomen — and we hide multiple pieces of matzo so that no child is a loser when the prizes are given out. This year we will be downloading the Find My Afikomen app so that an undiscovered piece of matzo doesn’t get left in the piano bench for eight months.
We’ve always invited Elijah to our Seder. In recent years, we’ve extended an invitation to Miriam, Moses’ sister, too, filling a Miriam’s Cup with spring water to represent the healing waters of her well and the contributions of women to the Passover story. This year we will add a Bubbe’s Cup filled with fresh-squeezed Florida orange juice as a symbol of the grandmother’s return from the promised land of Florida in time to attend the family Seder.
We won’t pick on the cat, the dog and the little goat of Had Gadya, because we know too many people who love this nightmare-inducing nursery rhyme. Likewise, “Echad Mi Yodea” is beloved, no matter how long it takes to sing all the verses. In fact, this year we will add a few: “Who knows 14? I know 14. Fourteen are the cold leftover matzo balls. Who knows 15? I know 15. Fifteen are the trips we make to the kitchen, clearing the table and loading the dishwasher.”
Concluding the Article
We end the Seder with “Le shanah ha b’ah b’Yerushalim (Next year in Jerusalem).” We consider this to be a travel suggestion. We would love to do a destination Seder next year. While Israel would be great, we’ve been tempted by glossy advertisements for glatt kosher, all-inclusive, weeklong Passover vacations. The kids would surely join us if we celebrate beachside. “Le shanah ha b’ah b’Puerto Rico.”
Filed under: jewish food, Jewish holidays, Passover | Tags: Ben and Jerry's, gefilte fish, haroset, Joan Nathan, kitniyot, macaroons, Manischewitz, matzah, Passover, Pesach food, pesachdik
While all Jewish holidays seem to be food-centered, Passover is about what you can’t eat. (OK, Yom Kippur, we are not talking about you. You’re in a league of your own.) With the holiday fast approaching – it begins this Friday night, April 3 – we’re fixated on some of the new products we can and will be eating this year.
Once again, we were inspired by our pilgrimage to the amazing ShopRite supermarket in Cherry Hill, NJ, with its “Kosher Experience,” aisles loaded with Pesachdik groceries and products imported from Israel. (We wrote about it a few years ago.) This year, we trolled the Internet, read our Jewish Twitter feed, and perused the “Takeout Seder Menu” from local gourmet stores. We discovered that there are a few new tastes available for this old holiday.
What would Passover be without an oval of gefilte fish attractively placed on a bed of lettuce, on a little plate and topped with a carrot curl? We bought a few jars in the supermarket, the native habitat of gefilte fish. Gefilte fish don’t swim in any ocean; they live in a glass jar, nestled in goo. We didn’t have a choice of farm-raised or wild gefilte fish either. They are all tame, bland and captive.
We were drawn to the Rokeach brand because we saw the Yiddish word heimeshe on the label. Huh? First of all, we spell it haimish and we wrote the book. We define haimish as “unpretentious and homey, informal and friendly.” We would enjoy an appetizer that fits this description, but how exactly can gefilte fish be unpretentious? We guess they just sit there politely and wait to be eaten.
We do know a pretentious gefilte fish when we see it: the sustainably sourced, “artisanal small-batch gourmet loaf” with a layer of salmon on top marketed by the hipster chefs at Gefilteria in Brooklyn. Our mass-produced gefilte fish have no illusions that they are special. They know that they are the exact same as their jar mates.
One way to expand our Passover palate this year is to embrace our hidden Sephardic ancestry (Jews whose ancestors come from Mediterranean countries) and eat kitniyot, the rice, corn, soybeans, peas, lentils and peanuts that Ashkenazic Jews traditionally don’t eat on Passover. We’ve visited the Sephardic synagogue in Florence and enjoyed Istanbul. That’s good enough for us. We’ve read that everyone is descended from the same eight people anyway, so we’ll be putting peanut butter on our matzah this year.
Evidently, Manischewitz has some Sephardic relatives too. The venerable Jewish foods company has a new line of Pesachdik “Kitni” products that include tahini, rice cakes, popcorn and peanut butter. Marketing to Sephardic Jews – that’s targeted segmentation! Just make sure you read the little cautionary note on the label: “Acceptable for those who consume kitniyot on Passover.”
As a side note, we’ve noticed that Sephardic recipes are in vogue, too. This year, The New York Times’ Cooking section includes Passover recipes for fried artichokes (Italian), lamb with dried fruit (Israeli/Middle East), and stuffed grape leaves (Greek/Turkey). Even Jewish cooking maven Joan Nathan, an Ashkenazic Jew, is jumping on the bandwagon. We love her recipes, and this year her haroset includes dried figs, pitted dates, apricot preserves and cardamom, all ingredients usually found in Sephardic haroset.
The ubiquitous Passover sweet is the macaroon, the flourless, chewy, ball-shaped cookie made with ground nuts, shredded coconut and egg whites. You could serve a macaron, the elegant French-accented meringue and almond sandwich cookie that’s trending right now. In fact, macarons are kosher for Passover, but you’d never confuse the two once you’ve tasted them – and there’s no food truck cruising the city selling Passover macaroons.
Each year manufacturers invent new flavors of the Passover macaroon. Last year it was Rocky Road. Ooh, Rocky Road…. We anticipated breaking the seal on the can, only to discover that it was the same old chocolate chip macaroon – with a small shred of marshmallow added in. Disappointment. For Pesach 2015, Manischewitz is touting red velvet, pistachio orange, and carrot cake macaroons as hot new flavors. We can can’t wait. Instead of wasting calories on Red Velvet macaroons, we’ll be hunting down that macaron food truck.
This year, Ben & Jerry’s has introduced a new flavor for Passover – Charoset Swirl ice cream. It costs 20 shekels (about $5) because it’s only available in Israel. We can’t taste test it for you so we’ll have to rely on the description of Elli Fischer, a writer for the Times of Israel, who described it as “vanilla based with apples and cinnamon and lots of walnuts.” He added, “While it’s definitely premium ice cream and quite tasty, it’s also not very haroset-y.” Maybe we can buy a pint of vanilla and swirl in our leftover haroset. Ben & Jerry’s is known for creative flavor concoctions, like Chubby Hubby and Pumpkin Cheesecake. Haroset is sweet and delicious. It is a good choice. We’re just happy they didn’t decide on “Chunky Gefilte Fish Swirl.”
Happy Passover to all our readers, friends and family!
Filed under: family, Jewish mothers, Uncategorized | Tags: children, family, Jewish mothers, middle school, music
This article first appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday, Feb. 22.
When our children were young, we introduced them to the pleasures of our childhoods — from reading Goodnight Moon to riding a two-wheeler. We relished the chance to play with them and expand their horizons, but our horizons were limited to what we knew and could imagine.
What we couldn’t imagine was how much these children, who now range in age from 19 to 29, would teach us. They’ve made us more socially conscious, politically correct, and tech-smart. They’ve been persistent and patient — mostly. When they laugh at us because we still have a landline and pay bills by snail mail, we know it’s because they love us. Our children have taught us well.
Early on, we did the bulk of the teaching. Wash your hands after you use the toilet. Ask before you pet the neighbor’s dog. Remember to say please. Long before middle school, they started training us: Don’t flush the toilet every time you use it; you’re wasting water. Get a dog at a shelter, not a pet store. Never ask a boy if he has a girlfriend. He might be dating a guy. If you have to ask, ask him if he’s seeing anyone.
When our children were toddlers, we picked out their clothes and dressed them. Now our daughters give us fashion advice: They tell us it’s time to give away our “mom jeans” and show us 14 ways to tie a scarf. Their perspective opens our eyes: Purple hair just means you are creative, a tattoo is body art, and people get things other than their ears pierced.
We taught them about food: Chicken comes in other forms than nugget. You won’t know if you like vegetable curry until you try it. Who knew that just a few years later they would ask us to try the Lenni-Lenape rabbit stew at their third-grade Native American feast?
Our kids informed us that the word for people who don’t eat macaroni and cheese or scrambled eggs is vegan, not picky. They taught us that we don’t have to eat our green vegetables anymore; we can drink kale in a smoothie with beets and wheat grass; it’s served in an eco-friendly glass bottle for $9 at a trendy café. When we crave sugar at midnight, we don’t have to eat stale Oreos. We can get warm cookies delivered to our door using an app the kids downloaded for us.
As our children took up hobbies and brought home pets, they got us involved, too: We fed granola to pet rats and frozen mice to a pet snake. We took scuba diving lessons in a local swimming pool even though we were terrified. We cheered at robotic competitions and learned how to judge Lincoln-Douglas debates. We now know that break and lock are useful vocabulary words for both a hip-hop dancer and a high school wrestler.
Growing up, we two played the piano and clarinet. Our kids played those and more. We’ve learned that it’s easier to deliver a forgotten clarinet to school than a cello, it’s harder to find a teacher for the steel drum than the French horn, and it’s a miracle when the middle school orchestra ends on the same note at the same time.
Our music mavens have more than 30,000 songs on their playlists, and they’ve exposed us to musical genres beyond Motown and hard rock. They taught us that grunge doesn’t mean it needs to be washed, crunk is not a noise your car makes, and Euro pop is not a German soda.
When we grew up, travel was limited to summers at the Shore or winter getaways to Florida. Now our kids are world travelers; they’ve told us that in China you can get a $5 massage from a blind person and that the Czech language is so difficult that only thing you’ll learn how to say is “Sýrový sendvič, prosím,” which, of course, means “Cheese sandwich, please.” Most shocking? It’s possible to cram three weeks worth of clothes in a carry-on.
We look forward to the next stage of our kids’ lives, by which we mean weddings and babies. Except that none of our kids are there yet. Still, we’re eager for them to teach us about digital wedding favors, having your best guy friend be your maid of honor, and the proper way to put baby Hudson or baby Harper to bed in an organic cotton sleep pod.
Filed under: family, jewish food | Tags: cooking, dinners, family, food, leftovers, mishegoss, Yiddish word
Ibbigublibbin (say: ibby-guh-blibben) is the Yiddish word for leftovers – we think. We can’t remember who told us this, and we’re not sure how to spell it. It’s not in our dictionary and we can’t find it online. It’s likely a nonsense word, but we like it. So does Ellen’s husband, David; he often asks if they are having “ibbi” again for dinner.
In fact, this man is quite fond of leftovers: When Ellen and David got a last-minute invitation to watch the Super Bowl at a friend’s house, they knew they had to bring some snacks. In their refrigerator was a half-tub of leftover vegetarian chili. They had eaten it two nights in a row and then forgotten about it – till now. It was already more than a week old
“Should we take the leftover chili?” asked David.
“No, that’s disgusting,” Ellen answered.
“What if we heat it up and put it on chips, like nachos?” David countered.
Sanity prevailed. Ellen put the chili back in the refrigerator (to be thrown out the next morning) and baked a batch of brownies for the hosts.
Joyce works from home and likes to have a hot lunch to stick in the microwave the next day, so she often makes extra portions for dinner. At their cozy dinner for two, when Ted reaches for the third helping, Joyce has been known to look at him sideways and at the potential leftovers longingly. She’s reluctant to deprive Ted of food; after all she is a Jewish mother. But he’s a good guy, and he has learned how to share.
When Joyce’s son, Ben, was younger, he would bring home doggie bags from restaurants and let them collect in the refrigerator. This was a boy who could save his Halloween candy from year to year. The family knew not to touch his stuff.
But Ted, who grew up in a household where you didn’t waste food, would be bothered as the left-overs sat uneaten. The solution? Ben would mark a date on the container after which the food was up for grabs. Ted was the mostly likely to grab it.
People who don’t even live in our house look forward to our leftovers. Luckily, we both have access to lunchrooms where the staff is grateful for any freebie – from a box of donuts (with the chocolate ones missing) to a half crate of Clementines to a tin of drugstore Christmas cookies a month after Christmas. After we’ve eaten too many slices of cake, it’s nice to have a place to re-gift the rest of it. We pretend we’re being generous when we really just want to get it out of the house before we eat it all.
When our kids were at home, we would cook for a crowd. Leftovers are scarce in a house with teen-agers. But now that we are cooking for two, we still buy the family pack of chicken legs. The we realize that we bought too much, put half in the freezer, and forget about the frozen lump of chicken until months later.
Or we cook all the chicken, thinking, “Good, we’ll have leftovers.” Which is how we got to this leftover mishegoss (the Yiddish word for nonsense, foolishness) in the first place.
Where there’s leftovers, there must be discards. How come we’re the only ones who ever clean out the refrigerator? Why is a moldy cucumber solely a mother’s responsibility? When the potatoes have so many eyes they are looking back at you, why doesn’t anyone else see them?
Other members of the family have been known to the take the lid off the cream cheese, see green penicillin growing, put the lid back on, and put it right back in the fridge. They are not waiting for a second opinion; they just don’t want the responsibility. And yet these are the same people who are so strict about expiration dates.
Our kids are sticklers for that date of demise; they’ll point out that the date on the lid was two weeks ago; why are we trying to get them to eat that? We’ve tried to convince them that the hummus looks fine, but they don’t believe us. So it’s no surprise that they are suspicious of our leftovers. Who knows how long that baked chicken has been sitting around?
When we want to eat a yogurt, we choose from among the cartons with expired dates because we know our kids will only eat the “good” ones. It’s okay. See, it’s delicious. It tastes fine. Aren’t we good moms?
Filed under: family, Hanukkah, holidays, The Word Mavens | Tags: candles, children, dreidel, families, gifts, Hanukkah, holidays, Kohl's, latkes, menorah, presents, Target, tchotchkes
Hanukkah begins on Tuesday evening, Dec. 16 – and this year, it’s where it should be on the calendar, a whole three weeks after Thanksgiving and a little bit before Christmas. Everyone remembers last year’s Thanksgivukkah debacle.
That got us thinking about what we love and don’t love so much about the holiday season.
Yay: Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are our two favorite holidays, and we like to keep them separate. We won’t have to serve potato latkes with our turkey again for about 80,000 years, according to the number crunchers.
Boo: Last year, this celestial calendar convergence allowed us to celebrate Hanukkah on its actual date. This year our kids might not make it home until the eighth night.
Yay: Target has a big aisle loaded with Hanukkah chazerai – gift wrap, napkins, menorot, and mugs decorated with the all purpose Jewish expression “Oy vey!” Way to represent the Tribe.
Boo: We don’t need another menorah. We have classy ones, artistic ones, and all the ones our kids made through the years, from a block of wood with nine metal bolts to one we made together at a Paint Your Own studio.
Yay: We love buying presents for our kids.
Boo: They’re not satisfied with Fisher Price toys anymore, and we don’t have any grandchildren yet to justify our making a trip to Toys “R” Us .
Yay: Like sneakers and coffee, there used to be only one choice for Hanukkah candles – the blue box in the supermarket with the pale candles in washed out yellow and almost red.
Now there are so many choices – beeswax in vibrant colors, tie-dyed stripey ones, and artistic ones from the candle factory in Safed, Israel.
Boo: How many Hanukkah candles do we really need? Why are we stockpiling six boxes? Because they’re pretty, and it’s handy to have a few in the kitchen drawer to use for birthday candles.
Yay: It’s latke time. We love reading recipes for parsnip carrot zucchini latkes, but we’ll be sticking with original potato ones to please our families.
Boo: Why did we start a diet after Thanksgiving? Get out the oil.
Yay: Our kids are grown. We no longer have to explain why we don’t have a Christmas tree.
Boo: But how do we tell them we weren’t home when they called because we were driving through South Philly looking at the houses with Christmas lights?
Yay: Our husbands don’t have to risk life and limb getting on a ladder to string lights from the gutters.
Boo: Our houses look so bare without twinkly lights.
Yay: No lights for us, but we want to decorate with something. We were happy to find a “tasteful winter-themed” door decoration with ribbons and pinecones.
Boo: It took one minute for one of our husbands to say, “What’s that wreath doing on the front door?
Yay: We were impressed that Kohl’s had a big Hanukkah selection, including blue and white rope cufflinks, a glass dreidel you’d never let the kids spin, a Peace Love Hanukkah throw pillow, and a Star of David bundt cake pan.
Boo: They lose points for offering a “4-piece Hanukkah ornament set.” (See the third to the last item: $71.99…oy) We aren’t hanging a blue glass dreidel on a tree.
Yay: We look forward to family Hanukkah parties, holiday staff dinners, and having time with our kids and our friends who like to get together and celebrate over the holidays.
Boo: Before we know it, the holidays will be done. It’ll be 2015 and we’ll be kvetching about the snow forecast for February and counting the days until Passover.
We wish you a Happy Hanukkah!
Filed under: culture, technology | Tags: business jargon, corporate, etymology, Halloween, language, Yiddish
Every profession has its own jargon, words that turn the workplace into a super secret society.
Baristas know what “venti, skinny, half-caf, extra whip” means and then they serve it to you. Doctors say, “Code blue stat” to mean, “Hurry up, someone’s dying,” not “The copy machine is jammed.” But for us writers, most days find us sitting at our desk writing, snug in our own little world. We write articles and essays with a Jewish accent, so we are guilty of using some Yiddish jargon – – but it’s usually stuff like, “I need another shmeer on my bagel with this cup of coffee” or “Get the shmutz off the desk so we can get to work.”
Apparently, we are also guilty of using “old people jargon.” We discovered this when our kids didn’t know what we meant when we asked them to find us “a little box the size of a cassette tape” and the time we inquired if they had written and mailed a check yet for their rent bill.
When it comes to modern corporate-speak, we are strangers to interfacing, leaning in and reaching out. When we venture out of our home office cocoons into the business world to meet with an agent or do an interview, we are confronted with indecipherable bureaucrat-ease. When the secretary asks if we have our ducks in the row, we turn around to see who’s quacking.
We asked some corporate types we know to send us examples of the jargon they use every day, and before we knew it, our in-box was overflowing.
When we “crunched the numbers,” we realized that a bunch of terms fell into the category of sports metaphors, like “Tee it up,” “We need a big win on this one,” “We need to be defensive on this,” and “We have to punt this one.” We know that you punt in football when it’s fourth down and your team is doing stinky, but these terms all come from a man’s world – the world of sports. In fact, we know a female executive who hears these terms at meetings and can’t relate. She thinks they are exclusionary, so we thought up an option for her: Next time an employee says that he is having trouble choosing the best supplier, she can tell him to “Pick a color” already.
We soon realized that some of these business expressions have nothing to do what you think they mean:
Run it up the flagpole. In business this means, “Let’s test this idea and see what everyone thinks.” To us it means, “It’s time to take in the American flag. Labor Day was two months ago.”
No white smoke yet. Around the conference table, this means that the deal isn’t finalized yet. In real life, it means that the Cardinals are still shmoozing about who they want to be the next Pope.
I’m going off the grid. At the office this is shorthand for, “I’m going on vacation. I won’t be reachable by cell phone or computer.” When we go off the grid, we don’t know where we left our cell phone, and when we walk around the house calling our own number we don’t hear the theme song from Broadway’s Rent.
Can you hook me up? At work this means, “Can you include me in that meeting?” In our world, if we asked friends to hook us up, they’d be surprised to say the least. They know our husbands, and didn’t we all have dinner together last week?
Let’s not get into the weeds. In a corporate setting, it means, “Let’s not discuss the details yet.” From Food TV, we learned that in a restaurant being “in the weeds” means that you are behind on filling the orders. In Colorado it means, “Let’s wait until later to smoke.”
I’ve been putting out fires all day. At the office, this explains that you didn’t get back to someone because you had to deal with so many emergencies. At home, maybe it can mean the same. We’re going to use this last one to justify why we haven’t posted a blog in a whole month. We’ve been going on high-priority trips to see our kids, working on other projects to bring home the bacon, and taste-testing all the mini-sized candy bars before Halloween. We’ve been putting out fires all month.
But now we’re back on the grid. We’re teeing it up, and we have our ducks all in a row.