by Todd Juran
We are almost upon my least favorite Jewish holiday of the year. The sunset of April 6 brings the start of Passover—an eight day long holiday that really interferes with a majority of the food I enjoy eating. My conflict about Passover is that while not being able to eat real food is terrible, the Seder is one of the most fun and enjoyable family gatherings of any of the holidays. We get together with a huge group of people to recount the story of our ancestors’ exodus from Egypt and learn about the significance of the meal on our table. This may sound kind of boring to an outsider, but the Haggadah actually makes the Seder quite entertaining. Of course, it’s entertaining to make fun of your brother for fumbling over his words in the passage he is reading, but I’m referring to the actual ”activities” we encounter during the feast.
Dipping your finger into the wine: We do this to represent one drop of wine for each of the 10 plagues. I usually end up making a smiley face on my plate with the ten drops because I consider myself a food artist, and my plate looks cooler than everyone else’s. And what’s with not being able to lick my finger after it’s over? I’m left with stained skin, and eventually a stained shirt once I forget there’s wine on my finger and I have to fix my collar.
Reading a passage in one breath: I’m sure most families don’t do this, or they do it with different songs/verses, but our family has a tradition of reading the passage following Dayenu in one breath. (“He gave us manna, He gave us the Sabbath, He led us through the wilderness…”). Throughout many Seders in my lifetime, I’ve been lucky enough to have never had this reading land on me at the table. Why lucky? Because either your face turns bright red and you nearly pass out while trying to finish reading, or you completely mess up, come nowhere close to succeeding and have everyone laugh at you. It’s a lose-lose situation.
The Four Questions: The Passover Seder really gets the children involved. Maybe the most popular tradition during the meal is when the youngest child must recite the Four Questions. I was the youngest child at my Seder for seven straight years, and I will tell you it is kind of terrifying. Everyone gets really quiet and focused because it’s an important passage, and it just adds that much more pressure. All eyes are on you, and all you’re trying to do is not mess up. This is the youngest child at the table - shouldn’t we back off a little bit and not make him or her the main orator?! Of course, in the end, the youngest child gets through it and everyone goes on to say, “Great job! Fantastic job! You’re such a good reader!” And all the women kvell about how adorable he or she is.
Hiding the Afikomen: I obviously saved the best for last, because trying to find a hidden item in a house is fun, no matter what age you are—especially when the winner receives money. Which begs the question: how come only the kids get to play this game? Just because I’m 15 years older than someone else does not give me an edge in any way, shape or form. They have the ability to look in the exact same places I do. As a matter of fact, it may actually give them the advantage for being able to run faster than me and being able to crawl into smaller crevices than me. And if the game is being played on their home turf, then they know all about the secret spots that I would never guess to look in. Basically, it comes to down to who needs the prize more; I need money for gas, and they need money for the ice cream truck. I think I deserve a chance to find the Afikomen no matter my age. I want to be involved in this fun—some kids never grow up!
Now that I’ve deconstructed the actual Seder, I’d like to turn my attention to the real antagonist of the Passover holiday, matzah. Do you want to know what’s on my plate during nearly every meal I eat? Bread (yea, I know, I’m super healthy). I can deal with fasting for 24 hours pretty easily on Yom Kippur, but not being able to eat bread for eight days is quite a tall task. So now I’m stuck eating the driest, non-flavorful cracker ever invented on this planet. When chefs see this ingredient on TV, they make a scrunched up, confused face and ask, “What in the world am I going to do with this?” My dog won’t even clean up the crumbs off the floor. And don’t even get me started on how matzah breaks into pieces 93% of the time you try to spread something on it. Matzah only has five redeeming qualities—that’s it. They are:
Matzah Pizza – Put some marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese on matzah, stick into toaster oven and you have yourself a pretty solid meal.
Matzah PB&J – Peanut butter and jelly on matzah. You can put peanut butter on anything, and it will taste good.
Matzah Brei – It’s this weird mix of eggs and matzah, but damn, does it taste good with some (kosher?) syrup.
Matzah with cream cheese – I don’t know how this came about since no one really puts cream cheese on regular crackers, but it’s delicious. Oh riiight, we sorta love bagels and cream cheese. My advice? Buy whipped cream cheese to spread since the matzah is so brittle.
Matzah with butter and cinnamon – Like toast, but on matzah. You surprisingly do not lose a ton of flavor with the substitution of matzah.
Believe me, these are the keys to surviving the Passover holiday. If I can hold off eating bread and other non-kosher-for-Passover foods for eight days, then you can too. Eight days can be a long time, but just remember what our ancestors had to go through. Granted, they could have left us with a little something tastier than matzah…but I can work with it. I suggest you come up with a game plan to get your mind and body right when Pesach begins. After all, there is an obligation to drink four cups of wine at the Seder. That’s not a bad place to start.