Posts Tagged ‘Passover’

A Tale of Two Kiddish Cups

April 15, 2019

Each Passover, I polish two silver kiddish cups from my mother’s family for our Seder table.

As a child, I never paid the cups any attention: They were just part of the fancy silverware that my mom kept in the dining room credenza. As an adult, I knew they were heirlooms but had no idea where they came from. The cups were engraved, but no one knew what the inscriptions and initials meant.

Our two heirloom kiddish cups / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Then, over the past five years, I started exploring my family history through online resources like Ancestry.com and Jewishgen.org. I discovered that the kiddush cups – and part of my family – have their roots in the Bavarian towns of Jebenhausen and Goppingen.

One line of my mother’s family – my Wormser and Einstein ancestors – emigrated from Jebenhausen to the United States in 1868.  They brought the cups with them.

Here’s what I know about their story:

On June 10, 1868, a young family made up of Salomon Wormser, Rosa (Rachle) Einstein Wormser, and their one-year-old son Max sailed out of Hamburg on a ship called the Holsatia. 

Salomon was 31 years old and Rosa was 23. They had been married two years earlier in Jebenhausen, then moved to Stuttgart where they had Max before departing for America. 

The taller silver cup bears the initials SW – which presumably refers to Salomon Wormser. I suspect it was a wedding present when he and Rosa were married. 

The smaller cup bears the inscription “Zum andenken von S. Landauer,” which is German for “a souvenir of S. Lindauer.” As I learned more about my family tree, I saw that Rosa had a sister – Sara Einstein – who married a man named Salomon Lindauer in 1861 in Jebenhausen. My guess is that this cup was a memento from that wedding: Perhaps the couple or their parents gave commemorative cups to the people closest to them.

Our Lindauer kiddush cup / Photo by Ilana DeBare

But back to the story of Salomon Wormser, Rosa, and Max. Twelve days after they set sail from Hamburg, they arrived in New York.  On July 23, 1869, they had a second son – Louis Wormser, who ultimately became my great grandfather.

In New York, Salomon ran a corset importing business – probably buying inventory from family and friends in Jebenhausen, which had an active corset manufacturing industry. He was not wealthy but not poor either. The fact that his family could buy silver kiddush cups as wedding gifts indicates they had some resources, as does the fact that Salomon emigrated together with his wife and baby son. (German Jewish men from poor families typically emigrated alone, and married or sent for their wives only after they had established some financial security in America.)

Census records list the occupation of Louis Wormser, my great grandfather, as a manufacturer of children’s clothing.  My mother knew him as “Papa Lou,” but he died long before I was born. Lou’s daughter was my grandmother Ethel. When she died, the cups were passed on to my mother and then, with my mother’s death, to me.

My great-great grandmother Rosa Wormser’s grave marker in Westchester County, New York

When Salomon and Rosa traveled across the ocean to start a new life in America, these cups must have been a precious reminder of home and the loved ones they left behind.

The tall SW cup is interesting in that the pictures encircling it are not traditional Jewish religious images. Cherubs and dragons, they’re more typical of German Romantic imagery. To me, they indicate how German Jews of the mid-1800s identified with German culture and aspired to be part of German society. They held the same ideas about beauty and art as their Christian neighbors. Yet Jewish efforts to assimilate into German society in the 19th century were consistently rebuffed: Even if they converted to Christianity, even if they served in the German military, they were not accepted as “real” Germans.

(For a masterful and readable history of German Jewry during this era, see The Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch, 1743-1933, by Amos Elon.)

Just last week, noodling around with my online family tree, I started wondering about the line of the family that stayed behind — in particular, the descendants of the “S. Lindauer” on my cup.

It turns out that Salomon Lindauer and Sara Einstein had a daughter Bertha, who married a man named Julius Elsas. They in turn had a son named Fritz Julius Elsas. Born in 1890 in Stuttgart, Fritz converted to Christianity like many Jews of that era who aspired to acceptance in Germany society. He studied politics and law and married a Christian woman of Jewish descent.

Elsas entered politics – running briefly for mayor of Stuttgart but then withdrawing because of anti-Semitic attacks. In 1931 he was elected mayor of Berlin by the city council there, but had to resign his position when the Nazis took power.

Because of his “privileged mixed marriage,” Elsas didn’t face the same persecution as other German Jews, according to an informative biographical article in Ha’aretz. He became involved in the liberal resistance to Hitler, writing secret position papers to help plan for a post-Hitler Germany.

In the wake of the 1944 failed attempt to assassinate Hitler, Elsas was rounded up with many others in the German resistance. He was executed in Sachsenhausen concentration camp in December 1945.

Elsas would have been my grandmother’s second cousin — thus my second cousin twice removed. He and my grandmother shared the same great-grandparents. But my American branch of the family long ago lost touch with the German branches. Until delving into genealogy, I never knew we had relatives who remained in Germany or who died in the Holocaust.

This spring, my daughter Becca is living in Berlin and working on a creative project that involves our family history. I polished the kiddish cups early this year, so I could send photos of them to a small Jewish museum in Jebenhausen, which we will visit when we go see her.

This Friday evening, the cups will again be placed on our Seder table — but with more levels of meaning than before. Initially a memento of my childhood, they’ve also become a connection with my German Jewish origins, with those 1860s ancestors who decided to move to America, and with the distant branch of the family that did not make such a fortunate decision.

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The Seder Table: A Short Story

March 29, 2015

A few weeks ago, I had a short story about Passover published in the J, the weekly Jewish newspaper for Northern California. Because this is Passover week, I figured I’d share it with you here. One of my goals when I set out to write it was to fit the tight 800-word limit of the J’s fiction section. Happy Passover!

The Seder Table

By Ilana DeBare

Normally she would be thrilled to have the twins flying home at the last minute for seder, but this year Robin wanted to bar the door. She reached for the big silver platter that had been in her family since the 1800s and attacked it with her square of chamois like a siege army. She didn’t want Jen and Maia leaving school, a vicious reminder of all that was wrong, like her friends’ solicitous phone calls asking if they could make the matzah balls this year, or the fatigue that set in around noon, or the goddamned bald head in the mirror.

Robin set the big silver platter aside, shiny as a new morning, and reached for the ceramic seder plate. It was a junky piece of kitsch, but it was her kitsch. She’d bought it in the Old City on her junior year abroad and used it every Passover since then. It had been through ramshackle seders on the living room floor in group households when she was single, seders that careened on fast-forward when everyone had squirming toddlers, decades of seders in which friends arrived with new husbands and then no husbands and then second husbands.

Robin was wiping down the plate when her cell rang. Dan. Checking in on her, no doubt. Which was sweet and considerate and loving and made her even more furious.

“Everything’s fine,” she answered curtly. “I’m doing the platters.”

“Well, hi-it’s-nice-to-hear-from-you too.”

“I’m sorry. I’ve just got my hands full. I can’t talk now.”

“No prob. How are you feeling?”

“Fine.”

“Tired?”

“No.”

“Do you want–”

“I said I was fine. Look, sweetie, just get the girls at the airport, okay?”

When she reached to return the phone to her purse, a wave of exhaustion nearly brought her to her knees. Pacing. She had learned to pace herself in this new, hopefully-temporary metabolism. In past years, she tore through seder preparations in three intense days. Now, like a taffy pull without the sweetness, Robin had stretched those three days of work into a week. She had graciously agreed to let friends make the desserts and the charoset; she had even condescended to order the gefilte fish from a deli. All she had to do today – all – was polish the silver and glassware. Of course she could handle that.

After a nap.

It was four in the afternoon when Robin woke. She had never been a napper, and she planned on rejoining the ranks of the joyously, obliviously non-napping sometime soon. This round of chemo was working. The doctors were uniformly encouraging. Next Passover she would make the gefilte fish again. To hell with “next year in Jerusalem”; next year in normalcy would be just fine with her.

Robin reached for some crystal wine glasses that had belonged to her mother. Like everything else, they were dusty. She grasped multiple stems in each hand, like squawking chickens held upside-down by their feet, and padded toward the sink. And then it happened – who knew why, just a click of the front door like any other day, Dan arriving with the girls, but it spooked her and she twitched and the flock of crystal chickens flew out of her hands and smashed on the floor.

My mother’s crystal; what will she say? she thought, and then She can’t say anything, she’s been dead for 15 years, and then At least it wasn’t my seder plate and then Oh God, why do they have to see me this way because tears were running down her face and she had slumped onto the floor amidst the shattered glass.

“Mom!” called Jen, and they were suddenly around her, hugging her, so eager to make it all right. But it would not be all right, Robin knew, even if the chemo worked and her hair grew back and the gefilte fish swam back to her stove. If not this, it would be something else – the stroke that took her mother, the “female problems” that took her grandmother. It felt like only yesterday that she was triumphantly bargaining a few shekels off the price of an already-dirt-cheap seder plate, yesterday that she was inhaling sweet talcum powder from plump baby bodies. But the girls were grown; their childhood was gone; her own youth was even longer gone; and now her mother’s crystal was gone too. It was just a matter of time until all that remained of their cherished lives would be brittle heirlooms on someone else’s seder table.

Robin reached one arm around each girl. “Careful,” she managed to say. “The glass. Don’t cut yourself.” But what she was thinking was: We are always leaving Egypt, Pharoah’s chariots are always at our heels, and there will never be enough time for the matzah to rise.        

So matzah matter with you?

March 27, 2013

Passover eve – can’t wait for matzah

Passover Day 1 – love that matzah

Passover Day 2 – like that matzah

Passover Day 3 – I am becoming a matzah

Passover Day 4 – do all the carpets in my house have dandruff?

Passover Day 5 – discover one thing worse than matzah, which is whole wheat matzah

Passover Day 6 – writing indie movie called Triscuit Dreams

Passover Day 7 – revelation while in hallucinogenic, yeast-deprived state that Pharoah actually invented matzah as ultimate revenge on the Israelites

Passover Day 8 – I think Passover is over in Israel already, can I have a turkey sandwich now?

Day after Passover – throw out multiple unopened boxes of matzah bought in bulk to save money

Week after Passover – mmm, you know what would taste good right now…

The world as a dinner party

March 26, 2013

We don’t throw formal dinner parties. It’s both generational and demographic; my husband and I came of age in the era of Laurel’s Kitchen potluck dinners filled with dreadful lentil-nut loaves.

We’ve moved beyond lentil-nut loaves, but we still tend to entertain in a casual way. Good wine, but no crystal glasses. Delicious food, but stainless-steel flatware rather than the sterling silverware that my mother had.

There’s one occasion a year that’s different, our Seder. White tablecloths, flowers on the table, and the silver wine goblets and serving platters that I inherited from my mother’s family. I always scramble to polish them at the last minute, since they haven’t been used since the previous Seder and have accumulated tarnish.

Our seder table / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Our seder table / Photo by Ilana DeBare

We also make place cards for the guests. That was always Daughter’s job before she went to college, writing elaborate versions of their names with colored markers. My part of it was figuring out where to place the guests.

So Monday afternoon, I took a little break from the Passover cooking and table-setting to sit down with the list of 22 guests and figure out who was to sit where.

It’s a job that takes  consideration. You want to keep parents and children next to each other, but you also want the kids to be near another kid of their age. The strong singers shouldn’t be bunched up at one end of the table. The guests who don’t know anybody shouldn’t be stranded in Siberia at the far end of the room.

Mostly, I try to place people next to each other who will connect in some interesting way — the bass player and the soccer coach? the two Kaiser doctors? the 20-something surfer and the 50-something Qi Gong practitioner?

Getting ready for our Seder sometimes makes me feel like a Virginia Woolf character — Clarissa Dalloway or Mrs. Ramsay, preparing a social gathering with small deliberate steps that no one really notices, but that create order out of chaos.

Then yesterday I thought of myself as God.

Suppose the world is a large-scale version of a dinner party, and God makes the seating plan. God sits there with the guest list and table chart and thinks about whom we should meet on any given day.

Now, those of you who have read this blog for a while know that I don’t believe in God. Not a God who favors one sports team or army over another, or cures individuals of cancer, or decides who we will meet as we blunder along in the world.

So I’m talking hypothetically here.

But just imagine that some God has made a dinner-party-style seating chart for your life — has sat there, putting careful thought into why you should encounter certain people. The co-worker in the cubicle next to yours. The Starbucks barista who makes your morning coffee. The homeless guy who begs for money at the freeway off-ramp. 

Imagine that there is some reason you are meant to encounter these people — something you have in common, something you might enjoy together, or something you might learn from each other. There is a connection, a reason to get to know them, even if you don’t have a clue what it is.

And then relate to them like that.

Forget the God part. You can believe in God or not. The God bit is optional.

Just relate to them like that.

Searching for chametz

March 16, 2013

This is the time of the year, right before Passover, when observant Jews go through their kitchens and get rid of any foods with even a trace of chametz, or leavening.

We don’t do that. We keep kosher for Passover to the degree of not eating foods with leavening during the holiday, but we don’t go through the search-and-destroy mission. We just let those boxes of pasta and bags of flour rest quietly in the cupboard, backstage for a week.

This afternoon, though, I felt compelled to clean out our pantry.

It had reached the point of irritation: Whenever I looked for something, I had to pull four other boxes out of the way to see if it was even there. And I figured, now that we are empty nesters, there are probably a number of teenage foods that we really don’t need to stockpile any longer.

It was a little surprising.

I pulled everything out and found eleven — eleven! — cans of Trader Joe artichokes. Five cans of Amy’s Organic Lentil Soup that expired in 2011. Two jars of Ragu tomato sauce that expired in 2009. Four cans of “lite” and regular coconut milk  — although I have never in my life cooked anything with coconut milk. And so on.

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I think there are a few things going on here:

  • Groundhog Day in the Pantry. Your shelves are so crowded and jumbled that you don’t know what you have. So at the store, you see the cans of artichoke hearts and you think, “Hmm, I bet we need some artichoke hearts.” Then you add them to the jumble and don’t see them. So next week, you’re at the store and you see the cans of artichoke hearts and you think, “Hmmm, I bet we need some artichoke hearts….”
  • The Cupboard of Good Intentions. The person I aspire to be when I am in Trader Joe’s is different from the person I actually am. In Trader Joe’s, I imagine myself as someone who makes dinners with coconut milk. Or corn-and-pepper relish. Or Mojo Cilantro Sauce. Or bean threads and pad thai and star anise. While in reality, when it’s 6 pm and I’m tired and hungry and want to get dinner on the table, I just hurl vegetables into a wok and dump on some soy sauce.
  • Laziness.
  • Inertia.
  • Time. Or — like a Jackson Browne line that is in my head a lot — “be aware of the time going by, in the end it’s a wink of an eye.”

Here is the strangest thing I found in the cupboard:

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The expiration date was 2008…. but gosh, no one had been eating strained apricots in this house since maybe 1995.

I happily got rid of a bunch of packs of revolting teen-beloved ramen. I got rid of all the expired organic lentil soup. I kept one can of lite coconut milk since, well, you never know. Change happens.

It’s shameful to look at our trash can, now filled with cans of uneaten food. But the food banks don’t want expired items. And I’m leery of eating stuff that expired two years ago.

Now what’s left is the dreaded Water Bottle Shelf. If  you go to enough charity fundraisers or bike marathons, you tend to accumulate water bottles.

IMG_0784

But if wasted food is terrible, wasted plastic is probably just as bad. Maybe worse. Who knows, it may take even more natural resources to make a plastic water bottle than a can of organic lentils.

Perhaps the water bottles are my version of chametz — something that is not kosher, not in keeping with what God wants.

We shouldn’t just get rid of this batch of bottles; we should also stop accumulating more.

Passover Seders, then and now

April 10, 2012

My friend Jamie Beckett posted a cool photo of a seder during World War I on her Facebook page. So that got me thinking… and doing a quick bit of Google image searching.

Happy Passover! Enjoy these photos and remember, as you gnaw on your 47th matzah of the week, that you are part of a long history. 

14th Century Seder, from the Sarajevo Haggadah (produced in Barcelona, around 1350)

Folk art of Ukrainian seder, 1800s

Popkin Family Seder in Duluth, Minn., 1910 / Photo from the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest

Passover seder, U.S. servicemen, World War I / Courtesy of the National Archives

1925 Seder in Manila, Philippines / Courtesy of Center for Jewish History

Yemenite seder in Jerusalem, 1939 / Courtesy of Jerusalem Post

Seder at a Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz in the 1950s / Courtesy of H.H. Yad Yaari Archives

White House Seder, 2009 / Photo by Pete Souza

Our seder table, 2012 / Photo by Ilana DeBare

 

Passover and the courage to change

March 13, 2012

Earlier this year, I took part in a Shabbat service where women from Temple Sinai wrote personal, modern versions of the traditional prayers. Sinai member Karen Marker wrote a version of the Mi Chamocha (Who is like you?), the prayer where we praise God for parting the Red Sea and taking us to freedom.

Photo by Ilana DeBare

It struck me as a wonderful reading to incorporate into a Passover seder. And so, since we are at the time of year when some of us start preparing haggadot for Passover, here it is.

Note: It is helpful in reading this to know that Karen chose to undergo a conversion to Judaism (including immersion in a mikvah) because she had not been raised as a Jew, even though her father’s side of the family was Jewish.

Michomocha

By Karen Marker

Michomocha.
This is a true story
of a prayer forgotten and remembered.
It is the story of my grandfathers
who stood on the edge of the waters
in Lithuania, 1890, at age 13,
in  Sweden, 1903 , at age 22,
on the ground of the only things they  knew
of religion and  war,
the anger of  neighbors,  the mandates of rulers,
accusations, burning villages, the loss of  fathers.

Congregation:
This is a prayer for everyone who is more afraid of drowning in the place
where they are standing than stepping into the darkness
and  seeking a radical change.

This is the prayer for those who yelled at their god:
Why have you enslaved us to restrictive religious practices and persecution?
My grandparents
who knew nothing of each other,
nor of us yet to be born of their children,
cast off their religion and country
believing that the waters would part and carry them
to their dream of open space, liberation,
political, civic, and economic freedom.

They set sail as millions followed after,
took on new names and a new language,
never looked back when they started over.

This is the story of the miracle that happened.
You sent hidden wells with my grandparents
into their new world,
in the libraries and the classrooms,
in  protests and in conversations.
You sustained them
in the wilderness of the not-so-perfect world on the other side.

Congregation:
Michomocha. Who is like you
that even in forgetting we remember?

This is the story of the mikvah
where I  immersed and touched no edges,
three times curled up as a fetus
in the embrace of living waters.

When I arose
I had found my voice,
and the stories of my grandparents.

Congregation:
Who is like you
Oh god who gives us the courage
to step into the waters,
gives us the miracle of starting over
and returning.

 

A Karaite seder

April 12, 2011

What comes to mind when you hear “Passover foods?”

If you’re like most American Jews, it’s matzah ball soup, gefilte fish, and charoset made of apples, nuts and Manischewitz wine — basically, the European Ashkenazi tradition. Maybe if you’re a little adventurous, you’ll picture a Sephardic charoset based on dates and other dried fruits.

But here’s something completely different — a Karaite Passover menu.

No matzah balls. No charoset. No eggs, parsley, salt water, wine or even a seder plate.

Instead, a unique kind of unleavened bread with coriander, bitter lemon salad, barbecued meat on the bone, and juice made from fresh grapes and raisins.

Rollers that were used to knead matzah dough, outside the Karaite synagogue in Cairo, 1985 / Photo by Ira Nowinski, Stanford University Libraries

Karaism is a small but ancient stream within Judaism that was based primarily in Russia and Egypt. What distinguishes the Karaites from other wings of Judaism is that they don’t follow or acknowledge the Talmud, the rabbinic commentary on the Bible that mainstream Judaism sees as inspired by God. For Karaites, Jewish law ends after the Tanach.

A Karaite web site puts it this way:

Karaite Judaism rejects later additions to the Tanach (Jewish Bible) such as the Rabbinic Oral Law and places the ultimate responsibility of interpreting the Bible on each individual. Karaism does not reject Biblical interpretation but rather holds every interpretation up to the same objective scrutiny regardless of its source.

At first glance, one might assume that Karaites are some kind of primitive fundamentalist sect running around Monty Python-style in Biblical tunics. Not so. David Darwish, who catered the luncheon after my Bat Mitzvah, comes from a Karaite family and is not only a cell phone-wielding citizen of the 21st century but a terrific chef who whips up a mean Caesar salad. His brother owns Mezze, a lovely pan-Mediterranean restaurant on Lakeshore Avenue.

I asked David what he ate for Passover growing up, and he referred me to the keepers of culinary tradition in his family — his cousin Nadia Hartmann and her mother Nelly Masliah.

Nadia and Nelly came to the U.S. from Egypt 46 years ago. They’re affiliated with Congregation B’nai Israel of Daly City — the only Karaite congregation in America with its own permanent building.

The Karaite community, Nadia told me, celebrates only one Seder on the first night of Passover. Like an Ashkenazi haggadah, a traditional Karaite haggadah tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt and lists the ten plagues. But the text is almost all verses from the Torah: There is no story of the Four Children, no Chad Gadya. All those readings were added after Biblical times.

Karaites don’t drink alcohol during Passover since their reading of the Torah defines hametz  as not just leavening but fermentation. Instead, they say a blessing over “wine” that is a freshly-made blend of grapes and raisins. They soak raisins in water overnight, then put them in a blender with red grapes and water.

“It’s thicker than grape juice but not as thick as a smoothie,” Nadia said.

Back in Egypt, many Karaite families made their own matzot. Today they buy them at the supermarket like everyone else. But they also make a unique kind of Karaite matza called “orsa” — thin, flat crackers made from flour, oil, water, salt and ground coriander. (Although the flour would make this off-limits for Ashkenazi Jews during Passover, the Karaite tradition allows it since there is no yeast.)  I’m including Nadia’s  recipe below.

“The coriander gives it its flavor,” Nadia said. “It’s square, easy to eat, and you can get addicted to it.”

Rather than a ritual shankbone on a seder plate, Karaite families serve a main course that involves meat on a bone — typically barbecued.  “We often have lamb chops or a lamb shank,” Nadia said.

For bitter herbs, they make a salad — bitter frisee lettuce, six other kinds of lettuce, an oil and lemon dressing, and little pieces of pickled lemon.

Other traditional parts of their Seder meal are rice dishes and grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice. (Like other Sephardic Jews, the Karaites don’t prohibit rice during Passover.) Traditional desserts are Pain d’Espagne, an angel-food-like cake with jam, or cookies with nuts — both made with flour but no leavening.

After speaking with Nadia, I decided to try baking my own orsa — before Passover, so my Ashkenazi self could eat them.

It was a strange experience following a recipe for a food I’d never tasted or even seen, kind of like a Martian following notes for some alien item called “hamburgers.” I couldn’t even find a photo of them on the Web. Here’s how they turned out:

Dough for orsa / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Karaite matzot, or orsa / Photo by Ilana DeBare

They were crisp and a little crumbly like thin, savory graham crackers. Some ended up bitter because they were in the hotter part of my oven and got a little burnt.

My daughter suggested adding cheese. (Not part of the Karaite tradition!) My husband trotted into my study  later in the evening and said, “We don’t know why, because we don’t think they taste that good, but we’ve each eaten three or four of them.”

(What was it that Nadia had said about them being addictive?)

Meanwhile, I’m thinking of making that grape-and-raisin “wine.” There are always some folks at our seder who don’t drink alcohol; this could be a tasty and fun alternative to Welch’s.

Whether you celebrate Passover, Chag HaMatzot or Easter next week, happy holidays!

______________________________________

Nadia’s Orsa (Karaite matzah)

 

Ingredients:
5 cups & 3 oz. regular flour
11 oz. oil
1 cup water
1-1/2 tblspn salt
2 tblspn ground coriander powder — preferable to grind your own from coriander seeds, leaving it a little flaky, since the pre-ground powder from the store has a tendency to burn
Preheat oven to 350.

In a big mixer like a Kitchen Aid, combine all the flour, spices, and a little of the oil and water. With the mixer going, add the rest of the oil and water gradually until it forms a ball. It should be soft enough to work. If it’s too soft, add more flour. Too hard, add water.

Work it on a table until it is very thin. (I used a rolling pin.) Then put a little bit at a time on an ungreased cookie sheet. Cut it in shapes. There should be enough dough for three, maybe four, cookie sheets.

Bake for about 25 minutes until very light brown. Be careful not to overcook.

A seder like you’ve never seen

April 6, 2011

We’re less than two weeks away from the first night of Passover, Monday April 18. This year the wandering and ever-confusing cycles of the Jewish and Christian calendars leave us with Passover coinciding with Easter.

Historically, many scholars believe the Last Supper was a Passover seder held by Jesus and his disciples. So, in honor of the overlap of the holidays this year, with a nod to the wonderful Christian readers of this blog, and with apologies to Mr. Da Vinci, here’s a picture of a seder like you’ve never seen:

I’d love to credit the Photoshop artist — but got this through an email with no credit given.

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A couple of small unrelated notes, and then my next post will return to my usual longer-essay format:

Last month I was honored to be invited to write a guest post about my Bat Mitzvah for Mothering in the Middle, a blog about women who become mothers after 40. (I became a mom at 36, but who’s counting?) The post is called “At 53, I Am a Woman.” Some of it will sound familiar to Midlife Bat Mitzvah readers, but some is new. You can read that essay here.

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And following up on our discussion about haggadot from a few weeks ago, here’s a link to a Kibbutz Artzi haggadah from 1964. Kibbutz Artzi was the most left-wing of the kibbutz federations in Israel, affiliated with Hashomer Hatzair, the youth group I belonged to as a teen in New York.

I hadn’t seen this in years. Historically, it’s interesting to notice how it differs from the haggadah our family uses today.

They’re both modernized and supplemented, but the kibbutz one has a ton more references to nature and agriculture (back to the land and all that!), a more Zionist slant (“we have built a house on our own soil, a steadfast home, for the exiled of Israel”), and the Holocaust is much more of a constant presence. (Not surprising when you realize that 1964 was less than 20 years away from the concentration camps, as recent and immediate to people then as memories of Becca  in diapers are to me.)

While the kibbutz haggadah includes Hebrew poems by Bialik and Alterman, our haggadah includes African-American spirituals like Go Down Moses.

A Labor-Zionist seder versus a liberal-American seder! What’s lovely about personalized haggadot is how they tell a timeless story but also reflect the culture around us, the things on our minds at a certain moment in time.

Do-it-yourself haggadot for the digital age

March 14, 2011

In my 20s and early 30s, I loved compiling my own personal Passover haggadah. I’d browse the massive selection of haggadot at the late, lamented Cody’s Books, buy a half dozen inexpensive paperback ones, and set to work.

Snip, snip, glue, photocopy… I’d start with a traditional version, add the Frogs song from a kids’ haggadah or “Man Come Into Egypt” by Peter Paul & Mary, throw in some feminist commentary or an environmental take on the Ten Plagues and… voila! our haggadah for the year.

Then we became parents. And it felt like an achievement simply to get matzah ball soup and homemade gefilte fish on the table. Farewell to the days of rewriting the haggadah every year.

Now there’s a new, possibly easier way to compile personalized haggadot — via (of course) the Web.

Haggadot.com offers an online library of Passover-related writing and images that you can copy, arrange and edit, scrapbook-style. Then you churn out as many copies as you want, free of charge, on your printer. You can also submit your own words or pictures to become “clips” for other people to use.

Image for cover of a haggadah, from Haggadot.com

I did a quick scan of the site today and found clips that included:

Pretty cool!

The site, of course, isn’t perfect. Although you can search for clips by keyword, there doesn’t seem to be a way to search specifically for images — if, for instance, you were seeking that perfect drawing of a pyramid. Although you can focus your search on specific categories of Judaism — Orthodox, Reform, etc. — the site’s category of “secular/humanist” had no clips in it.

And a search for the keywords “Palestinians” and “Middle East” brought up no results, a shortcoming for folks who would like to incorporate readings about Israeli-Palestinian peace.

But the site is young, founded in 2007 by a graphic design student at California Institute of the Arts. It recently received a grant from the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund. I’m guessing that with time, Haggadot.com will grow — both in sophistication and in scope, as more and more people upload their own quirky, creative, personal takes on Passover.

Me? I’m not up for re-writing our haggadah this year, especially since Sam and Becca will be off visiting colleges for much of Passover week. But visiting colleges means getting close to attending college… which means getting close to the empty nest phase of life… which means I may have the time and impetus to get back into the haggadah creation biz again.

And when I do… I don’t think I’ll need that glue stick any more.