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Learn about Passovers symbolism and traditions


Passover, the most observed holiday of the Jewish faith, begins at sundown tomorrow, April 6. It is an opportunity for Jews to recommit themselves and reconnect with their Jewish identity. Highly steeped in tradition, it is a holiday that fills them with hope for the future.

Like Christians prepare for Christmas dinner, Jewish families begin preparing for Passover Seders weeks in advance. Seders are opportunities to use the fine china and crystal and prepare the traditional family favorite dishes.

Rabbi Alan Berg of Beit Haverim in Lake Oswego explains Passover in this way:

'Passover begins simply, with the cleaning of one's house, a cleansing that culminates in the search for hametz, for unleavened bread. In the course of this search we may find that we also have some personal 'hametz' of character, emotions, personal concerns within us that could also use some spring cleaning.

'After this journey begins, Passover, culminating on the seventh day in the crossing of the Red Sea, enables us to once again experience the essential event in Jewish history - the crossing of the Red Sea. Liberation is the fundamental attribute involved in the crossing through the Red Sea. Liberation from slavery. Liberation into a new life.'

The easiest way to learn about Passover is to understand the symbolism of the Seder.

Each person attending the Seder has an instruction book called a Haggadah, which means 'book of telling.' The Haggadah leads you through the Seder, explaining what comes next and what it all means.

Tradition calls for every person to have a special Kiddish cup; the table is set with a special matzah cracker holder and Seder plate. These are often family heirlooms that have been used by generations at the same Passover meal.

Three matzahs are placed in the matzah holder.

The Seder plate can be fancy or ordinary, as long as it has the main symbols of Passover. Most Seder plates have six dishes to hold the six symbols of Passover, which are:

* Zeroa - a roasted bone. In ancient times, it was customary to sacrifice a lamb to your god to ensure rains for the success of the new crops. Zeroa, which means arm in Hebrew, represents God's mighty arm that freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Zeroa is symbolic of the Paschal lamb offered as the Passover sacrifice in the temple in Jerusalem. In vegetarian households, a roasted beet is placed on the Seder plate.

* Beitzah - a hard boiled egg. The egg represents the springtime rebirth. Also, like chicks breaking from their fragile shells, wobbling slowly on uncertain legs and then mastering a study strut, so the Israelites learned to be free, walking tall and strong.

* Karpas - this green vegetable, usually parsley, reminds us that Passover corresponds with spring and the harvest, which is cause for celebration itself. Karpas is dipped in salt water to represent the tears of enslavement.

* Charoset - this sweet mixture of chopped apples, nuts, wine and spices represents the mortar with which the Israelites bonded bricks when they were enslaved in ancient Egypt. The word charoset comes from the Hebrew word which means clay.

* Maror and Chazeret - the Seder plate usually has two spaces for bitter herbs, which represent the bitterness of slavery. The most commonly used vegetables are romaine lettuce and horseradish. The chazeret is eaten between two matzah to follow the practice of Hillel, from the time when the temple stood.

With the table set and everything in place, before the sun sets it is time to light the candles and open your Haggadah to follow along.

The Seder begins with the recitation of the Kiddush and drinking the first cup of wine or grape juice, followed by hand washing.

The Karpas is eaten and then the middle matzah is broken. The larger half is hidden as the afikoman, which will provide fun later in the evening.

While the story of the Passover is told, a second cup of wine is drunk. At this point the youngest child asks the Four Questions to learn 'Why is this night different from all other nights?'

'On all other nights we eat hametz or matzah. Why, tonight, do we eat only matzah?'

'On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables. Why, tonight, do we eat maror?'

'On all other nights we don't dip our vegetables - not even once! Why, tonight, dod we dip them twice?'

'On all other nights we eat sitting up straight or leaning any way we want. Why, tonight, do we all lean?'

'The ritual of the youngest child asking the four questions evoke the story of our yearning for freedom again,' said Rabbi Berg. 'And we recline because a person who can eat a meal like tht is a free man.'

There are four different passages in the Bible that instruct parents to tell their children the Passover story. Recognizing all children are different, there must be different ways of telling about Exodus, so that each child understands.

The wise child would ask 'What are all the laws God has given you about Passover?' Since the wise child wants to know everything about the holiday, this child is told all the laws and customs of Passover in great detail.

The wicked child would ask, 'Why do we bother with this Seder?'

The answer is meant to shock the child, hoping for a change of behavior. 'I celebrate tonight because of what God did for me when I left Egypt. If you had been a slave in Egypt, you would not have been freed with your brothers and sisters' is a possible answer.

The innocent child asks, 'What is this talking all about?'

The explanation: 'With a mighty hand, God took us out of Egypt, out of slavery.'

And the child who does not even know how to ask a question is told 'We celebrate Passover because of what God did for us when we left Egypt.'

Hands are washed again and this time a blessing is said. The Maror is dipped into the Haroset and a sandwich is made of the bitter herbs and matzah and then finally, it is time for the feast.

Remember the afikoman that was secreted away earlier in the evening? Neither the meal or the Seder concludes before some of the group eats a piece of it. So the children take up the hunt for it, which could earn them a fun prize.

More blessings are said after the meal and a third cup of wine consumed and Elijah the Prophet is welcomed.

According to the Bible, Elijah never died but was lifted to heaven in a fiery chariot within a great whirlwind. Many stories through the ages tell of Elijah's reappearances on earth, dressed in different disguises, to help those in need, to guide and to teach.

Elijah also has a role in bringing about the days of peace. Because Jews eagerly wait the time of peace, they are always looking for Elijah, hoping he will come this year, perhaps at this very Seder.

In honor of Elijah, they place a large and beautiful wine cup on the Seder table and invite him in by opening the door so he can drink from his cup.

It is tradition for each person to pour a little wine into this special cup to show that all must work together to bring about the days of peace.

The Seder ends with a fourth cup of wine and songs of praise. And the final parting words shared among the group express the longing and their hope for peace 'Next Year in Jerusalem!'

The Passover Seder is a beautiful tradition, rich in symbolism and something not to be missed regardless of your religion. In fact, our friends at Beiti Haverim are inviting us to attend their community Seder on April 7 at Oregon Golf Club.

Rabbi Alan Berg, with the assistance of cantor Ann Brown, will lead those gathered through the Haggadah and then all will enjoy a Passover meal. The menu includes matzoh ball soup, mixed greens with vinaigrette, green beans with almonds, roasted potatoes, salmon in white wine sauce, herb roasted chicken breast, with vegetarian options available.

Cost is $40 for adults, $20 for children ages six through 12. Children five and under are free. Call 503-344-4839 to reserve a spot.

We also have an invitation to attend the world premiere of 'Crossing Over: A Musical Haggadah' April 12 and 15 at Mittleman Jewish Community Center. Composed by Michael Allen Harrison with book by himself and Rabbi Berg, this is a unique, multi-sensory interpretation of the Exodus story.

Tickets are $35 general admission or $15 for youth and students. The production is a benefit for the Oregon Area Jewish Committee. Buy tickets online at oajconline.org or call 503-295-6761.

You can learn more about 'Crossing Over' in the Review and Tidings Entertainment section today on B6.

Harrison was in our offices with Rabbi Berg for an interview about 'Crossing Over' and offered to share his treasured family Passover recipes with us. It's an honor to share Grandmother Glady's Gefilte Fish and the Harrison Family Chicken Pate recipes with you.

Bon Appetit! Eat something wonderful!

Grandma Glady's Gefilte Fish

The fish:

6 pounds fish (1/2 salmon, ¼ black cod, ¼ halibut)

3 tablespoons matzah meal

1 large onion, chopped

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

2 carrots, grated

2 eggs

Combine the above in a food processor and shape into balls. If needed add salt and pepper to taste.

The stock:

6 cups water

3 carrots, sliced

2 onions, sliced

Parsley sprigs

½ teaspoon pepper

Knorr fish bouillon cubes

Bring stock to a boil. Simmer balls in stock for about 15 minutes or until cooked all the way through, serve chilled.

Very important not to over cook. Most recipes say to cook for an hour. Check after 10 minutes. Open one up and see how done it is. This way the balls are moist with lots of natural flavor. When done put the balls in a bowl or pan, add the broth to keep the fish moist. Cover the dish after it becomes room temperature. That way it does not continue cooking in its own steam. Then chill in the refrigerator.

Chicken Liver Pate for Passover

1 pound chicken livers, rinsed and cleaned

3 tablespoons margarine

1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil (canola, corn, etc.)

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 large apple, peeled, cored and chopped (Granny Smith or Fuji)

¼ cup dry sherry

¼ cup sweet holiday wine (Manischewitz, etc.)

4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and coarsely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Put the chicken livers on a piece of aluminum foil and sear them under the broiler for about 3 minutes, set aside.

In a large skillet on medium-high, heat the margarine and the oil. Sauté the onion in the oil until lightly browned. Stir in the chicken livers, apple, sherry and wine. Cook, stirring constantly until most of the liquid is evaporated and the apple is soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the chopped eggs. Remove from heat and process the mixture in a food processor or blender (it works best to do half at a time), watch carefully to get the texture you prefer. Pour into a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill until firm. You can prepare the recipe a few days in advance.

All the above are family recipes contributed by Michael Allen Harrison.

Randall welcomes your food wquestions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281 ext 101 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .