Heartfelt wishes from JHE for a joyous and meaningful Pesach (with Seders full of delicious food and lively stories and discussion).
Throughout the Passover week, we eat matzo — and at the Seder we are enjoined to drink four cups of wine and dip herbs — twice. Many of our Seder menus also include fish: in particular gefilte fish in Ashkenazi homes.
In honor of these traditions, we post here some images of matzo-baking facilities, and also images of fish, grapes (for wine, of course….) and herbs (or at least vegetation) found in Jewish built heritage.
The old matzo oven has long been one of the sites that can be visited as part of the Jewish museum in Pitigliano, an extraordinarily picturesque hill town in southern Tuscany once known as a “little Jerusalem” because of its once-flourishing Jewish community.
The museum encompasses the synagogue, dating from 1599 and rebuilt in the 1990s, as well as other parts of the former Jewish quarter, some of them — like the oven — that are underground chambers carved into the rust-colored tufa rock on which the town is built.
In her landmark 1981 book The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews, Edda Servi Machlin — a native of Pitigliano — describes in vivid terms how matzo was baked in the oven, which was opened just once a year, for Passover.
Here’s a picture of some of the matzo-making operation in the synagogue in Carpentras, France.
At the Seder, we recall how Moses led the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. About a year or so afterward, Moses sent out 12 scouts to explore the land of Canaan. Two of them came back carrying an apparently huge bunch of grapes. As the King James version put it: “And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs.” (Numbers 13:23)
Unfortunately, all but two of the scouts — Joshua and Caleb — gave a negative report that frightened the Israelites and persuaded them not to go forward and take the land. The Lord punished them by making the entire people wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until almost the entire generation of skeptics had died. Joshua and Caleb were the very few of that generation allowed to enter the Promised Land.
The food and drink at Passover has a unique level of kashrut. Here’s the label for Passover liquor, from the M. Rajzman and K. Kopelzon distillery in Luboml (now Ukraine).
The floral motif in the stained glass window in the synagogue in Subotica, Serbia reminds us a little of the herbs we dip at the Seder.