Why is this night different from all other nights? begins the Four Questions at the Seder….This Pesach is very different from all others, as much of the world remains in lockdown; and the questions we ask are more than four….
Freedom, and the striving for freedom, are key themes of the Passover story.
Whether your Seder is solitary, with a few close housemates, or Zoomed across the world on internet, we wish you freedom — freedom of thought, freedom of ideas, freedom of spirit, freedom of (even virtual) fellowship — looking forward to the day when we can all once again enjoy freedom of movement and face-to-face encounters.
To help keep us going, we have posted links to some wonderful online resources for and about the holiday — including deep dives into the world of gorgeous medieval Haggadot, including the famous Sarajevo Haggadah.
And while we’re at it, here are some images that we’ve posted in the past in honor of Pesach traditions.
Throughout the Passover week, we eat matzo — and at the Seder we are enjoined to drink four cups of wine and dip herbs — twice — and eat other symbolic foods. Many of our Seder menus include fish: in particular gefilte fish in Ashkenazi homes.
We arrange the symbolic foods on a special Seder plate — here are a couple of examples from Jewish museums.
And here are some images of fish, grapes (for wine, of course….) and herbs (or at least vegetation) found in Jewish built heritage, as well as some images of historic matzo-baking facilities.
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).
Matzo, of course — unleavened bread — is the key culinary symbol of Passover, baked in special Passover-only ovens, and shaped and pricked with special machinery or utensils.
Here’s a picture of some of the matzo-making operation in the historic synagogue in Carpentras, France (originally built in the 14th century and expanded and rebuilt in the 18th century).
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, Italy, that was once known as a “little Jerusalem” because of its once-flourishing Jewish community.
The Pitigliano Jewish 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, who died last August at her home in New York at the age of 93 — describes in vivid terms how matzo was baked in the oven, which was opened just once a year, for Passover.
[T]he oven was one of our most important facilities […] At the time I was growing up [in the 1930s], the oven was not in operation all year round. But once a year, the opening of the oven just before passover was a thrilling event for children and adults alike.
The floral motifs in the stained glass windows and other decoration in the synagogue in Subotica, Serbia remind us a little of the herbs we dip at the Seder.
And we find depictions of fish (though not prepared as gefilte fish) in the decoration of synagogues and Jewish gravestones.