Keeping Passover: Everything You Need to Know to Bring the Ancient Tradition to Life and Create Your Own Passover Celebration

Keeping Passover: Everything You Need to Know to Bring the Ancient Tradition to Life and Create Your Own Passover Celebration

by Ira Steingroot
     
 

"Although the idea of 'keeping Passover' has too often come to mean the strict observance of an unending string of ordinances, decrees, rules, regulations, testimonies, precepts, laws, and statutes, it can as well mean the safekeeping of something precious and worth preserving. Tradition should be like the ballast that keeps a ship steady in an ocean

Overview

"Although the idea of 'keeping Passover' has too often come to mean the strict observance of an unending string of ordinances, decrees, rules, regulations, testimonies, precepts, laws, and statutes, it can as well mean the safekeeping of something precious and worth preserving. Tradition should be like the ballast that keeps a ship steady in an ocean of constant stormy change."

From one of the nation's leading Haggadah experts comes the ultimate guide to creating a faithful and personal seder celebration. Emphasizing "thou may" instead of "thou shalt," Steingroot presents all the traditional and alternative options. Keeping Passover explores:

  • the meaning of the Passover symbols
  • how to choose the right Haggadah
  • food, cookbooks, and table arrangements
  • music, recordings, and learning to sing the songs
  • ways to involve children
  • the art of keeping Passover fresh every year
Keeping Passover is a much needed and highly accessible resource offering a rich assortment of methods — from simple to elaborate, traditional to innovative — to enhance, preserve, and celebrate the seder.

Editorial Reviews

Jewish Book World
The language is straightforward -- heimish yet sophisticated and not without its humor.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060675530
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/28/1995
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.37(h) x 0.97(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Dayyenu:

It Would Have Been Sufficient

How We "Keep" Passover

Special among these grand gatherings ... was the annual celebration of the Passover, a very ancient and remarkable feast which Jews still hold every year in the monthNisan, in eternal remembrance of their deliverance from Egyptian captivity.
— from Heinrich Heine, The Rabbi of Bacharach

To some, the Passover seder, that ancient and remarkable feast that we Jews still hold every year, must be the most scrupulous and complete recital of the text of the Haggadah, closing with a reading of Shir ha-Shirim (the Song of Songs), where only those foods that are allowed by halakhah (law) are served. To others, it can be simply getting together with other Jews on the most convenient night of Passover for a meal, which usually includes some dishes remembered from childhood: chicken soup with knaydlach (matzo balls), gefilte fish with beet horseradish, sponge cake, matzo.

I have learned over the years that the most rigid performance of the seder is not always the best way to teach or to generate fond memories. On the other hand, if all we do is get together as Jews for a meal, what makes this night different from all other nights?

Sometimes people know what they should do, but no longer care. They are tired of should and should not, kosher and terefah, Pesachdikhe and chametzdikhe. Other people just don't know. A friend of mine once went to a seder where a delicious, homemade apple piewas served. Only my friend knew that the flour crust was chametz — not kosher for Passover.

The essence of Passover is the celebration of freedom. Far too often, however, it has become a negative set of proscriptions whose performance is still observed even though their meaning has long been lost. Many of us are inclined to reject the whole thing, throwing out Moses with his basket. We unburden ourselves from what have become the smothering rules of this holiday dedicated to freedom. Ironically, our initial sense of freedom masks our loss of ritual, poetry, and connection through family and tribe with the past. The false sense of freedom that comes from dropping all the encumbrances of the holiday is no freedom when we forbid ourselves engagement in meaningful actions. That is just another kind of unfreedom.

I agree with Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, that we can reconstruct from tradition what we need to live in the modern world; but tradition fails when it acts as a rock drowning us in a sea of irrelevancy. Tradition should be heavy, but like the ballast that keeps a ship steady in an ocean of constant stormy change and the mundane flotsam and jetsam of our daily lives.

A Remembrance of Passovers Past

Passover, the ancient Jewish Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Season of our Freedom, and the oldest continuously performed ceremony in the world, has always been my favorite holiday. I loved getting together with extended family and the occasional stranger, the disruption of the quotidian, the change from our boring regular dishes to the quaint but motley assortment of glass and china we used for eight days a year. A story went with each dish and cup, whose kitchen it had come from and how we came to have it.

I loved the unique foods, especially apple and nut charoset, candy fruit slices, white, unsalted whipped butter we only had once a year, weird-flavored kosher chocolate, lemony sponge cakes, oddly labeled cans and jars, matzo brei and matzo meal pancakes with fruit preserves. My parents sold Passover foods in our grocery store in Toledo, Ohio, and often recalled that the holiday had gotten them through their first year in business. I can remember my father using a piece of taut string to cut individual portions for customers from industrial-size slabs of Pesachdikhe cream cheese.

We belonged to an Orthodox shul (synagogue), where I attended junior congregation services every Shabbos (Sabbath) and on yontif (holidays); four afternoons a week I went to cheder (Hebrew school); and on Sunday mornings I went to Sunday school. I was bar mitzvah at thirteen, graduated from Hebrew school after seven years, and confirmed after ten years of Sunday school. Most of the other kids who had the same experience and background as mine probably paid less attention to what was going on; but for me, in a world starved of intellectual nourishment, this became a kind of classical education where I devoured the Bible, prayer book, midrash, the little bit of Talmud we were given, Jewish history, law, customs, legend, and so on. Although I clowned around a lot, I loved this esoteric lore; and despite a variety of fairly radical changes in my lifestyle over the years, I still do to this day.

I grew up with a totally traditional seder and Haggadah — Stern's blue hardback from Hebrew Publishing, out of print, but still on the box of Streit's matzo. At first we had seders in my cousin's huge basement with our whole family, but when these became too cumbersome we broke up into smaller groups. I was always proud that it was my learned grandfather who had led the large seders, and even though we no longer met in an enormous group, our part of the family still had the leader, the ba'al ha-seder.

Grampa saw himself as our agent in accomplishing the task of completely reciting the Haggadah at our two sedarim every year. He felt that if we would only leave him alone, he would get us through the whole Haggadah as quickly and painlessly as possible. Instead of addressing the ceremony to anyone present, or to any human presence, he chanted his way through every Hebrew word of the text, including the Hebrew instructions, at a fairly good clip. It took some knowledge of Hebrew and the traditional melodies to understand his idiosyncratic accent and singing. The performance of the deed was its own raison d'etre. The essence of the seder leaked into us by osmosis along with the food, the table talk, the symbols, and the rituals.

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