Seder and Pesach planning and meals

seder-and-pesach-planning-and-meals-photoAt the Seder various foods are present which symbolize the hardships the Israelites suffered during their bondage in Egypt and praise given for their deliverance. Matzah (matzoth), unleavened bread, is eaten in memory of the fact that the Jews, escaping from Egypt, had no time to leaven their bread. Bitter herbs (maror) symbolize the embittered existence of the Israelites during their enslavement in Egypt. The shank bone of a lamb is on the table, a reminder of the paschal lamb. Roasted or hard-cooked eggs are served, symbols of the free-will offering that accompanied the sacrifice of the lamb.

Haroseth, which is a paste made of pounded apples, raisins, and nuts mixed with cinnamon and wine, is served because it resembles the mortar used by the Israelites when they labored on the walls of Pharaohs’ buildings. Salt water is also served, to symbolize the tears shed by the Israelites. Parsley or water cress on the ceremonial platter reminds everyone of the continual rebirth of growing things, and is a symbol of gratitude to God for the products of the earth which come to life each Spring.

Since Pesach is known as the Festival of Freedom, wine is drunk at the Seder (if desired, unfermented raisin wine may be substituted) and when, during the reading of the Haggadah, the plagues decreed by the Lord upon the Egyptians are named, drops of wine from the cups are spilled to show that no one is gladdened by the suffering of enemies, and therefore, the cup of salvation cannot be full.

One cup of wine is left standing, usually in the center of the table, for Elijah, and at one point during the services, the door is opened to express faith in the coming of the Messiah, and that the Prophet Elijah will be the bearer of the good tidings of eternal peace.

In many homes the person conducting the Seder wears a white robe (kittel). This is to remind all present of the sanctity of the Seder ritual, and to recall the white vestments worn by the Priests. It also symbolizes the color of freedom.

It was the traditional custom for the celebrants at the Seder to recline on couches, and today, in some homes, this may be symbolized by the placing of cushions at the host’s back. The men present wear a head covering, either their own hat or the skull cap called the yarmulke.

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At one point in the service one of the three matzahs on the platter is broken in half, and a piece hidden, while the children keep their eyes tightly closed. Later they search for the piece, and the finder gives it up only when he is promised a gift in exchange. This piece of matzah is called the afikoman; after it is eaten, no other food is served. Songs, poems, and stories follow the meal, the children taking part in all. These songs and stories teach faith in the future and encourage a reliance on God’s promise of freedom. A final benediction of the Seder ends the evening.

Menus suggested by Jewish hostesses for the festival of Passover: half grapefruit, celery and olives, gelfilte fish ( stuffed baked fish) with beet horse-radish, meat borsch, roast chicken, fresh asparagus, potato kugel (baked potato pudding), a lettuce salad, Passover macaroons ( made with matzah meal, almond paste, egg whites and sugar) and candies and nuts usually bought at kosher candy shops (candies and cakes made under supervision of a rabbi) with matzah and tea or black coffee.

A seasonable melon may replace the grapefruit and a chicken soup with knaidlach ( Passover dumplings) the borsch. An alternate main dish is pot roast with vegetables, served with honeyed carrots and cole slaw. For dessert, sponge cake, matzah, fresh fruit, tea or black coffee.

Certain foods are forbidden during Passover. Leavening (yeasts and similar products) may not be used. Jewish cookbooks usually indicate dishes especially suited to Passover meals.