[Editor’s Note: The holidays aren’t upon us right now, so why would we ask a guest to blog about a holiday? Because many of you are going to be seeing family over the summer. This is a great time to ask relatives about your holiday traditions and those of your ancestors. Thanks to genealogist and author Jennifer Alford of Jenealogy and The In-Depth Genealogist for sharing about her family’s Passover traditions.]
How do you mark the holidays that are important in your family? Growing up I found that we did things a little different than most. My mom is Jewish and my dad’s side is Catholic. I grew up with both sets of holidays and connected to them in a way that was more historical than religious. Sitting at the dinner table celebrating Passover has become one of those enduring memories that I want to pass on to my own future children.
Over the years, the Passover Seder has had an increasing meaning for me. Part of that is due to the fact that I do not get home to spend time with my family as much as I would like. Since starting my genealogy research I have an increased appreciation for how the Jewish people have survived and held onto their beliefs. I have a lot of respect for those with strong beliefs- whatever they may be. I always marked the time of year by the television showing of “The Ten Commandments” and the story of the Jews escaping Egypt. There is nothing like Charlton Heston, as Moses, declaring, “Thus sayeth the Lord God of Israel: Let my people go.” My friends celebrated Easter while many Jews were planning their Passover Seder.
Anyway, for those not familiar with Passover (or Pesach) I thought I’d share some of the things that my family and I do when we celebrate. I can’t speak for all Jews (and wouldn’t want to!), but I really love the time we have together as a family. A few years ago I found some hilarious finger puppets to use in the telling of the story of Passover. Check them out in the pictures below.
Mom always makes a great spread with all the representative foods used during the night. She has spent a lot of time putting together a special series of readings from several different Haggadahs. We all take turns reading from the books and say the blessings for the wine with Mom’s guidance. She grew up attending the synagogue regularly and was active in the youth activities there. Though I started off going to a Hebrew Day School; I did not stick with it and lost a lot of what I had learned then.
During the dinner we talk about the symbolism of the various foods on the Seder plate. Greens (Karpas) represent the initial flourishing of the Jews in Egypt. The salt water represents the tears shed by the Jews. Haroset is a mix of fruit, nuts, and wine and represents the mortar used to build the pyramid. Bitter Herbs (usually horseradish is used) allow us to taste the bitterness of slavery. The lamb shank bone represents the sacrifice of a lamb made at the Temple for a special Passover offering. The egg shows the circle of life.
- On all other nights we eat bread or matzo, while on this night we eat only matzo.
- On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables and herbs, but on this night we have to eat bitter herbs.
- On all other nights we don’t dip our vegetables in salt water, but on this night we dip them twice.
- On all other nights we eat while sitting upright, but on this night we eat reclining.
There is always an extra place setting for Elijah and the door is kept open in case he should appear. (Yes, that’s right, the Jews are still waiting for their Messiah.)
- Water to Blood;
- Gnats or Lice;
- Livestock Diseased/ Cattle Plague;
- Thunder and Hail;
- and Death of the Firstborn.
By the time we’ve made it through all the stories, reflections, and blessings we are usually so full that we hardly make a dent on the delicious meal that Mom has made. On the bright side, the leftovers are great! When I think back to the generations before me I wonder what their Passover Seder’s were like? I guess I know what I’ll have to ask Mom about next time I’m home!
Jennifer Alford is a freelance writer, artist, and professional genealogist specializing in research in Jewish genealogy and the Midwest states. As the owner of Jenealogy she creates engaging family history treasures to enhance the bond between generations. The love of photography, storytelling, and history combine in her blog and unique products. Jennifer Alford is Publisher of Going In-Depth, The In-Depth Genealogist’s monthly digital magazine. She is also author of IDG’s Monthly column, Jewish Genealogy.