Passover Seder & Dinner

Congregation Hesed Shel Emet will host a Passover Seder and Dinner on Friday, April 22, 2016 at 6:30 pm.  This event is open to the public and people of all faiths are encouraged and welcome to attend.

Please purchase tickets before April 17, 2016.

Adults – $25; Kids (5-13) – $18; (under 5) – $5.00  (a nominal fee will be added at checkout.)

 

Technion Produces 2-Minute “High-Tech Hagaddah”

With lights, music and very few words, Israel’s Technion university has produced a two-minute “high-tech Hagaddah.”

The video uses breakdancing by Dvir Rosen, motion graphics, and an innovative laser light show. It is participating in the New Jersey Jewish Standard’s funniest Passover video contest.

Last year, the Technion built a seder Rube Goldberg machine.

Book Review: “The Exodus You Almost Passed Over”

Pesach

Passover table

Why is Rabbi David Fohrman’s new book, The Exodus You Almost Passed Over, different from all other books? The answer is that the Haggadah’s account you learned, first as a child and then repeated as an adult, is not the whole story.

Rabbi Fohrman concedes that the Exodus narrative in the Haggadah may hold one’s interest the first few times read but over time you probably would have preferred the CliffsNotes version so as to get to the food sooner.

However if you learned nothing else during the annual reading of the Haggadah, and the ensuing discussions, it should come as no surprise that there were two biblical Pharaohs, one good — and one not so good. Joseph’s Pharaoh was good. Moses’ Pharaoh was bad. But that’s not where the story ends; in fact, that is where the hidden Exodus story begins.

Fohrman an Orthodox scholar, takes us on a journey full of unexpected twists and turns driven by his respectful exegesis of biblical texts and commentaries. He explores the passages in the Torah that the Haggadah is based on. For example, did you know that Israelites went out from Egypt, with Pharaoh’s permission, hundreds of years before the Exodus? (Genesis 50) Really, how could we have missed that? He calls the first exodus the Phantom Exodus because it has heretofore been hidden from view, since it isn’t featured in the Haggadah. In it, the key players are not Moses, Aaron and the Pharaoh of Moses, but rather those who preceded them, namely Jacob, Joseph and Joseph’s Pharaoh. He draws out amazing parallels between the two events, which shed light on their deeper meaning, God’s plans for the Israelites and for us, their descendants. [Read more…]

Freedom and Kitniyot For All!

Photo by By CSIRO, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35476067

Photo: Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization

In 1989 the Law Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel issued a responsum to the question Ashkenazi Jews ask every Passover: “Why are we not permitted to eat kitniyot (legumes), while Sephardic Jews are?” The Rabbinical Assembly concluded that this is a “mistaken custom” and that Ashkenazi Jews are permitted to consume kitniyot as well. This responsum technically only applies to people living in Israel. Ashkenazi Jews who live elsewhere, will need to clear this with their own rabbi if they would also like to change their family’s custom. Also this Passover season for the first time the Conservative movement has authorized Ashkenazi Jews to eat kitniyot.

If we go back to the source, the Torah has the following to say about chametz: First, we are told not to eat unleavened bread during the seven days of Passover, and to remove all leavened bread from our homes. Jews living in the diaspora added an additional day to make sure they complied with the observance of Passover on the right days of the Hebrew Calendar.

Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; howbeit the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses; for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel. (Exodus 12:15).

Then the Torah instructs us not to have any leavened bread on our property or temporary place of residence during the seven (or eight in the diaspora) days of Passover.

Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses; for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a sojourner, or one that is born in the land.

The significance of Passover is summarized by Moses in Exodus 13:3:

And Moses said unto the people: ‘Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place; there shall no leavened bread be eaten.’

The rabbis who wrote the Mishnah (10-220 CE) ruled that five types of grain were permitted for baking matzah. These are wheat, barley, spelt, rye, and oats. When these grains are mixed with water they ferment very quickly. They instructed that the dough must be mixed and baked in eighteen minutes or the matzah would not be considered “unleavened bread.” When analyzing rice and sesame seeds, these rabbis noted that when these were combined with water, they decayed, they did not ferment. Therefore, they were not considered chametz.

In the thirteenth century, the rabbis of Provence prohibited the consumption of rice and kitniyot during Passover. This custom spread throughout Europe. No clear reason for this new prohibition was ever provided. Some rabbis in other cities objected to this ruling, saying that it was a mistaken custom, a foolish custom, and an unnecessary stringency.

The question facing the rabbis today is, may they change a mistaken custom? They concluded that they may and they must. Doing away with this custom will return the focus of Passover to the original intent of the Torah. It will enhance the enjoyment of Passover by offering a greater variety of foods. The new ruling will make the celebration more affordable. One of the best results of this initiative is that it will lessen friction between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, who will finally be able to enjoy the same foods together at the Seder.

I am an “Ashkefardic” Jew, from a “mixed” family. The Passover battles of my grandparent’s generation are legendary. The preparations for the Seder always started with a fight, which wasn’t even about the relatives. The topic was the same every year: rice or potatoes. The end result was a lose-lose truce, neither rice nor potatoes. Matzah was the only starch served during the festive meal.

Thanks to this new ruling, there may be more shalom bayit, or peace in the home. Some of the kitniyot permitted by the Sephardic Passover Guide are “Anise, Beans, Black Eyed Peas, Buckwheat, Canola Oil, Caraway, Chickpeas, Confectioners’ sugar with corn starch, Coriander, Corn, Corn Syrup, Cumin, Fennel, Fenugreek, Flax Seeds, Hemp, Kasha, Lentils, Licorice, Millet, Mustard, Peanuts, Popcorn, Poppy Seeds, Rice, Sesame Seeds, Snow Peas, Soy Oil, Corn Oil, Soy, String Beans, Sunflower Seeds, Tofu (from soy).”

This is a wonderful development for vegetarians and vegans. For the uninitiated, here are some of the most beloved recipes with kitniyot for Passover.

In the Jewish communities of Sicily, Egypt, Turkey, and Greece fava beans ripened just as Passover was celebrated. It was traditional to include a dish with fava beans at the Seder.

Photo by boo lee

Photo by boo lee

Braised Artichokes with Fava Beans (Anjinara con Aves)
Adapted from The Sephardic Kitchen by Rabbi Robert Sternberg

  • 8 artichokes
  • 1 pound fava beans
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill, minced
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  1. Place all the ingredients except the salt, pepper, and fresh dill in a large pot.
  2. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer.
  3. Cover the pot and cook for 45 minutes.
  4. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and dill.

The Syrian Jewish community has a beautiful rice dish reserved for special occasions such as the Passover Seder. This dish is famous for the beautiful golden hue and rich aroma extracted from the saffron it is spiced with.

Saffron Rice (Riz w’Zafran)
Adapted from Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck

  • 1 cup white rice
  • 3 saffron threads
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of ground cardamom
  • 1/2 cup toasted almond, pine nuts, or pistachios
  1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot.
  2. Add the onion, and sauté over medium heat until translucent.
  3. Pour 1 1/2 cups of cold water into the pot.
  4. Bring to a boil.
  5. Season with the saffron, cinnamon stick, salt, and cardamom.
  6. Add the rice and bring back to a boil.
  7. Lower the heat and allow to simmer for 30 minutes.
  8. Sprinkle with the toasted nuts when ready to serve.

Conservative Movement OKs Corn, Peas on Passover

Peas-Corn-2512772285_ab6dace85c_m

Peas and Corn During Passover?

The Committee of Jewish Laws and Standards (CLJS) of the Conservative movement determined that it is permitted, for both Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews, to eat kitniyot (legumes) on Passover:

These foods included: beans, corn, millet, peas, rice, soy, and some other plant based foods like mustard, buckwheat and sesame seeds.

The issue was discussed in the most recent Pesach Guide published by The Rabbinical Assembly (RA), the organization that represents Conservative rabbis, following the submission and discussion of a teshuva (legal responsum) on this question, submitted by Rabbi Avram Reisner. The guide presents in clear and unambiguous terms the various issues we confront as we prepare for and observe Passover.

Legumes, or kitniyot, historically have been on the list of prohibited foods for Jews of Ashkenazi dissent. Jews of Sephardi dissent have always included legumes in their Passover menus. Until this year, the CJLS position on legumes (for Ashkenazim) has followed that of the longstanding Ashkenazi tradition.

Hebrew label indicating "Kosher for Passover for those who eat legumes".

Hebrew label indicating “Parve and Kosher for Passover for those who eat legumes.”

Over the past several years, the question of Ashkenazim and the permissibility of eating legumes has been re-opened to study. In the fall of 2015 the CJLS passed two responsa that permit the consumption of legumes for Ashkenazim.

This permission does not require any changes to your traditional Passover practices. At the same time, this ruling provides new culinary opportunities, as well as new options for vegetarians, those with dietary restrictions and others.

49 Days of Jewish Spiritual Practice

The Omer comprises 49 days, paralleling the wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness, which in Torah comes the day after Passover begins, and ends with receiving Torah on Shavuot.

Originally, the omer was the measure of wheat brought as a donation of harvest gratitude to feed the Temple workers in ancient Israel. As our need for renewal of spirit builds in these troubling times, the Jewish spiritual renaissance continues unabated.

Kabbalists have developed a powerful spiritual practice for Sephirat HaOmer, Counting of the Omer through pairing it with a practice drawn from the intersection of authentic Kabbalah that accords with contemporary psychology and spiritual development.

The Kabbalists’ Omer practice is done based on a seven-week grid of seven of the ten qualities of what they called the Eitz Chayyim, the Tree of Life. The Tree is a mind map, a model, a metaphor for the source of life, and the mystery of the source of life manifesting as all that is apparent to us, including who we are and who we are becoming.

Three of the highest aspects, sephirot of the tree are not directly attainable. We can only conceive of them and at times experience the grace of the dimensions known as keter, “crown,” chochmah, “wisdom,” and binah, “understanding.” Refining the seven attainable aspects by combining them with each other and contemplating the new pair for each day is a powerful spiritual practice.

Omer Calendar for 2015 updated 4 14 15_Page_1

The practice transforms the 49 days into a very accessible spiritual journey that I highly recommend.

Many bloggers have taken up posting on the Kabbalists’ practice. For example, here is an excerpt from my daily omer blog on this practice for Day One of Forty-nine:

Walking in today’s omer state of consciousness, Lovingkindness within Lovingkindness, in Hebrew chessed sheh b’chessed, my sweet Hubbatzin Barry came upon a street sweeper pausing to help a very shaky homeless person write a sign asking for spare change.

Before the sun sets today there is still time for this Day One Omer practice — imagine being surrounded by more loving kindness than you have ever known, now allow yourself to fill with this glory, and express a prayer for this experience to untie your tangles, the ana b’koakh. Become radiant with this Love Song, know everything that lives is singing it, today, now, to you, each to all. Walk in the world, go out in this consciousness. Today has been Day One of the Omer.

My teacher, Rabbi Zalman, Schachter-Shalomi, of blessed memory, was certain that if all of us would undertake the innovative contemplative Omer path of the Kabbalists, that we would form a collective consciousness that would afford us the experience of synesthesia reported in the Torah.

All the people saw the sounds and the flashes, the sound of the shofar and the mountain smoking… (Exodus 20:14)

Reb Zalman hoped that from that precious point of consciousness, the metaphorical return to Sinai intended by Shavuot, we might bring down the needed new dimensions of Torah that can only be perceived as humans continue to evolve in the wilderness of our lives and times. So every year of our maturation as individuals, a people, and as a species, this is a valuable practice for the impact on our personal and collective lives.

A list of some of the many omer bloggers has been posted by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, a consortium of Jews from across the spectrum of Jewish life dedicated to the study and practice of Jewish life through the lens of serious scholarship and engaged spirituality.

This Passover, Don’t Forget Modern Slavery

Cartoon courtesy of Yaakov “Dry Bones” Kirscehn: http://drybonesblog.blogspot.co.il/

(NJDC) Today, countless American Seders are different from what some might consider “traditional.”

For example, today, many plates include an orange signifying the fruitfulness of all Jews, specifically women and members of the LGBT community. And, Elijah’s Cup no longer sits alone on a side table. It is accompanied by Miriam’s Cup, signifying the multitude of contributions women make to Jewish culture, past and present.

And, when we read the familiar, “And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.” (Ex. 13:8), many texts now include “thy daughter.”

The Exodus story told, artfully or otherwise, about the Israelites, being enslaved, and led out of Egypt by Moses, the revelations at Sinai, and the wanderings in the desert to the borders of Canaan, plays a part in the American Jewish community’s heartfelt displays of strong social activism, concerns for equality, and compassion for those less fortunate than others.

So, when we re-tell to our children and grandchildren the Exodus story, consider discussing a very real struggle of slavery: human trafficking. While today universal support for federal legislation addressing such atrocities exists, it is ensnared in the U.S. Senate.

Human trafficking, by all accounts, is a multi-billion dollar industry with perpetrators profiting from the control and exploitation of women, girls and young children, some of the most vulnerable members of society. And, it appears that some of our most familiar venues are not immune from being connected to it.

In fact, this form of modern slavery can be found during the Super Bowl, at motorcycle rallies in South Dakota, in the fields of Florida, in gangs in California, and in brothels in Washington, D.C. It is crucial that our community is aware of its broad reaching existence.

Victims of sex and labor trafficking need help and services throughout the year. Efforts to address this hideous crime never should be used a partisan wedge issue. To do so demeans us as a modern society.

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx) creates a fund to help human trafficking victims by using fees charged to traffickers. It passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support. But, Democrats recently were exceedingly surprised to learn that the Hyde Amendment language, restricting federal funding for abortion and other health care services, was included: an outrageous trick that forces the entire bill to be stymied until the controversial language is removed.

Enter further inane GOP partisan action:  GOP leadership says that confirmation for President Obama’s stellar nominee for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, will not move forward until the Cornyn bill is passed.  Coupled with the fact that relief for victims of human trafficking is no further along than it was a year ago, this situation illustrates just how partisan politics can harm, possibly irreparably damage, efforts of Tikkun Olam.

Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.) and Susan Collins (R., Me) are working to route the bill, without the Hyde language, through the appropriations process. But, we must be mindful that the GOP very well could reinsert it.

We have much to which we relate this year when retelling the Exodus story. Modern slavery certainly can be one of the issues we address.

A version of this piece was originally published in the Washington Jewish Week.

Gefilte Is Not the Only Fish in Sea

Photo by David Keep

Photo by David Keep

Why do we always have to serve fish for Passover?

I get this question every year from the non-pescatarian participants in our Seder. They clearly do not share my childhood memories of preparing for the holiday of matzahs.

When I was a kid, purchasing and preparing the fish was an unforgettable experience. Serving fish during the Seder is a tradition that goes back to the Talmudic Era (70 BCE). At that time, fish was an affordable specialty that would elevate any celebration. No Passover or Shabbat table was considered complete without it.

My grandmother Devorah kept the traditions of her native Poland her whole life. Even though she had a perfectly good refrigerator in her kitchen in Israel, we would purchase a live carp on the day before the Seder. When we brought the fish home, our bathtub would be half filled with water. The carp was allowed to swim there, while the children played with it. Due to Israel’s water shortages, the fish was the only one who was ever allowed to take a bath! The rest of us very conscientiously showered, using the minimum amount of water necessary.

When the time came, my father would take his heaviest wrench, and slam the fish on the head, killing it with one blow. Then, he would slice it open, and remove its intestines and organs. He would fillet the fish, extricating the delicate flesh from the spine and skin. Carps have lots of tiny bones, so getting them all out was a lot of work. After rinsing the fish, he would hand-grind it. Now it was good enough for savta Devorah’s gefilte fish!

Despite all the jokes about gefilte fish, I have to admit that I loved hers. She mixed the freshly ground fish with chopped almonds, eggs, matzah meal, salt, black pepper and just a touch of sugar. She prepared a broth with fish heads she had purchased from the fishmonger, carrots and onions. The fish balls were poached in this broth. When they were ready, the delicate patties were removed from the broth with a slotted spoon. My savta would arrange them on a serving platter, decorating each with a carrot medallion from the pot. The broth was strained into a glass jar, and both the fish and the broth were refrigerated until the next day. After all the symbolic foods of the Seder were eaten, Shulchan Orech or “the festive meal” was announced. The first course to be served was the gefilte fish.

Savta Devorah’s gefilte fish would have been very familiar to the Jewish housewives of New York’s Lower East Side at the beginning of the 20th century. Because the bulk of Jewish immigrants came to the United States from Eastern Europe, American Jews immediately associate Passover with gefilte fish.

Ashkenazi Jews do not have a monopoly over the consumption of fish during the Seder. This Passover, you can be adventurous by trying fish recipes from different Jewish communities around the world.

For something exotic, you may experiment with the flavors of the Jewish community of Bombay. Merchant traders from Baghdad founded this community about 250 years ago. They adopted the foods of India, and added influences from Arabia, Turkey, and Persia. Here is a recipe for sardina, a fish served cold for Shabbat and Passover. You may prepare it a day or two in advance, and keep it ready to serve in the refrigerator.

Sardinaphoto (17)

Adapted from “Indian-Jewish Cooking” by Mavis Hyman.

  • 2 lbs. fish fillet
  • curry powder
  • olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
  • 2 mangoes, diced
  • 1 bunch scallion, chopped
  • 1 chili pepper, thinly sliced
  • salt
  • cashew nuts, shelled and toasted
  1. Sprinkle some curry powder and salt over the fish fillets.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy frying pan.
  3. Fry the fish on both sides until it flakes easily.
  4. Place the fish in a large bowl, and allow it to cool to room temperature.
  5. Flake the fish with a fork.
  6. Mix in the mangoes, scallions, tamarind concentrate, and chili pepper.
  7. Adjust the seasoning.
  8. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  9. Serve cold, garnished with cashew nuts.

One of the most ancient Jewish communities in the world is in Georgia, in the Caucasus. The Jews fled to Georgia during the Babylonian Exile, in the sixth Century BCE. Georgia is blessed with a mild climate and rich soil. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts grow abundantly, and are featured in Georgian cuisine. One of the most popular ways of preparing fish in Georgia is with a rich walnut sauce. It is served cold, garnished with pomegranate seeds.

Fish Satsivi

Adapted from Georgian Cuisine by T. Sulakvelidze.

  • lb. fish fillet
  • 1 cup shelled walnuts
  • 1/2 cup wine vinegar
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground clove
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 whole allspice berries
  • saffron
  • salt
  • dry chili pepper
  • ground black pepper
  • Khmeli-Suneli Georgian spice mix (optional)photo (15)
  • pomegranate seeds
  1. Place the fish fillets in a heavy pot. Cover them with cold water.
  2. Add the bay leaves and allspice berries.
  3. Bring the pot to a boil, and then simmer for 45 minutes.
  4. Remove the fish with a slotted spoon to a casserole dish.
  5. Place the walnuts, garlic, chili pepper, saffron, ground coriander and salt in a food processor.
  6. Grind the nut mixture.
  7. Empty the nut paste into a pot.
  8. Add just enough fish broth to get a creamy consistency.
  9. Add the chopped onions.
  10. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 10 minutes.
  11. Add the vinegar, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and Khmeli-Suneli.
  12. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
  13. Pour the sauce over the fish.
  14. Cover the casserole dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  15. Serve cold, garnished with fresh pomegranate seeds.

The Les Misérables Special You Will Only See On Passover!

The Maccabeats sing the story of Passover in a perfectly adapted medley based on Les Miserables.

“Look down, look down. You’ll always be a slave…” Wait for the grand finale as they continue with “Do you hear the people sing? Say do you hear the distant drums, It is future that they bring when tomorrow comes.” The Maccabeats are unbeatabe on their new album – One Day More. Just sit back and enjoy!

Green Passover Salad


Green Salad by Marisa McClellan.
© Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

— by Abby Contract

After many months of gloomy weather and eating winter offerings of potatoes and cabbage, I am ready to welcome my spring crop of fresh herbs.  I am especially excited to see the first shoots of dill.  Dill originated in Eastern Europe, and has a high tolerance for cold weather.  This healthy, aromatic herb is high in iron, calcium, and fiber.  It is a very popular addition to salads in Eastern Europe.

For the first Seder dinner, I’ll include the dill in an amazingly refreshing Spring Green Salad which combats the heaviness of brisket, potato kugel and the multiple pieces of matzoh. I’ve made this salad, which has the right balance of crunch and tanginess, for years. It reminds me of a good friend who happens to always be open to new experiences, encouraging others to join in on the fun. And, that’s what Passover should be about – a surprising and ever-changing blend of history, tradition, novelty, openness and joy.

Recipe follows the jump.
Spring Green Salad
Serves 6

  • 16 cups of washed and torn romaine lettuce
  • 1 English cucumber, julienned
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup of minced fresh dill
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 6 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves pressed
  1. Combine lettuce, cucumbers, green onions, and dill in large bowl.
  2. Whisk olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic in small bowl until blended. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Pour dressing over salad. Toss until evenly coated and serve. Enjoy!

Abby Contract is the creator of Phoodistory, a celebration of Philly’s fanatical history with food.