Counting the Omer: A Modern Revival of an Ancient Jewish Practice

Omer calendars for Israel and Diaspora courtesy of Judaica artist Jonathan Kremer.

— by Carol Towarnicky

As Passover approaches, an increasing number of modern Jews are preparing not only for their annual seders but also for “Counting the Omer,” an ancient practice of blessing each of the 49 days between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot.

An Omer is a measure of barley. In Biblical times, the Counting of the Omer marked the time between the barley and wheat harvests. Every night during that period, farmers would wave an Omer to plead for an abundant crop. Over time, the agricultural ritual was replaced by liturgy, and the counting became a way to mark the Israelites’ journey from bondage in Egypt to revelation at Mount Sinai. For the Kabbalists, the Jewish mystics of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Counting of the Omer became a time of spiritual exploration and cleansing, a way to prepare the soul for revelation. The mystics divided the time into seven weeks, with each week containing a specific spiritual quality. On each of the 49 days, two of the qualities intersect with each other, making each day is unique.  

After the jump: Rabbi Yael Levy’s book on the subject
Rabbi Yael Levy, founder of A Way In, a Jewish Mindfulness Center based in Philadelphia and author of Journey Through the Wilderness: A Mindfulness Approach to the Ancient Jewish Practice of Counting the Omer (Volume 1), has re-imagined the counting as a Mindfulness practice: paying attention not only to each day as it passes but also to the individual spiritual qualities that were assigned to it by the 16th century Jewish mystics.

“The counting helps us to pay attention to the movement of our lives,” says Rabbi Levy. “Counting the Omer helps us notice the subtle shifts in our lives, the big changes, all the yearnings, strivings, disappointments, hopes and fears.”

Journey Through the Wilderness is available in paperback through Amazon, and as an e-book via Smashwords and other e-booksellers. The publication includes daily blessings in both Hebrew and English and teachings and intentions for each day.

A Way In is also offering a range of online and social media support for individuals who wish to count the Omer, including free daily emails, blog entries and Facebook posts and insightful Twitter messages and reminders.

Rabbi Levy has been exploring the Mindfulness potential of Counting the Omer for more than a decade, in particular during time she spends each year backpacking alone in the red rock desert of southern Utah. She also leads an annual five-day retreat at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, that takes place at the end of the Omer 49-day period.  

Rabbi Levy points out that the Hebrew word for “desert wilderness” — midbar — is written the same as the word for “speaks” — medaber. “The mystics teach that when we leave our routines, habits and expectations and allow ourselves to go into the unknown, to traverse the wilderness of mind and spirit, we open ourselves to receive Divine guidance.”  

A relatively new development in Judaism, Jewish Mindfulness combines meditation, movement and spiritual practice that draws on Jewish text and tradition. As part of A Way In, Rabbi Levy leads twice-monthly contemplative Shabbat services, weekly meditation “sits,” retreats, classes and individual and group spiritual direction, plus an online community.  

A Way In Jewish Mindfulness program grew out of Rabbi Levy's work at Mishkan Shalom congregation, a Reconstructionist synagogue in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia where Rabbi Levy has been associated for 19 years. A graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Rabbi Levy has co-led retreats in Alaska for Jewish professionals through the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. She is also a spiritual director to rabbinical students in both the Reconstructionist and Reform movements and in private practice.

Bake Your Own Matza in a Pop-Up Passover Tabun

— by Ronit Treatman

In my family, the Passover celebration begins long before the Seder. Preparing for our festive meal is a big part of the fun. One of my favorite traditions is our annual matza baking party. My husband Howard designs and builds a temporary cinder-block tabun (Biblical oven) especially for the occasion. I aspire to bake a matza with a really authentic flavor. In order to get that, I look for flour milled from heirloom seeds that were native to Ancient Egypt.

How does Howard build the tabun? He uses dry, fireproof cinderblocks, aluminum sheets, and ceramic tiles. His design protects the surface beneath the oven.

Oven-building and matza-baking instructions after the jump.

  • 17 regular cinderblocks
  • 6 skinny cinderblocks
  • Four 15″ ceramic tiles
  • Two 3’x3′ aluminum sheets
  • One 3’x3′ perforated aluminum sheet (we used a radiator cover)
  • One 3’x1′ aluminum sheet

1. Select a flat surface to construct on.
Arrange six cinder-blocks in a rectangular shape, with one cinder-block in the center.

2. Place an aluminum sheet over these cinder-blocks. This will hold the charcoal for the oven.

3. Arrange five cinder-blocks on top of the aluminum sheet, leaving gaps for ventilation.

4. Place a perforated aluminum sheet over the cinder-blocks. This allows the heat to rise to the upper chamber of the oven.

5. Create the baking chamber with five cinderblocks arranged closely together, to keep in the heat.

6. Cover the baking chamber with a solid aluminum sheet.

7. Secure this aluminum sheet with flat cinderblocks.
8. Cover the aluminum sheet with ceramic tiles for insulation.

9. Use a chimney to start up your charcoal.

We used natural wood charcoal. The Ancient Israelites used dry dung for fuel. Place some crumpled newspapers in the bottom chamber of the chimney, and charcoal in the top. Light the newspapers. The fire will rise to the charcoal. It takes about fifteen minutes for your charcoal to be ready to be placed in the bottom chamber of the tabun. Rap the back of the chimney with a heavy stick to get the charcoals in to the oven. Use the stick to concentrate the charcoals in the center of the fire chamber. We needed two chimneys full of charcoal to get the tabun hot enough to bake our matza. Once you have placed the matza in the baking chamber, prop the 3’x1′ aluminum sheet against the opening with a stick to create a door. This will help keep in the heat.

In Deuteronomy 16:3, matza is described as lechem oni, or “bread of poverty.” What was the bread of poverty in Ancient Egypt? According to the Karaites, barley was the grain of the poor. They bake their matza from the flour of this Ancient Egyptian staple. I wanted to try it this year, so we baked barley matza. I bought whole grain barley flour at Weaver’s Way Coop near my house.  

Karaite Barley Matza

  • 2 cups of barley flour
  • 1 cup of water
  1. Set a timer for eighteen minutes. From the moment the water touches the flour, that is the total time permitted for the preparation of kosher for Passover matza.
  2. Place the flour in a bowl.
  3. Pour the water into the flour, and knead it quickly.  
  4. Pinch off an olive-sized piece of dough.
  5. Say the blessing for taking challah:

    Baruch Ata A-Do-Nay Elo-haynu Melech HaOlam Asher Kidishanu B’Mitzvotav V’Tziyvanu L’Hafrish Challah, Harei Zeh Challah. (Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate Challah, this is Challah).

  6. You must burn this piece of dough completely, in a fire that is separate from the one you are using to bake the matza.
  7. Pull off plum-sized balls of dough.
  8. Flatten them with your hands.
  9. Pierce the flattened dough all over with a fork.
  10. Place in the hot tabun.
  11. The matza is ready when it is crisp, and slightly browned.

As we pulled the rustic, golden-brown flat breads out of the oven, their delicious aroma wafted around our yard. The tabun-baked barley matza was softer than the store-bought wheat type. We ate our matza hot, right as it emerged from the charcoals. There was a satisfying crunch around the edges as we bit into it. It had a hearty, slightly nutty flavor. For me, this “bread of poverty” is a delicacy!  

Megina: Passover Meat Casserole

— by Marcia Israel Weingarten

One of the staples of our seder meal is a Megina, sometmes refered to as “mina“, or a “meat quajado“. My mom’s is made with crumbled matzah mixed in giving it a quajado-like texture once cooked, and able to be cut into and served in squares. This mina version is often made with layers of soaked and softened matzahs and constructed more like a meat lasagna. I am sharing the recipe as my mom makes it for our family and as she has taught it in community cooking classes. This is one of those dishes you can customize to your liking, adding different spices for a differnt flair (think cumin or ras el hanout or even cilantro instead of parsley, to name a few). This version is made with ground beef, although ground turkey could be a substitute.

Full recipe after the jump.
Kaye Israel’s Passover “Megina” (meat casserole)

  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 2 lbs ground meat
  • 2 tblsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp pepper (to taste)
  • 1 tblsp salt
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 10 eggs
  • 1 cup farfel (soaked in warm water, and squeezed dry) or 4 sheets matzah (soaked in warm water, squeezed dry and crumbled)
  • touch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  1. Brown the meat with the onions in oil; transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
  2. Add the salt, pepper, parsley and farfel (or matzah). Add 2 beaten eggs at a time until 8 eggs are mixed in.
  3. Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan (preferably pyrex type) and heat in the oven for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Pour the mixture into the pan. Spread the remaining two beaten eggs to top of mix.
  5. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool. Cut into squares and serve.

As with all things Passover… enjoy the opportunity to be with family and friends. Document your family recipes and traditions, cook together, enjoy the time. With each dish we serve and each traditional song we sing, we recall lovingly those family members who are no longer with us, whose recipes and memories are present at our table, and whose names we mention at various time throughout the evening (and throughout our many family gatherings).

Marcia Israel Weingarten is the creator of Bendichas Manos. “Bendichos Manos” which means “Blessed Hands,” is an exploration of the Sephardic recipes handed down in Marcia’s family.

Hummus Chocolate Cake? Yes It Is, And Good For Passover

— by Margo Sugarman

A few months ago, I read a recipe for a flourless chocolate cake on the wonderful Seattle Foodshed blog. I bookmarked it, and decided that Pesach was the perfect time to try it out, as for kitniot eaters, it’s completely Kosher For Passover and pareve to boot. And who would have thought that a cake that’s Kosher for Pesach and made from hummus would originate in the US? So with a few days left of Pesach, I have to share this with you.

Full recipe after the jump.
I just baked it, and it’s a hit. My kids piled into it, and were shocked when I revealed to them that it’s made with chickpeas instead of flour. My husband asked where the matbucha was… I will definitely make this cake again for Pesach. It turns out like a brownie cake, so you can also make it as bars, and serving it with ice cream would not be a tragedy. As I was writing this recipe, I realized I had forgotten to add the baking powder, but it came out fine! So if you can’t find Kosher For Passover baking powder, you can leave it out. Now I will have to bake this again to see what it turns out like with baking powder!

I will share this recipe with you here as well, but do visit the Seattle Foodshed blog, as there are also lots of good, healthy recipes there that are worth checking out, and the pictures are great.

Hummus Chocolate Cake for Passover (Kitniyot)
Adapted from Seattle Foodshed blog


  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips or 200g dark chocolate pieces
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans) drained
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

How to do it

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F)
  2. In a food processor, mix the chick peas and eggs until smooth. Add the vanilla, sugar and baking powder (if you can’t find baking powder that’s KFP, leave it out) and pulse till combined.
  3. Melt the chocolate over boiling water (double boiler). Add the melted chocolate to the cake mix and combine.
  4. Line a 22cm (9 inch) baking tin with baking paper and grease. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 35-40 minutes.

Margo Sugarman is the creator of The Kosher Blogger, a celebration of keeping kosher and loving good food.

New Product for Passover: Matzola – Matzo Granola

If you are bored with your usual Passover snacks, There is something new for you this year: Matzolah — matzo granola. It is a sweet, crunchy, and nutty Passover treat.  Matzola was the winner of Best New Kosher for Passover Product at Kosherfest 2012.

Distributed by Streit’s Matzo Company, Matzolah is made with matzos, Vermont maple syrup, California raisins, almonds, walnuts, and pecans. It is sodium and cholesterol free, and is claimed by the distributor to be a good source of fiber. This granola was invented by a family with the appropriate name Foodman of Decatur, Georgia. Matzolah will be available this year at Whole Foods Markets.

Jon Stewart’s Jewish problem revisited

— by Ilan Chaim

I’ve learned to expect the best in political satire from The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart. Even his over-the-top bits can be relied upon to be funny, precisely because of their underlying sophistication. Where the laughter stops, however, are the fortunately rare occasions when Stewart overextends himself by stumbling into the unfunny realm of religious satire.

The case in point is his April 9 segment pitting Easter against Passover, most of which I found offensive as a Jew. While the premise was not necessarily a terrible idea, the punch lines trivialized nearly every important concept of the Jewish festival of freedom for the sake of a few cheap laughs. That the studio audience ate it up is no indication of its funniness — it’s a known fact that The Daily Show audience laughs at anything.

More after the jump.
Before going further, a full disclosure: I have watched The Daily Show for years and am a great fan of Jon Stewart as a comedian who happens to be Jewish. Stewart displays great wit and is a constant delight skewering such easy targets as the Fox network. There is also a serious side to the show in many of his interviews, whose subjects are not allowed merely to plug their books, but also deal with serious issues that are a showcase for Stewart’s considerable intellect.

Stewart makes no secret of his Jewishness; indeed, he seems proud to acknowledge it as far as it goes — which is not very deep. It is when he plays his very tenuous Jewish affiliation for laughs that bothers me.

In one bit of the episode in question, a clip is shown of life-size cartoon and adventure characters gathered for the White House Easter egg hunt. This is contrasted with a stationary shot of the White House Seder. Christians get The Avengers, while Jews get matza ball soup.

Seders are boring? Unlike the White House Easter Bunny he celebrates because of its theological connection to the resurrection of Jesus, Stewart dismisses as boring the Seder ceremony that is the first celebration in human history of freedom from slavery. That seems fair, as long as it gets a laugh.

Then he goes personal.

As the father of mixed faith children who are exposed to both Christian and Jewish holidays, I can’t help but feel that we Jews are getting our asses kicked out here.

Why is this the case? Stewart explains that the Jews have already lost the battle between Christmas and Hanuka, because Christians are celebrating the birth of their savior, while Jews are “acknowledging oil lasting longer than it would normally last” — not marking the first holiday in human history to celebrate religious freedom.

The key, Stewart goes on to assert, is the children. The Christians have learned that, if you get the children, you win. What are the lessons for the children? Christian children see that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is represented by a basketful of Easter eggs, chocolate, and other goodies, while those poor Jewish children get to celebrate their freedom from slavery with a Seder plate containing horseradish, among other unsavory things. Chocolate Easter eggs are a fun way to evoke resurrection, but there are evidently few laughs to be generated by an herb used to remind Jews of the bitterness of slavery. Maybe a matza joke instead?

The point of this unfortunate bit is that Christian kids get to eat candy on Easter, while Jewish kids get to munch on the contents of the Seder plate. The fact that the Seder plate is not eaten from, but used to symbolize the parts of the Exodus-for children, as well as adults-means that this was just another phony prop Stewart used to get laughs from people who don’t know any better.

Does Stewart really know any better, when he presents that “mixed faith child” with a choice between candy or “a bone from a dead baby lamb”? And reminds him, “Don’t worry, we used its blood to mark the door.” That gets a real rise from the studio audience. So does dipping the (non-chocolate) Jewish egg in saltwater, because “It represents the tears of your ancestors.” Har har har.

There is a weakly funny comparison of how Christians got Tim Tebow to make an appearance on Easter, while the Jews can only come up with the Prophet Elijah, who “can’t even be bothered to show up.” Another humorous moment in this segment is the Passover-theme water park. Similar ideas have even been tried in Israel.

But it’s Stewart’s suggestion for how Jews should “step it up a notch” to compete with the Easter bunny that crosses the line from assimilated and irreverent to just ignorant and offensive, by adopting a new mascot: “Passover Pete, the guitar playing, pizza eating lion.” He does acknowledge that, “technically, you’re not allowed to eat pizza during Passover,” but says we should just suspend disbelief and proceed to the next product in his new, improved Jewish tradition.

This is a fictitious new Jewish video game for Passover called “Red Sea Redemption-The Wandering.” A short clip of the fictional game follows with — what else? — Stewart’s signature voiceover in a phony Yiddish accent.

Stewart has every right to be a secular, assimilated, or unaffiliated Jew. But he cannot have it both ways. When he plays Jews for laughs by affecting a faux-Borscht Belt Yiddish accent and especially when he makes accompanying cowering gestures, he does a disservice to his avowed people.

When Stewart does what he supposes to be a funny “Jewish” shtick, he is performing nothing less than the equivalent of a black comedian playing Stepin Fetchit.

It is Stewart’s own exceptional talent and obvious intellectual curiosity that make his vulgar Jewish references all the more embarrassing. This occurred most recently last fall, when he did a bit about the Israeli UN delegation not being present for President Barack Obama’s General Assembly speech. The Daily Show camera focused on the empty Israeli seats as Stewart proceeded to make a mocking-not self-mocking-reference to some obscure Jewish holiday called Succot, which was the reason why Israeli diplomats were absent.

Contrary to his even cursory preparation for book interviews, his Jewish references display Jewish illiteracy. Stewart regularly plays Jewish holidays, High Holy Days, and observances for laughs, which he easily draws from an always amused studio audience. He seems to think these supposedly comic references show the gentile world what a regular funny guy he is — and he is often brilliantly funny. What is not a laughing matter, however, is seeing a comedian who happens to be Jewish portray Jews by the worst kind of stereotypes.

The writer is a former chief copy editor of The Jerusalem Post.

Mitzvah Brei: Don’t Waste Those Leftovers!

Matzo brei — by Ronit Treatman

If you host a Passover Seder or two, there is a good chance that you will have a refrigerator full of unconsumed food.  The principle of Bal Tashkhit (Kiddushin 32a) is basic to Jewish Law.  “Bal Tashkhit” means “do not destroy.”  We are instructed to avoid senseless waste or damage.  When I find creative new ways to serve my Passover surplus, it feels like I am performing a mitzvah!  How can you get people to enjoy the uneaten fare from your festive meal?  Incorporate it with the huge supply of matza and eggs that are necessary to prepare for Passover.  Dress up your matza brei (fried matza) and prepare satisfying repasts for your friends and family.

More after the jump.
roasted peppersVegetable side dishes are colorful and versatile.  Roasted asparagus, steamed artichokes, braised carrots, baked beets, sautéed mushrooms, or grilled red peppers may make an appearance at our Seder.  Any leftovers are perfect in a matza brei.

Vegetable Matza Brei

  • 6 squares of matza
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • Any leftover vegetables
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 4 eggs
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic
  1. Moisten the matza with cold water.  
  2. Break up the matza in a bowl.
  3. Mix the eggs into the matza.
  4. In a frying pan, heat the olive oil.  
  5. Sautee the green onions.  
  6. Add the leftover vegetables.
  7. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and garlic.
  8. Pour the matza-egg mixture over the vegetables.  
  9. Scramble until the egg is cooked through.
  10. Serve immediately!

This matza brei is moist, chewy, and garlicky.  It is the perfect Passover comfort food.

Most of us serve some sort of meat dish for the main course of our Seder.  How can we extend what is left in a delicious way?  By copying an inventive dish concocted in China: Egg Foo Young!  We will envelop our “lotus egg” in matza!

Chicken, Beef, Lamb, or Turkey Egg Foo Young Matza Brei

Sauce For The Egg Foo Young Matza Brei

  • 4 tablespoons kosher for Passover chicken or beef bouillon
  • 1 teaspoon of walnut oil
  • 2 teaspoons pomegranate syrup
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  1. Place all the ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil.  
  2. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Sauteed Mushrooms & OnionsEgg Foo Young Matza Brei

  • 1/4 cup cooked chicken, beef, lamb, or turkey; cubed
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 bunch green onions, cut up
  • 1 celery rib, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 1/4 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 green bell pepper, cut up
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet.  Over medium heat, stir-fry the meat of your choice, ginger, green onions, celery, mushrooms, and bell pepper.
  2. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Set the mixture aside.
  4. Moisten the matza with cold water.  
  5. Break up the matza in a bowl.
  6. Mix the eggs into the matza.
  7. Add the vegetable mixture to the eggs and matza.
  8. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan.  Pour in the matza-meat-egg-vegetable mixture.  Cook over medium heat.  When the bottom turns golden-brown, flip it over.
  9. Serve with the sauce on the side.

This version of egg foo young is salty, chewy, and very satisfying.  The sauce adds a touch of vaguely familiar exoticism.  

Charoset In The MakingCharoset, a wine-infused, sweet, crunchy fruit-and-nut paste is one of the most delicious treats on the Seder table.  How can we inventively use what is left?  Transform it into a breakfast or dessert matza brie.

Sweet Charoset Matza Brie

  • 6 squares of matza
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 4 eggs
  • Charoset
  • Powdered sugar
  1. Place the charoset in a microwave-safe bowl.  Cover and heat for two minutes.
  2. Moisten the matza with cold water.  
  3. Break up the matza in a bowl.
  4. Mix the eggs into the matza.
  5. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan.  
  6. Pour the matza-egg mixture into the pan.
  7. When the bottom of the matza brei turns a golden-brown, flip it over.
  8. When the other side has cooked through, spread the charoset over it.
  9. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

This sweet and crunchy matza brie is a perfect pick-me-up any time.  It goes especially well with some hot coffee or tea.

Passover leftovers present us with the opportunity to be frugally innovative.  As I reposition the foods that remain in my refrigerator, I remember a Yiddish expression that both of my grandmothers were fond of.  They would exclaim, “Du vest dos uf essen!” “You will eat this up!”  Chag Sameach!

Free MP3s of Passover Preparation Imagery

A last minute wonderfulness…. Spiritual preparation for Passover in three, 2 minute visualizations, by Rabbi Joyce Reinitz, also a psychotherapist, who specializes in Jewish healing using the therapeutic guidance modalities developed by her honored teacher, of blessed memory, Madame Colette Aboulker-Muscat.

Rabbi Reinitz’s article on using imagery as a technique for spiritual growth is available in Seeking and Soaring: Jewish Approaches to Spiritual Direction, as is another wonderful article on this subject by Carol Rose.  

First-Ever Presidential Passover Video Greeting

— by Jarrod Bernstein

Starting tomorrow night, the Jewish community in the United States, Israel, and throughout the world will come together to celebrate the holiday of Passover.

President and Mrs. Obama will join them, continuing their tradition of hosting a small Seder at the White House. By now, the story of how that tradition began has been told and retold, but in the spirit of Passover, I’ll tell it again: In April of 2008, the President and his staff were on the trail in Pennsylvania in the midst of a long primary campaign. Weary from a long day of work and away from their families, a small group of staffers came together to hold an impromptu Seder. When then-Senator Obama got wind of the Seder, he gathered some other staff and friends and decided to join. At the end of the Seder, the President followed the traditional “Next year in Jerusalem” declaration with a pledge of his own – “Next year in the White House.” Each year since, he has followed through on that promise. This year, he also added a new touch, a video message to Jews everywhere wishing them Chag Sameach as they continue their own traditions or start new ones this Passover.

Transcript follows the jump.
I’d like to wish a happy holiday to all those celebrating Passover.

The story of the Exodus is thousands of years old, but it remains as relevant as ever. Throughout our history, there are those who have targeted the Jewish people for harm — a fact we were so painfully reminded of just a few weeks ago in Toulouse. Just as throughout history, there have been those who have sought to oppress others because of their faith, ethnicity or color of their skin.

But tomorrow night, Jews around the world will renew their faith that liberty will ultimately prevail over tyranny. They will give thanks for the blessings of freedom, while remembering those who are still not free. And they will ask one of our life’s most difficult questions: Once we have passed from bondage to liberty, how do we make the most of all that God has given us?

This question may never be resolved, but throughout the years, the search for answers has deepened the Jewish people’s commitment to repairing the world, and inspired American Jews to help make our union more perfect. And the story of that first Exodus has also inspired those who are not Jewish with common hopes, and a common sense of obligation.

So this is a very special tradition — and it’s one I’m proud to be taking part of tomorrow night, at the fourth annual White House Seder. Led by Jewish members of my staff, we’ll retell the story of the Exodus, listen to our youngest guest ask the four questions, and of course, look forward to a good bowl of matzo ball soup.

Michelle and I are proud to celebrate with friends here at home and around the world, including those in the State of Israel.

So on behalf of the entire Obama family, Chag Sameach.

EgoPo’s Classic Theatre: The Golem at The Prince Theatre

EgoPo Classic Theatre‘s world premier of The Golem, playing at the Prince Theatre through April 15 is part of its 2011-12 season, a Festival of Jewish Theatre.  “The Festival brings the pinnacle stories of the Jewish faith and history to life.”  The seasoned opened with The Diary of Anne Frank and will produce A Dybbuk, adapted by Tony Kushner May 30-June 17.

The play, directed by EgoPo’s literary director, Brenna Geffers, and created by the talented ensemble of artists involved with the piece, retells the ancient myth of the golem for a modern audience.  From its first mention in the Sanhedrin, a 2nd century companion piece to the Torah, to modern references in contemporary literature, like Cavalier and Clay, the golem story has been re-told and re-imagined in many mediums.   EgoPo wanted to perform “a piece exploring the Golem” which is all about needing a protector in a dangerous world.

More after the jump.
In their modern re-casting of the traditional Golem stories, we are in 1940, where a small group of Jews from Prague, wearing yellow Jewish stars are on a train whose destination is unknown.   The first story is told using Czech-style marionettes, bringing the violence of the blood libel to life.  The golem tried to protect the Jews from the blood libel, a violence-provoking rumor that the blood of Christian children was needed for the Passover matzo.

EgoPo (whose name is derived from the French concept “The Physical Self”) is theatre at its best, using puppets (created by Martina Plag)  live music,(composed by Andrew Nelson)  dance, song, lighting and projections to establish mood and create a transformative space.  The sparse set is highly effective (Matthew Miller) as is the second floor space at the Prince Theatre.  

“All a story needs is one listener to keep it” one character remarks early in this captivating production.  The golem, or mudboy, as the wife (played beautifully by Genevieve Perrier) calls him, cannot speak – he is mute.  The golem stories are not simply about the desire for protection during times of danger and persecution, but about language and meaning as well.   In the second story, which explores how love of learning competes with sensual love, we learn about the golem’s demise.  The final story tells us how the golem was born and how he turns upon his own creator, his own Father.  

EgoPo’s production, which runs 80 minutes without an intermission, is a haunting, entertaining, superbly acted piece of original theatre.  It uses all the elements good theatre has to offer – the human body, voice, music, lights and dance in highly creative re-imaginings of an ancient myth.   As we prepare for our Seders this weekend, this is a timely and relevant play to see.  

The Golem, playing through April 15th at the Prince Music Theatre, 1412 Chestnut Street, 8 p,m. Visit their website or call 800 595 – 4TIX.