Venetian Passover Dishes: A Taste Of Multiculturalism From The Past

Venice Grand Canal— by Ronit Treatman

Visiting Venice is an incredible adventure!  Architecturally, it is one of the most sumptuous cities in the world.  Its Jewish history goes back to the tenth century, when Jewish traders first came to Venice to engage in commerce.  By the 1500s, Venice had the world’s first ghetto, in which Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and German Jews coexisted.  The community practically disappeared after World War II.  Currently, only about 500 Jews live in Venice.  It is possible to sample some Jewish Italian specialties in Venice’s only kosher restaurant, which is run by the CHABAD in the Ghetto Nuovo.  In order to really savor Venetian Jewish specialties, I turned to Alessandra Rovati, one of the few Jews who is originally from Venice.  She shares her family’s Venetian Jewish recipes on her Dinner in Venice website.

More after the jump.
Trying to find kosher food in Italy can be daunting.  When we visited Venice, I confidently asked our waiter in Italian about the ingredients in a sauce.  “Does it have pork?” “A porco?” I queried.  He threw his napkin down angrily and stomped off in a huff!  I had no idea why this question would have insulted him, until another waiter explained that “porco” is a slang word with many off color connotations.  I should have said “maiale.”  Trying to find authentic Jewish Italian food is just as hard.  It is possible to find Jewish artichokes, or “carciofi alla giudia” in any Jewish neighborhood in Italy.  We sampled these crispy, lemony artichokes in the Gam Gam kosher restaurant.  If you would like to taste genuine Jewish Venetian recipes, there is nothing better than getting yourself invited to a Jewish Venetian family’s home.  

In her site, Ms. Rovati invites us into her virtual home to share some unique Jewish recipes from Venice.  These recipes have been passed down in her family.  They are healthy, colorful, and full of Mediterranean vegetables.  Here is an adaptation of her Venetian spinach frittata.  Its ingredients reveal that it came to Venice with the Jews of Turkey and Catalonia.  This frittata is pareve, and kosher for Passover.

Venetian Passover Spinach Frittata
Adapted from Alessandra Rovati

  • 1 lb. baby spinach leaves, pre-washed, in a microwavable bag
  • 1 Spanish onion
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup of matza meal (you may substitute
  • ground almonds to make this gluten-free)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Granulated sugar
  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons of pine nuts
  • 4 tablespoons of raisins
  1. Place the raisins in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Cover the bowl, and allow the raisins to absorb the water.
  2. Cut the onion in half, and chop up one half of it.  Reserve the other half for another dish.
  3. Pierce the bag in three spots, and microwave the baby spinach for three minutes.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a pan.  
  5. Sauté the chopped onion for about five minutes.
  6. Add the steamed spinach to the onion and stir well.
  7. Season with salt, pepper, and cinnamon to taste.
  8. Set the spinach aside and allow it to cool.
  9. Drain the raisins.
  10. In a bowl, blend the four, eggs, matza meal (or ground almonds), one tablespoon of granulated sugar, a pinch of salt, a pinch of cinnamon, raisins, and pine nuts.
  11. Mix the spinach into this batter.
  12. Take a large frying pan, and heat some olive oil in it.
  13. Pour the spinach batter into the frying pan.  Lower the flame to medium, and allow it to cook for a few minutes.  You can check the bottom to see when it turns brown.  When the bottom is brown, flip the frittata over.  
  14. Place the spinach frittata on a serving platter, and sprinkle it with some confectioner’s sugar.

This eggy, spinachy dish is a little bit sweet, and a little bit savory.  It is very satisfying, and works well as a vegetarian main course or a side dish.

All of Ms. Rovati’s recipes are straightforward, without too much fuss.  The featured ingredients are healthy, and the resulting dishes are both delicious and exotic.  This year, add a historic Venetian accent to your Passover Seder.  If you visit Ms. Rovati’s Facebook page, you will note that there are many discussions in Italian about different recipes.  Fortunately for us, her website is in English.  This will help us avoid both pork and vulgar affronts!

Savor The Exodus: Roasted Lamb From The Sinai Desert

— by Ronit Treatman

The Egyptian Jewish Community has a tradition of serving roasted meat during the Passover Seder.  This is their way of remembering what the Ancient Israelites ate during their wanderings in the Sinai desert after leaving Egypt.  This year, you can emulate the Egyptian Jews and bring this experience to your table by preparing roasted lamb flavored with desert spices.

How can we know what the Ancient Israelites ate in the desert?  The Bedouin have preserved those timeless traditions.  The oases of the Sinai yield edible delicacies such as olives, dates, coffee berries, grapes, wild rosemary, almonds, watermelons, and sugar cane.  From the Bedouin, we learn how to build an earth oven by digging a hole in the ground.

More after the jump.
This type of oven is called a Zaarp.  Pieces of wood, plant roots, or dry camel dung are burned in the hole for a couple of hours until they turn into hot coals.  A freshly slaughtered lamb is placed in a jidda, or large copper pot.  It is seasoned with salt and wild thyme.  The pot is sealed tightly with its lid, and placed in the hole on top of the embers.  A goat’s hair blanket is spread over the zaarp.  A large mound of sand is piled over the blanket to seal the oven.  The lamb is left to cook in this subterranean oven for several hours.  View the clip below to see how the Bedouin open the zaarp, and bring out the roasted lamb.

The celebratory lamb dish prepared by the Bedouin is called Mansaf.  It is made with meat, yogurt, and rice.  “Mansaf” means “explosion, ” as in, “an explosion of food. ”  This lamb is seasoned with a special spice mixture called baharat (Arabic for “spices”).  You may purchase baharat from…  Alternatively, you can mix your own baharat for this recipe.

Adapted from Clifford A. Wright

  • 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons ground allspice

In order to respect the laws of kashrut, I am solely providing the roasted meat portion of the Mansaf recipe to prepare for the Seder.

Mansaf: Bedouin Roasted Lamb
Adapted from Fati’s Recipes

  • 1 (2 lbs.) lamb shoulder
  • 1 tablespoon baharat
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 2 fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 1 head of garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  

Mix the baharat and salt in a bowl.  Rub the lamb with this spice mix.  Make a few incisions in the lamb, and stick the cloves of garlic into them.  Place the lamb in a roasting pan.  Scatter the sprigs of rosemary over it and cover tightly with aluminum foil.  Place in the oven.  Lower the heat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  

Cook the lamb for 4 hours.  

Just before serving, heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a pan.  Sauté the almonds and pine nuts until they turn golden-brown.

Serve the lamb on a platter with almonds and pine nuts sprinkled over it.

To eat like an Ancient Israelite in the Sinai, savor the Bedouin roasted lamb with matza.  When you remove the foil, your home will be filled with the delicious aroma of slow-cooked lamb.  After cooking for so long, the Mansaf will be very tender.  The meat will be infused with the flavor of the baharat, rosemary, and garlic.  The almonds and pine nuts will add a delightful crunch to every bite.  When you taste the Mansaf paired with matza, you will almost be able to hear the music of the desert flutes and drums, and the stories told around the fire. As you enjoy the company of your family and friends this Passover, remember the Bedouin proverb:

“He who shares my bread and salt is not my enemy.”

Passover at the Philadelphia Zoo

Take your kids to see the frogs, gnats, wild beasts and locust in person.

In celebration of Passover, the  Philadelphia Zoo will partner with Lubavitch of Bucks County, PA to offer Kosher for Passover food concession items on Thursday,  April 21, 2011 and Sunday, April 24, 2011, 9:30 am to 5:00 pm. As one of the top family destinations in the region, the Philadelphia Zoo recognizes the importance of being supportive to the Jewish community during such a significant time for families to gather.

“We are thrilled to honor Passover and give back to the community,” says Andrea Rodgers, Manager, Events and Community Partnerships.

Details after the jump.

Items available for purchase include snacks and beverages.  There will also be activities and crafts for children to enjoy. During this time, guests can take advantage of experiencing the Zoo’s newly launched feature, X-tink-shun: a wild puppet x perience which tells the important story of endangered species and vanishing habitats through puppets created by the Jim Henson Company.

Proceeds from the sale of concession goods benefit the Friendship Circle. The Friendship Circle is an organization that reaches out and extends a helping hand to families who have children with special needs and involves them in a full range of social experiences.  The Philadelphia Zoo works with Lubavitch and Friendship Circle to support the education and exploration of the families and children they serve.

About The Philadelphia Zoo: America’s first zoo and one of the region’s foremost conservation organizations, the Philadelphia Zoo is home to nearly 1,300 animals, many rare and endangered. The Zoo, fulfilling its mission of conservation, science, education and recreation, supports and engages in conservation efforts to protect endangered species around the world. The Philadelphia region’s leading family destination, the Zoo welcomed more than 1.2 million visitors last year. The Philadelphia Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. For more information on the Philadelphia Zoo, as well as to purchase and print tickets online, visit Philadelphia Zoo is a non-smoking facility.

Cover illustration is from The Passover Zoo Seder by S. Daniel Guttman, illustrated by Phillip Ratner (2011) Pelican Publishing.

Kol b’Seder: Obama’s Passover Wishes

The President called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu today to convey his best wishes before the start of Passover.  Noting that he would host a seder at the White House, the President recalled that the story of Passover is one of liberation and freedom, and expressed his hope that the Israeli people would be able to celebrate in peace.  The two leaders also discussed U.S.-Israeli cooperation on counter-terrorism, how best to move forward in efforts to advance Middle East peace, and the recent violence near the Gaza strip.

Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his deep appreciation for U.S. funding for the Iron Dome rocket and mortar defense system, which he noted has successfully intercepted several rockets aimed at Israeli communities.  The President congratulated the Prime Minister on this impressive Israeli technological achievement and expressed his pride that Israeli-American cooperation made it possible.  With the signing of the fiscal year 2011 budget appropriation, the President approved $205 million in U.S. funding for Iron Dome, which is above the annual package of Foreign Military Financing for Israel.

The President and the Prime Minister agreed to stay in close touch on the range of issues facing the United States and Israel.

Passover Greetings from the President to the Jewish Community and Comments from David Harris follow the jump.

President Barach Obama

My family and I send our warmest wishes to all those celebrating the sacred festival of Passover.

On Monday evening, Jewish families and their friends in America, Israel, and around the world will gather around the Seder table and retell the story of the Exodus, one of the most powerful stories of suffering and redemption in history. The story of Passover – which recalls the passage of the children of Israel from bondage and repression to freedom and liberty – inspires hope that those oppressed and enslaved can become free. The Seder, with its rich traditions and rituals, instructs each generation to remember its past, while appreciating the beauty of freedom and the responsibility it entails.

This year, that ancient instruction is reflected in the daily headlines as we see modern stories of social transformation and liberation unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa. Against the backdrop of change, we continue to pray for peace between Israel and her neighbors, while reaffirming our enduring commitment to Israel’s security.

As Jewish families gather for this joyous celebration of freedom, let us all be thankful for the gifts that have been bestowed upon us, and let us work to alleviate the suffering, poverty, injustice, and hunger of those who are not yet free. Chag Sameach.

David Harris (NJDC):

Tonight, as we gather at Passover seders throughout the world and remember our exodus from Egypt, recite the four questions and nosh on Passover delicacies, the First Family will be doing the same.

The Obama family will gather with some of their closest Jewish friends and several of the President’s most trusted Jewish advisors to celebrate the third annual White House Passover seder, which will be led by none other than President Barack Obama himself. Obama’s seders have garnered a reputation for following the traditions in the Haggadah, with every ritual of the seder being carried out (Sasha and Malia typically recite the four questions). Obama and the White House kitchen staff also make sure that the food served on the table would live up to your grandmother’s standards — even the gefilte fish. Above is a photo from last year’s seder.

Obama has been hosting Passover seders since his Presidential campaign and has made a point to keep the tradition going as President. All American Jews should take pride in knowing that our President deeply respects Jewish tradition — so much so that he and First Lady Michele Obama enthusiastically celebrate with us multiple times during the year, including during May — which has been designated as Jewish Heritage Month. And all of this is in addition to the intimate meetings that regularly occur between Obama and Jewish communal leaders — including leadership from an array of American Jewish organizations, including NJDC.

Today’s “To Do” List

  • Pay your fair share of the cost of providing for our nation’s common defence and other important government services to protect and preserve the freedom’s which we enjoy in our great nation. (IRS forms must be postmarked today.)
  • Burn the chametz collected last night.
  • Help your youngest child practice the Mah Nishtana.
  • Scout out good locations to hide the Afikomen.
  • Set the table for the seder.
  • Prepare the haroset, salt water, egg and shank bone.
  • Set a wine cup for Elijah the prophet, and a water goblet for Miriam the prophetess.
  • Open up your doors and your hearts by inviting someone in need to join you at the seder table.
  • Wonder why companies like Exxon-Mobil, Bank of America, General Electric, Chevron, Boeing, Valero, Goldman-Sachs, Citigroup, ConocoPhillips and Carnival are not paying their fair share to keeping our nation strong.

A Passover Tale

We all have them: the family stories that enrich the holidays, be they holy days or festivals. One of my favourite ones is of Passover. 

It happened about 10 years ago. My mother was cooking. My dad and I had finished setting the table, and my dad was trying to figure out where to put the Afikomen. He'd put it in the piano bench the year before and Noah (age 6 that year) had found it in like 2.3 seconds. We decided to wrap it in a linen napkin and Velcro it to the bottom of the dining room table. My precocious pup Olivia was with us, she was about 4 at the time. At the appointed time, my dad said “Okay, it's Afikomen time. Find it.” Olivia immediately ran under the table and barked. Ben (about 10 at the time) said “What's Olivia going to do with $5? This is unfair.” My dad counselled that Olivia liked toys like all the other kids! Olivia went back to hanging with Noah who had a propensity to drop food he didn't like — and he didn't like brisket at all…..a win for Olivia all around…. 

What's your favourite Pesach tale? 

Publisher's Note: Here is my story.

 When I was young I had a Schnauzer named Pepper.  We were hiding the Chametz before Passover. We did the symbolic search with 10 pieces of bread, and tried to find really tough places to hide it. Of course, we took notes of where we hid them; G-d forbid we lost a piece of bread after sanitizing the whole house. Anyhow, my brothers couldn't find one piece and eventually they gave up, and I consulted my notes. I went to each of the 10 spots and couldn't find the chametz, but they had only collected 9. Clearly there is a discrepancy. What a conundrum … until we noticed the bread crumbs on the face of Pepper. 

Have it your way… with no Chametz

— Jonathan Kremer

My daughter Hannah sent this from her neighborhood in Givat Shmuel. Holiday hours for McDonald’s, including (second heading in the smaller print):

“In order to kasher this branch for Pesach, we will close Sunday at 8:00 pm.”

Maybe they deliver?

Jonathan Kremer is an artist specializing in Judaica. Jonathan studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. His daughter Hannah made aliyah and studies social work at Bar Ilan University.

Thoughts for the Fast

It is a custom for firstborn Jews to fast on the day before Passover to commemorate the miracle by which firstborn Jews were saved from the plague which struck the firstborn Egyptians.

This year the fast falls on Monday, April 18. Let us take this fast of our choosing as an opportunity to share in the hardship of those who struggle through life, and do not have the means to feed themselves properly.

MoveOn is organizing a communal fast to protest the immoral budget cuts Republicans are pushing in Washington. 30,000 people including 28 Congressmen will be joining this fast.

Last week’s budget agreement-now public-contains cuts to critical programs but does little to make corporations and the rich pay their fair share.

More than half of the $38 billion in cuts target education, labor, and health programs.

The worst cuts and riders didn’t make it into the budget-but that was the Republican plan all along: propose the unthinkable, threaten to shut down the government, and then walk away with cuts that would have been beyond the pale just a few months ago.

Now Republicans are pushing a new round of proposals to abolish Medicare and make far deeper cuts to education, nutrition, health care, and other essential programs-while giving even bigger tax breaks to millionaires and corporations. And this time, after winning so much in the last round, the Republicans actually have a shot at getting every last cut they want.

We need to restore a moral dimension to the warped debate going on in Washington.

See video above for more information.

A letter from Abby J. Leibman of Mazon follows the jump.
— Abby J. Leibman, Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger

This Passover as you gather with family and friends to retell the story of our people’s freedom from bondage, please take a moment to consider those Americans who are still enslaved – to hunger.  

Hunger in America is at an epidemic level, despite how it might seem at first glance.

50 million Americans – including 17 million children – struggle with hunger every day.

That’s more than the entire population of Canada.

Hungry people live in every community in the country and come in all ages, colors, shapes and sizes. They wrestle with impossible choices no one should have to make: buy my daughter’s asthma medication or feed my family? Whose turn is it to eat: the children or the adults?  

It breaks our hearts – it should break yours.

There is another way – an end to hunger is within our reach.  Early in the seder we say, “All who are hungry, let them enter and eat.” More than an invitation to join us at the dinner table, we at MAZON see these words as a rallying cry:

  • …to do more to help those who so desperately need it;    
  • …to fight for responsible government policies that promote the health and security of everyone in our nation;    
  • …to provide access to resources that allow people to pick themselves up and build (or rebuild) their lives;    
  • …to give every man, woman and child a chance not only to live their lives, but to thrive.

Please join our fight.    

Chag Sameach,

Abby J. Leibman
President & CEO, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

Four Questions About Our Budget Debate

Why is this year’s budget agreement different from all other budget agreements.

In the spirit of Passover, Mark Pelavin and Jonathan Backer of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism ask “Four Question” on the op/ed pages of the Forward:

  • Why during past budget debates did we succeed in reducing poverty, but this year, proposed cuts would increase poverty?
  • Why during all other budget debates did we discuss revenue and spending, but this year we discuss only spending?
  • Why during all other budget debates were programs that served low-income families exempted from spending cuts, but this year they are not?
  • Why during this budget debate do we discuss only non-defense discretionary spending?

Memories of Past Passovers

— Steve Hofstetter

This year my wife and I will be spending one seder at her mother’s and one at my mother’s, but in the future, we may be starting our own Passover traditions. And I admit, I am completely lost.

I began thinking about the Passovers I knew growing up, and how the holiday was the same every year. There’d be an occasional change in which random elderly cousin coughed a lot in the last seat, but from five to fifteen years old, I had twenty identical seders.

It would be unfair of me to expect that the seders my wife and I might throw in the future will involve just my traditions and not hers. So to help me think about which I’d like to keep (and entertain a few readers simultaneously), I wanted to recount the memories that most say Passover to me. I’d bet at least a few of these will remind you of your childhood, and help you determine what you’d like to keep, should you ever JDate your way to your own family.

More after the jump.
The holiday started with my mother spending hours cleaning the oven while listening to ads for Schmerling’s chocolate. We never bought any Schmerling’s, but I still remember the theme song. Maybe we never bought any because we always associated Schmerling’s with the smell of Easy Off.

What we did buy was lots of other candy. Our staples were ring jells, lollicones, those sugar covered fruit jellies that were in the shape of tiny pieces of watermelon, and a truck load of marshmallows. Passover was the only time of year where it was easy to find kosher marshmallows, so we bought every kind we could. My favorites were the chocolate covered pink bumpy marshmallows. The white ones were an acceptable substitute, but the pink ones were the real thing.

Preparing, we’d help my mother clean for as long as we had to before one of us came up with an excuse for why they shouldn’t clean. My mother would only fall for this briefly before we were right back scrubbing away. Perhaps my most important future Passover tradition will be a maid.

We’d know the seder was getting close when the cabinets and the fridge were all covered in paper, and my father finished making the charoset. My sister usually helped, mainly to sneak some wine.

As the seder approached, we distributed the Maxwell House haggadot, where the transliterated Hebrew was spelled out as if everyone had a Brooklyn accent. These haggadot are the tradition I miss the most, as my mother switched brands when I was in college. Part of what I miss is our teasing every time my mother would change the “He” and the “Him” to gender-neutral terms.

One of my sisters would speed read, my brother would keep us all on task of whose turn it was, I would substitute words to see if anyone was really listening, and my other sister would insist on reading in Hebrew, even though her Hebrew was as fluent as Moses’ English.

We also decided which child was which of the four sons, and were happy to play our parts, despite our mother’s constant protest that we were all the good child. That’s right, “child” and not “son.” Even the four sons had to be gender-neutral.

As the youngest, the four questions always fell on me – so I did my best to get through them with as few breaths as possible. We used celery for karpas, which led to my father making the same joke every year about how “it sounded like a Doritos factory.” To this day, I am sure my father never took a tour of a Doritos factory.

The meal was constant – egg soup, chicken soup (I guess the egg did come before the chicken), gefilte fish, salad with my mother’s Passover dressing, Dr. Brown’s everything, and then some sort of giant meat dish none of us had room for. The main thing that varied was who would find the afikomen, and how they would tease the others that missed out.

That was our main dynamic. My brother, one sister, and I cracking jokes, my father trying to join in, our elderly relatives watching quietly (except while coughing), my mother telling us to be more respectful, and my other sister echoing my mother. My parents are now divorced, three of the kids are married, and my sister can finally read fluent Hebrew, but my Passover memories are frozen in 1994. Though it’s been 17 years since we’ve all had a seder together, it’s hard for me to see Passover any other way.

I’m glad my wife and I are splitting our uncomfortable confusion equally this year. In the future, we will probably take a few traditions from each side to create our own holiday. And as long as that includes the pink bumpy marshmallows, I’m okay with that.

Steve Hofstetter is an internationally touring comedian who has been on VH1, ESPN, Comedy Central., and many more. To book him at your next event, visit