This article is an introduction to Passover for non-Jews who have been invited to a seder.
This year Passover begins on April 12, and Jews all over the world celebrate. This eight-day holiday commemorates the freedom and exodus of the Jewish slaves who fled Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II. After more than 200 years of slavery, Moses asked the Egyptian King Pharaoh to free the slaves. Each time he refused, a plague was set upon the Egyptians. The tenth and final plague was the slaying of the first-born, but the Jewish homes were “passed over,”¯ which is how Passover, or Pesach, got its name. Pharaoh finally released the Israelites, who fled to the desert and ultimately accepted the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, believed to have been handed down to Moses by God) at Mount Sinai, thus creating the Jewish nation.
Tips For Seder Newbies
With many seders “under my belt”—both as guest and hostess—let me share with you some “seder-goer” tips, whether it’s your first seder or you’re a veteran:
Dress nicely. Unless the host has said to dress casually, observe the importance of the holiday and wear nice clothes. No jeans.
Expect it to be a long night. The seder will begin somewhere around 6 p.m. and could run until 11 or later. Every family has their own traditions, but typically a few minutes are spent schmoozing with the other guests. You’ll then sit down at the table. Let your host(ess) seat you—there may be assigned seats.
Everyone will get a Hagaddah, a book containing the Passover story that is read throughout the seder. The seder is led by one person (usually the head of the home), but everyone is expected to participate in the reading. All of the responsive reading is in English but there will be various prayers in Hebrew. Don’t worry about not knowing Hebrew. Quite a few Jews who observe Passover can’t read it.
Don’t expect to eat too soon. If it’s a real seder, the timing of the dinner is determined by the service. If you’re curious as to when you’re going to eat the meal, flip forward in your Hagaddah to find the phrase, “The festive meal is now served.”¯ We usually count down to the meal by the number of pages left until that text. (Editor’s Note: Some families conduct short seders, skipping large portions of the Hagaddah; others read all or most of it. If you’re concerned, ask your host or hostess in advance to estimate what time dinner will be served. If it’s 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., you may want to have a light snack before you leave home.)
Most important is to have fun. A seder is meant to be a wonderful time with family and friends; to share an inspiring, historical saga that is relevant to all people of all backgrounds.
If you really want to impress your hosts, let everyone at the table know that you know these traditions:
Finding The Afikomen. Early in the seder, a special piece of matzo, the afikomen, is broken in half and hidden away. Later, the children will search for it and the one who finds it gets a prize.
The Four Questions. The Hagaddah includes four questions traditionally asked by the youngest child at the seder. The questions are about the holiday and encourage children to discuss and learn about their religion and the history of their ancestors. Why not practice these before the seder—you’ll look like a real star!
What to Bring to a Seder
Ask your host what he or she needs. Wine? Dessert? A side dish? If they assign you a dish, make sure that it contains no flour or other ingredient that is not Kosher for Passover. If your host keeps a kosher kitchen all year round, be sure that whatever you bring is kosher and pareve (contains no dairy; usually meat is served at a seder and it is not kosher to serve meat and dairy together). Click here to go to our website for recipes. If your host says that you don’t need to bring anything, then definitely bring something! Great choices are wine, flowers, dessert, or a gift basket. Everything edible or drinkable must be kosher for Passover.
Favorite Passover Recipe: Aunt Rowie’s Fruit Matzoh Kugel
Aunt Rowie is a great cook—we love having her bring this dish to the seder or any time she visits. Kugel is a popular side dish with meat and poultry; but as you can see from the ingredients, it can also be dessert.
Makes 12 servings.
4 large tart apples such as Granny Smiths, cored and diced
½ cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
8 eggs, separated
5 plain matzohs
2 teaspoons finely-grated orange rind
1-½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4cup chopped toasted walnuts
1 cup dried cranberries, dried cherries, chopped dried apricots (or a mixture of all three)
½ cup butter or margarine, melted and cooled to room temperature (if hot it will scramble the egg mixture)
4 tablespoons butter or margarine, cut into small pieces
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 2- to 3-quart casserole.
In a medium bowl, toss the chopped apples with the brown sugar and orange juice; set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks.
Break the matzohs into 2 to 3-inch pieces and soak in hot water until they are just soft, about 2 to 3 minutes. Don’t allow them to get mushy. Squeeze out all of the excess liquid and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the apple and brown sugar mixture, the orange rind, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, walnuts, dried fruit, beaten egg yolks and melted butter or margarine. Add the beaten egg whites, folding gently to thoroughly combine.
Squeeze the liquid from the softened matzoh and add the matzoh to the egg mixture with the apples. Stir the kugel well and pour into a lightly greased 2-½ quart casserole dish or a 10x14-inch pan. Dot the top of the kugel with the 4 tablespoons of butter.
Combine the matzohs with the apple, fruit and spice mixture. Pour into the prepared casserole and dot the top with remaining 4 tablespoons of butter or margarine.
Bake kugel for 1 to 1-½ hours (if the top of the kugel begins to brown too quickly, cover it with foil).
Remove the kugel from the oven and cool to room temperature.
The kugel can be made 2 days in advance. Allow to cool, then cover and refrigerate. When ready to serve, reheat in a 350°F oven.
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