Passover (Pesach) celebrates the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. It begins this Friday night, April 6th and lasts for eight days. We gather together on the first two nights of the holiday for a special meal called a seder (means order) where we retell the story of this Exodus as well as Pharoah and all of the plagues he inflicted on the Jewish people (hail, boils, frogs, death of the first born) before he finally allowed the Jews to leave Egypt.
The central theme of the holiday is liberation and freedom. We retell the story during the seder and the holiday is filled with symbols and traditions. It is especially told for the benefit of the children so many seders while serious do have some levity in the retelling (for example, the kids might do a play, wear clothes like they were slaves in Egypt or even toss around marshmallows for the hail plague.) One of the main symbols of the holiday is matzah which we eat during the week of Passover instead of bread. We clean our homes thoroughly before the holiday and refrain from eating any kind of leaven bread (hametz) during Passover replacing it with matzah. Matzah is meant to evoke the story of the Exodus and reminds us that the Jews fled Egypt without enough time to even let their bread rise.
In addition to matzah, we eat maror (bitter herbs to remind us of a time of slavery when we wept), a haroset - sweet food made from apples, sugar and wine which reminds us of the break and mortar used to build the pyramid during this enslavement but in contrast to the bitter herbs their sweetness reminds us of the sweet hope of freedom. We ask the four questions – why is this night different from all other nights, drink four glasses of wine throughout the seder and the children search for a final piece of matzah that has been hidden by an older relative at the end of the meal called the Afikomen before finishing our final part of the seder (usually the child can hold the Afikomen for ransom from the relative.) We also sing many familiar holiday songs. This is a holiday that brings generations together for this retelling of the story. It is one of our most important and significant Jewish holidays and though I sometimes joke that I feel like a slave cleaning and preparing for the holiday meal. It is always a wonderful treat to host the gathering of friends and family.
One of the many traditional foods we eat for Passover is matzo balls in our chicken soup. Here is the recipe for matzo balls:
1 cup of matza meal
4 large eggs
1/4 cup of oil or melted margarine
1/4 cup water or chicken broth
1 tsp salt or to taste
Pinch of ground pepper
Beat eggs. Add water, oil, salt and pepper.
Mix well. Add matza meal and stir thoroughly.
Refrigerate for 1/2 to 1 hour.
Partially fill a large pot of water and bring to a boil.
Moisten palms with cold water.
Form mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter.
Drop matza balls into boiling water.
When all the matzo balls are in the pot, reduce heat to low.
Simmer covered for about 30 minutes or until done.
Remove with slotted spoon into large bowl.
Simmer the matza balls for 15 minutes in your favorite chicken soup before serving.
Click the photo of chicken soup to watch a clip of how easy it is to make Matza Balls from my segment on AM Northwest.