Tag Archives: seder plate

Passover: The True Jewish New Year?

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt,
‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months;
it shall be the first month of the year for you. 1
Exodus 12:1-2

I must admit I was surprised to learn that Rosh Hashanah — meaning, “Head of the Year” in Hebrew, does not actually take place at the beginning of the Jewish year. According to the lunar based Hebrew calendar, Rosh Hashanah is a festival that occurs on the first day of the “Seventh month” of Tishrei. While Passover, which begins on the fifteenth day of the month of Nisan (some time between mid-March and mid-April on the modern Gregorian calendar) is known as the “First Month” of the year according to the Torah.

While it is not entirely clear why Rosh Hashanah has become the accepted date for celebrating the new year culturally among Jews, it is possible that it has to do with ancient agricultural cycles, and the beginning of the fall harvest. As part of the Rosh Hashanah tradition, we choose to wear clothes that are white and new, and eat autumn foods that represent abundance, health, and happiness for the coming year. Similar to Passover, many Sephardim will arrange a special Seder plate including foods that symbolize overall good luck.

The Passover holiday takes place in the spring season — a period of change and renewal. The festival represents the redemption and rebirth of the Israelite people brought out of slavery to freedom, and their arduous journey to the “Promised Land” (then known as Canaan — an area that included modern day Israel) to ultimately become the Jewish nation. During Passover, we clean our home from top to bottom, buy new clothes, and prepare foods that include new green vegetables. A special Seder plate is arranged using foods that symbolize suffering, freedom, and thanks and devotion to God.

Whether spring or fall, both holidays represent new beginnings.
And the hope for a happier, healthier, and better time to come.

Shana Tova.

1 Exodus 12:1-2. Translation from the New Annotated Oxford Bible: With the Apocrypha.
Revised Standard Edition, Oxford University Press, New York, 1973, p. 80.

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A Seder Plate for Rosh HaShannah? (It’s not just for Passover!)

RoshHashanna_SederPlate_4_blog

Did you know that in some Sephardic homes there is the custom of presenting a special Seder plate before the Rosh HaShanna meal, just like one does for the Passover Seder? Eight symbolic foods (Simanim) are selected and arranged on a platter to ensure a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year, and while certain ones may physically represent an idea (such as using pomegranates to symbolize fertility and abundance because of the many seeds within), another less obvious food choice may be made simply because its name in Hebrew sounds like another Hebrew word with a different meaning (for example: using a leek because its Hebrew word karati sounds like karat meaning “to cut off,” implying the hope of breaking away from one’s enemies). Below is a quick guideline or listing of the types of things often used on a Rosh Hashanna Seder plate:

For the New Year, we eat foods that symbolize the following:
Luck

Abundance (foods that are plentiful)
Mitzvot (good deeds)
Fertility, Life (foods that are round, continuous, plentiful)
Leadership
The act of breaking away from evil, enemies and bad things

 

VARIOUS FOODS USED TO REPRESENT THE FOLLOWING IDEAS:

happiness, prosperity, good luck and success:
Aniseed, round challah with raisins added, sweet wine, stuffed foods like gefilte fish,
tzimmes (sweet stew: carrot, sweet potatoes, prunes, raisins, sometimes meat)

fertility:
Apples, pears (first fruits of season from the tree,
dipped in honey, sugar, or sesame seeds for abundance and extra sweetness)

good deeds (mitzvot) and abundance:
Pomegranate seeds (belief that there are as many seeds — 613, as there are mitzvot)

peace:
Dates (Hebrew word for date is tamar and is related to word tam meaning, “to end” in hopes
that our enemies will end)

happiness: Gourd, pumpkin, butternut or acorn squash (Hebrew word for gourd is kara, which also means “to announce,” and rhymes with a similar sounding word meaning “to rip apart”)

freedom: Spinach, collard greens, Swiss chard, kale, beet leaves
(Hebrew word for beets is seleka and related to root selek meaning, “to depart” or “remove” implying that enemies and bad luck be taken out; Aramaic word for leafy green, like spinach, is silka)

friendship, freedom from enemies: Leeks, chives, scallions, spring onions
(Hebrew word for leek is karati and sounds like karat meaning “to cut off,”
implying from one’s enemies)

leadership: Whole Fish (with head left intact), ram’s head, head of cabbage, garlic
(“Head” of year, leaders to all nations, poor and powerless, move forward/ahead/progress)

commemorating tribulations, difficulties, struggles, and hardships of past year:
Savory and bitter foods

prosperity: String beans, peas, beans (plentiful, abundant, round/circle of life)
(Hebrew word for beans is lubia, sounds related to Hebrew word lev meaning “heart,”
and rav meaning “many”)

NOTE: Some refrain from eating lemon or salt fearing that it will bring bad luck in coming year.

SHANA TOVA METUKA!

Are we ready for a Thanksgiving Seder plate?

SederPlate_Thanksgiving1_blog

As I continue to work on my Passover cookbook, I am struck by certain parallels between Passover and Thanksgiving. Just as Thanksgiving is the most popular holiday enjoyed in the United States by Americans of all backgrounds (a billion-dollar industry with thousands of cookbooks around one food holiday alone!), Passover is the most loved of all holidays in the Jewish calendar celebrated by Jews from all streams of Judaism. Like Thanksgiving, Passover takes place with family and friends of all generations sitting around a big table (or two) at home, outside of any house of worship. For Thanksgiving, turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and sweet potatoes have become the symbols of the holiday, while matzah, charoset, gefilte fish, chicken soup (with matzah balls), eggs, and either brisket or lamb have become synonymous with Passover here in the United States.

The message behind each occasion also has some striking resemblances. While there may be a bit of a debate these days about the true story behind how Thanksgiving came to be, the overall mood or feeling around this festivity has become one of inclusiveness, sharing, giving, and last but not least: gratefulness. As immigrants from all backgrounds we reflect (if only for a tiny moment between bites of sweet potato pie and savory stuffing) about being lucky to live in “America,” and for having those who are special to us around to share the meal and essentially “break bread.” It also has become a time to pause and think more locally about those of us who are poor, sick, or struggling in other ways, and as a result many volunteer their time to soup kitchens providing free Thanksgiving meals to those in need. While retelling the story of the Exodus from the Bible, we express gratefulness for our ancestors being released from slavery in Egypt, making their journey through the desert to Jerusalem, and for us surviving as a people time and time again. In my interviews of individuals from all over the world for my Passover cookbook, many have shared with me their stories of making a concerted effort to invite any Jews into their home for the Passover Seders so that they would not be alone and would have a place to eat and “break matzah” with others. (And we can’t forget about the custom of setting out a glass of wine and opening up the door for Elijah, the prophet and eternal guest.)

Some individuals and Jewish organizations have even taken up this opportunity to take aspects of the Passover Seder and weave them into their Thanksgiving meals. During these meals, mini Haggadot or prayer booklets are distributed at the table to discuss the topics of “Struggle, Freedom, and Gratitude” as a universal concept.

Maybe this is the time to create a new Seder plate for Thanksgiving,
one that would include various foods to represent the following principles:

STRUGGLE: leeks, scallions (slavery, abuse, poverty, sadness)
LUCK: head of garlic (protection against evil)
FREEDOM & SHARING: pumpkin bread (sweetness/”breaking bread” with others)
GRATEFULNESS: cranberries/cranberry sauce (sweet & sour taste representing balance)
INDIVIDUALITY & STRENGTH: multi-colored carrots (various cultures/building roots)
HOPE: pumpkin (growth)

QUESTION: What would you put on your Thanksgiving Seder plate?

Send me a photo of your Seder plate!

The Seder plate has become one of the most beautiful and creative portions of the Seder meal.
Won’t you please share it with me and the community, and send me your photos?
I would love to post them on the blog after Passover is over. 

And if you can’t send a photo, please just post a comment and let me know
what you used for your Seder foods!

Have a great Passover everyone. Chag Sameach!

Seder Plate Checklist: Are you set?

Seder_Plate2_BlogBelow is a list of all the necessary Seder foods, along with the variety of ingredients that individuals from all over the Middle East, Mediterranean, Central Asia, and parts of Africa have used on their Seder table:

Z’roah (sacrificial lamb): Roasted lamb shank or chicken wing or leg (any with or without the meat on the bone)

Beitzah (egg): Hardboiled, singed, or slow-cooked with onion skins & coffee grinds

Charoset (sweet fruit spread): Variety using any or a mixture of the following: dates, apricots, apples, oranges, pomegranate seeds, figs, raisins, bananas, sesame seeds, walnuts, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, fresh and dried ginger, ground rose petals, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, anise, red wine, grape juice, vinegar, orange blossom water

Karpas (spring vegetable): Celery, celery leaves, cucumber

Maror (bitter herb): Romaine lettuce, red radish, bitter greens salad, lemon peel,
endive, frisée, chickory, arugula 

Representing sweat & tears: Salt water, white/red/cider vinegar, lemon or lime juice

MatzahCommercially-bought small square kind, larger Shmura Matzah type,
homemade and soft, or very  crispy and smooth: up to 3x size of a large pizza!

QUESTION: What do YOU use on your Seder plate or table?
SEND ME YOUR SEDER PLATE PHOTOS!

Did you know?: The Libyan Seder Basket

Did you know that not every community uses a Seder plate?
The Libyans instead place large portions of each symbolic food
into a large basket-like tray with handles called a Sabadj.

Basket_blog_1

Egyptian Take-Out: The Seder ceremonial plate (for those on the go…)

SederPlate_Takeout_Blog

The story goes that while fleeing the land of Egypt, the ancient Israelites didn’t have time to wait for their dough to rise, which in turn created the first matzah. Every year for the Seder, we serve this matzah, alongside
a perfectly arranged ceremonial plate filled with symbolic foods to help us recount the miraculous story of our ancestors’ survival.

The image of Israelites fleeing reminded me of the Jews constantly moving from one place to another. I thought about the modern Jew who takes off for vacation to enjoy Passover week with his family in sunny places. Images of full Seder dinners in take-out trays on airplanes or ordered from a menu online came to mind. I imagined Chinese restaurants taking Passover orders on the phone, delivering dry white rice in white cardboard containers (for Sephardim only!), or even better, Japanese restaurants delivering ceremonial plates in Bento Box containers (Box A: Egyptian, Box B: Syrian…) all for the constantly moving Jew on the go.

Below is the description that one Egyptian man shared with me about his Seder plate while growing up in Alexandria:

BOX A:
THE EGYPTIAN CEREMONIAL SEDER PLATE

KORBAN (Pesach Sacrifice):
Lamb Shank Bone

KORBAN CHAGIGAH / BEIT’ZAH (Festival Sacrifice):
Hardboiled Egg (whole with shell, or cut into pieces)

KARPAS (Green Spring Vegetable):
Swiss Chard

MAROR (Bitter Herb):
Romaine Lettuce Leaves

CHATZERET (2ND Bitter Herb):
Radish (dipped in black pepper)

TEARS & SWEAT OF ENSLAVED JEWS:
Small Bowl of Salt Water

CHAROSET:
Whole fresh dates dipped in ground walnuts and hazelnuts

MATZAH:
Softened slightly with water

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