Passover commemorates the liberation, or exodus, of Jews from slavery in Egypt. It also celebrates spring and rebirth.
The holiday is celebrated at home, at a dinner called the seder. Before dinner is eaten, the story of the exodus is retold by reading from a prayer book called a haggadah.
During the reading of the haggadah, four glasses of wine are drunk, and guests go on a hunt to find a piece of matzah, called the afikomen, which is hidden by the host. Whoever finds the afikomen gets a prize, usually a buck or two.
The seder plate has six items: a charoset, a fruit mixture which symbolizes the mortar used by Jewish slaves; horseradish, which symbolizes the bitterness experienced by Jews under Egyptian rule; parsley, to symbolize Springtime; a roasted egg, for life; salt water, to represent the tears shed by Jews; and a roasted lamb shank bone, to symbolize the required sacrifice on holidays in the days of the Temple.
This is only my second Passover — I’m converting to Judaism a couple of weeks after Passover. Last year was exciting because I was learning about this new different holiday. This year, it’s even more exciting because I’ve learned more about this holiday and my soon-to-be religion.
More than a month ago, I began dragging my poor boyfriend to the kosher grocery store. “I need to get prices on chicken breasts and brisket,” “We need to be sure to get kosher for Passover Coke,” “I saw some kosher for Passover cereal at the store the other day — we should get some.”
I poured over countless kosher cookbooks and recipe websites, looking for the perfect brisket, chicken, and charoset recipe. I made list after list of everything we will need for our seder plate and dinner. I’ve been completely obsessed with going to the grocery store.
Two weeks ago, I went to the store, proclaiming to my boyfriend that I was doing all our Passover shopping on that trip. I spent nearly $100, but still needed more. This past weekend, we went to Costco to buy the rest of what we needed for the seder, and still, I need to get to the grocery store before Friday evening.
Kosher for Passover products are of limited supply. At your local supermarket, you’ll see huge five-pound bundles of matzah, and they may have a few other products, such as grape juice and wine, matzah meal and latke mix, but for the most part, you have to make several trips to several stores.
The afternoon of our Costco excursion, we came home and cleaned for nearly eight hours. Jewish law dictates that you cannot be in possession of any leavened product, or chametz (the Hebrew term for it). Any product that is chametz or has chametz in it is forbidden, and has to be out of sight. We put ours in a separate cabinet and are taping it shut. We also “sold” it (symbolically) to a non-Jewish friend.
Because of the haste with which Jews had to leave Egypt, they weren’t able to let their bread rise. That’s where matzah comes in. Jews aren’t allowed to eat any leavened products on Passover — no wheat, corn, soy, rye, rice, legumes. Nothing.
Cutting all of the above-mentioned products out of your diet forces some creativity. Matzah brei is a pseudo-French toast dish that you can have for breakfast or as a snack. Matzah pizza is a great substitute for the real thing, and having a yellow cake sitting around the house all week for snacking is also a perk.