Niv wanted to know what different peoples’ Passover traditions are. Whether it’s simply how one points to the shank bone, or what maror looks like for their household, or what Haggadah is followed, no tradition or custom is too small or too big. The series is an inviting look into personal traditions that bring meaning and significance to the yearly Passover Seder.
Frann S. Addison
Passover has always been my favourite Jewish holiday. Well, okay, as a kid I did really love Hanukkah because of the gifts, but Passover was always special because of the rituals, family, friends, and of course, the charoset.
One of the reasons that creating ritual objects for the Passover Seder is meaningful to me is because it brings back memories of all the pre-seder preparations I did with my mother. It was always my job to peel and grate the apples, chop the walnuts, and mix in the cinnamon and honey for the charoset (my family considered the dish my specialty). I always thought it looked rather unappetizing because of its drab brown color , but it was oh-so-delicious. Because my family wanted to enjoy charoset throughout the holiday I made plenty.
Sitting at our Passover table, we were always surrounded by extended family and our close non-Jewish friends who would look forward to celebrating with us each year. My father was at the head of the table, and my mother would be at the other end. With the Seder plate, Elijah’s Cup, and in later years, Miriam’s Cup, immediately in front of my father, he would proudly lead the service. Being able to slouch with elbows on the table (not allowed at any other time) and being the lucky one to find the afikomen at the end of the Seder, were also fond memories of the holiday.
As I create my Seder plates, the cups for Miriam and Elijah, I think back to those precious times when my family would all be together to celebrate the story of religious freedom.
Every year I make four types of charoset (Ashkenaz, Sephardi, Texan and a new recipe). This tradition has even deeper meaning now since I’m married to a Texan Rabbi and living in Canada away from our families. It’s nice to know now matter where go—these traditions will follow
A few years ago, my cousin on my dad’s side sent me an audio recording of a complete family Seder. I’d only met my dad’s family a handful of times growing up, as we were mostly estranged from that side. The recording took place at a Seder in 1986, when I was two years old, but I was at my maternal grandparents’ celebrating the holiday. Since receiving the recording, it has become an annual tradition to put my headphones on, go for a walk, and listen to my zaide holding court, making his way through the Haggadah in his thick Yiddish accent. The ambient noises of people talking over one another, catching up and complaining, glasses clinking and songs being sung, feels like walking into an alternate dimension. I don’t know what possessed this cousin to put a tape recorder out on the table that year, but I’m grateful he did.
Passover at the Coodin house is a big deal. My dad and I have been working on the Coodin family Haggadah for over a decade. It is a compilation of the usual Passover traditions, mixed with alternative readings, poems, songs, and drawings. The one constant in the family Haggadah is Martin Luther King Jr’s. speech “I Have a Dream”, which we read at the Seder table every year. It is a reminder that until we are all free, none of us are free.
Growing up in a half-Sephardic and half-Ashkenazi household we always had food from both traditions for Passover. Even though my parents no longer celebrate together, my Ashkenazi mother still won’t host a Seder without serving Sephardic dishes, my favourite being Salade Cuite! Experiencing both cuisines and traditions over the years has really made me appreciate the diversity and unique histories that make up the Montreal Jewish community.
Barbara Wade Rose
For 15 years we’ve been—somewhat brazenly—adding even more readings to the Haggadah, to tie our experience of the children of Israel to the world in time and place.
In 2019, for example, we added excerpts of queer Jewish texts from history—such as a Turkish rabbi’s ruling in 1896 that a trans man no longer needed a get(divorce) from his former husband because the woman in the marriage no longer existed.
In 2010, we observed the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising with diaries and quotations from the brave men and women who fought against the Nazis. “I said to myself, I’m the last Jew,” wrote survivor Simcha Rotem. “We were completely isolated, cut off from the world.”
My favourite readings are two: the first is inspired by the fomenting of the democratic Egyptian uprising of 2010, when Google executive Wael Ghonim, created a Facebook page and told world dictators, “You should freak out. You should seriously freak out.” We tied it together with other ordinary people who inspired uprisings: Major-General Butler who, in 1861, refused to return escaping slaves who swam to his fort, and the guard at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin in 1989 who, unsure of the orders from his superior officer, opened the gates of the Berlin Wall.
And my second favourite is the only reading we’ve done twice? Lemony Snicket’s Haggadah Commentary. “The afikomen,” writes Daniel Handler, “is the hostage of the Passover Seder, having been ripped from its neighboring matzah, imprisoned in an obscure part of the house, and then traded for some ransom just so it can be split up and devoured.” As bracing as a bite of maror.
I abandoned reading the Haggadah in a traditional way a long time ago. Instead, I select key passages, the “Haggadah’s greatest hits” and put sticky notes in each booklet with a couple readings underlined. I have the master booklet and I will call out, “Who has read number one and two?” Then the one with those numbers will reply, “I have it” and recite the selected passages. I also add pink stickies where I pose a question that is relevant to today, like “what is a plague in our time?”. Then we go on to the rest of the parts in turn. That makes it exciting as nobody knows which part they will read.
The readings I choose are the memorable ones from my childhood; they resonate with me because the phrases are powerful and familiar. The phrases, “With a strong arm and an outstretched fist” and “It would have been enough for us” to warrant repeating throughout the ages.
My early childhood memories of Pesach are of me walking around the house with a feather duster and candle burning the chametz. This was a very important first step which comes to mind when knowing that we were about to celebrate one of the most momentous events in Jewish history. The holiday was celebrated with a special meal and went through the whole seder surrounded by family. We would go through the whole service and became very excited when uncle Nogie hid the afikomen and advised all of us that there was a great surprise coming to anyone who found it first. This of course generated great delight amongst all us kids.
As time passed, families emigrated, loss of loved ones, and with COVID-19, Pesach is not the same this year. We no longer travel to Delmas to be with family but to Pretoria—which is closer to our home city Johannesburg. We partake in the Shul service headed by Rabbi Fox and walk to my brother’s home for the Pesach meal. Through the Festival of Passover which is meant to be one of great rejoicing, we observe the dietary laws and by the end of the week have become all matzo’ d out.
Just being able to be with loved ones during this festival is for me, and my family, the best part of Pesach and reminiscing about cherished memories of Pesach pasts.
Header image design by Orly.
Brought to you by the Niv team.