Each Spring is punctuated with the joyful celebrations of both Easter and Passover. Granted, all holidays have beautiful traditions and rituals, but Passover in particular, is unique in its own fashion. It is one of my favorite holidays, albeit extremely laborious (especially if you’re observant). It is rich in tradition, history, and customary laws and it requires a heightened sense of organization. Naturally, as a Professional Organizer by trade, and as a person who loves to pay attention to detail, this holiday speaks to my heart.
The very first Passover took place in Egypt thousands of years ago and many consider it to be the most beautiful of all holidays. It is the oldest holiday on the Jewish calendar. The Passover Seder brings together families and friends who eat, drink, and sing together, while reciting the old-yet ever new-story of the Exodus from Egyptian slavery.
The level of observance may vary, as some must kosher their entire home and kitchen to invite the holiday in. Having a separate additional set of dishes, pots, pans, and utensils to clean, are often a part of this change-over process. Many households consider this transition the opportunity for their grandiose Spring Cleaning. And yet there are others that simply prepare a festive meal without the need to make it such a labor intensive prep. There is a wide range of observance, for sure. But regardless of how you welcome Passover, it is safe to to assume that a typical Passover Seder always involves family gathering around a holiday table reciting from the traditional Haggadah and celebrating this festive holiday in very similar ways.
The Judaic translation of Seder, means “order”, and so there are specific foods eaten at specific times prior to the main meal. There is a set order for everything that happens during this time. The Seder Plate sits at the head of the table (generally in front of the Leader), displaying the five foods that all have a symbolic reference to the tale of the Jewish people’s freedom from Egyptian slavery. Each guest has a copy of the Haggadah. Supervised by the leader, all guests participate in responsive readings from the Haggadah and once reciting the prayers in unison, all eat the special traditional foods at the same time. There is an obvious sense of an orderly agenda that is being methodically followed. “Haggadah” means to “to tell” and that is the purpose of the Seder; to tell the dramatic and exciting events that Passover recalls. It is customary to re-tell the story of the Exodus of the Jewish people from slavery, and pass it on from generation to generation.
Make no mistake about it, the preparation for the Seder is extensive and detailed. The duration of the ceremonial portion of the Seder meal may differ from family to family. But regardless, the responsibility falls on the hostess, who is required to coordinate the entire schedule and manage the service of the meal. Timing is key. The matzah ball soup MUST be hot, the brisket should be carved ahead of time, and all the side dishes should be landing on designated platters, ready to go. If you are not organized, this could go badly. Hopefully, there are happy helpers available to refill the wine glasses, clear and reset the table for each course.
From year to year, I save my notes on menu choice, recipes, guest lists, etc. In this way, I can recall what worked and what did not, and make adjustments for the following year. A good practice for any holiday planning.
There is something beautiful to be said about that wherever you are in the world, those observing this holiday are all following the same order of practice. There is little deviating. The Seder Plate is prepared with the same components throughout the world. This Jewish holiday unites people in a way that no other does, because it is organized in the exactly the same manner. This dinner is like no other ordinary dinner. There is a definite pace that is controlled by the ritualistic practices and the re-telling of the Passover story. The customs are abided by in the same order. And no matter how the menu varies, you can be guaranteed to find a box of matzah set on every table. Everywhere, families are singing “Dayenu” in the same tune, one voice. It is essentially the same in any country you travel; consistent and repetitive. It’s something to look forward to each and every year.
No matter your religion, adhering to certain rules and customs may seem confining but I believe it connects humanity. We all need structure and parameters. During this holiday, we are restricted with our diet, and are forbidden to eat leavened bread. Like anything else, once deprived, we learn to appreciate our freedom more deeply. We are grateful to be free from tyranny and we are happy to return back to normalcy at the end of the holiday.
One of my favorite Passover delicacies is the “Charoset,” which is a mixture of nuts, apples, wine, and cinnamon. During the ceremonial portion of the seder, we dip this with a leaf of bitter romaine lettuce. What we glean from this is this…life is bitter-sweet . The sweet and pleasant taste of the harvest impresses upon us that, no matter how bitter and dark the present appears, we should hopefully look forward to better days.