Thursday, March 29, 2007



Two things happened in the past few days which made me decide to write this particular blog. The first thing was an email from my cousin, Cynthia, who lives in California and who asked me what we do differently here in Israel to celebrate Pesach (Passover). And the second was phone calls from my friends, Myra and Brenda, who asked me for recipes for Haroset (a fruit and nut paste symbolizing mortar which we use during the Pesach Seder).

Myra and Brenda are both Ashkenazim - but they both wanted Sephardi Haroset recipes. That started me thinking about the differences - and the similarities. Actually - when you get down to it there is one big difference - the food. The Seder is the Seder - we all read the Haggada (the story of the Jews' exodus from Egypt). And while there may be minor differences in the text and in the translations - the story is essestially the same.

We read the first part of the Haggada - we eat - we read the second part of the Haggada - we sing the traditional songs - ve zehoo (and that's it). Well - some of us don't get to read the second part of the Haggada - but that's another story.

The first big difference is that here in Israel we only celebrate one Seder while Jews in the Diaspora celebrate two - except for Jews from the Diaspora who are only visiting here during Pesach - and then they have two Seders. (This is really getting complicated - I'll try to keep it to the basics.)

There are - mostly - Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. The Ashkenazim come - mostly - from Middle - and Eastern-Europe and the Sepharadim come - mostly - from places like Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Kurdistan - all other places that are not Middle - and Eastern - Europe. Then there are the Yemenites and the Ethiopians - this is getting too, too complicated. Let's just leave it as Ashkenazim and Sepharadim for our purposes.

So - now to the food. Sepharadim eat rice during Pesach - Ashkenazim do not. Except for most of the Ashkenazim I know - including me - who have been here so long that we have also adopted rice as part of our Pesach diet. Of course - none of us eat bread and things made with flour that can rise - but some of us eat beans and legumes. Don't ask.

Ashkenazim traditionally eat hard-boiled eggs and salt water as part of the ceremonial foods - in my friend Marallyn's house they eat the hard-boiled eggs but with very salty boiled meat instead of the salted water. Her husband is Kurdi and that's their custom.

In America we did not ever eat roast lamb as part of the Seder - here we do. We never served tongue as part of the meal - here some people do. When I was studying with the noted Italian cookbook author and teacher Edda Servi Machlin ("The Clasic Cuisine of the Italian Jews") - she invited me to their Seder one year and their traditional main course was a meat loaf made of ground veal.

Ashkenazim traditionally serve gefilte fish - sweet for the Polish Jews and salt & pepper for the Russian Jews - and Sepharadim eat "chraime" - fish poached in a spicy tomato sauce. And in Edda's Italian family they ate cold poached fish in aspic.

Asheknazi Haroset is traditionally made with ground walnuts, apples, cinnamon and sweet wine. I had actually never even heard of any other way to do it until I moved here. In looking through my cookbooks last night I found Haroset made with dates, apricots, silan (date honey), walnuts, sesame seeds, almonds,cardamon and cloves - in various combinations -and cooked - from the other communities.

I'll be having Seder with Shosh and Gaby - Ouri and Devora's "mehutanim" (the parent's of their son's wife). Shosh is from a Polish family and Gaby is Egyptian. Gaby makes "kubbe" - a deep-fried delicacy usually made from a dough of burghul wheat and stuffed with ground meat. For Pesach the "dough" is made from ground rice - remember - no wheat.

Oh - I forgot one big difference - the melody used to sing the "vier kashes" (Yiddish) or "arba she'elot" "Hebrew) or "four questions". In fact, when Marallyn and I were trying to remember the melody of the four questions we sang in North America - we couldn't - and we had to call her Mom to remind us of it. There used to be a cartoon strip here that was titled "You've been here too long if......" I think I've reached that point.

And for my non-Jewish readers - especially my loyal "Jungle Mom" in Venezuela - who doesn't understand half of what I say but bravely reads on anyway - the title of this blog "MA NISHTANA....." are the first words of the four questions - "Why is this night different from every other night?" And it is
different - but it's also the same for all of us - each celebrating in our own ways. Pesach Sameach - Happy Pesach. Have I confused you enough?

Stay Safe.


Well i am faithfully here reading and thank you so much for the explanations! I enjoyed learning it all greatly. i would love to have a Seder sometime...are gentiles ever invited?

But for now, i wont ask any more questions, I am off to call a Venezuelan Jewish friend to find out what they eat! Lol
Of course gentiles are invited - my late Mother and I have often had non-Jews at the Seder. When you come to visit Israel (!) let me know - you have an open invitation.

I want to hear what your Venezuelan Jewish friend is serving - I think her family is probably from Eastern Europe.
You are right. most of the Jews here came over to flee the Nazis. Bless their hearts, they are beginning to have a rough time again under Chavez. Nothing like the Nazis but...

It seems a boat of refugees fleeing Germany was denied port in many places and was finally allowed to come ashore in Venezuela during the war years.
Their families are now very prominate in the medical field here in Venezuela, We have a Jewish mayor who was recently jailed by the regime, named Rodonski. We also have a major opposition newspaper, recently fines big $$$ owned by a Jewish family name of Petkoff of Russian descent. Any way, its interesting to me.
Oh....can I come too?!
Dear Caraquena - Just discovered how to access my "comments" - my CM (computer mumche - expert) showed me how - OF COURE you are invited to my seder - I'm doing one this year.
Regards. Rena
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