Chag Sameach

26 Mar

Last night, I enjoyed my very first Seder with the Chagal family. They warmly invited myself and two classmates into their home and fed us until we wanted to burst! It was such a lovely, fun evening – I really enjoyed it. Big thank you to the Chagal family for including us and stopping to explain so many fine details as we went along. I’ll explain the evening from my point of view. Please excuse any mistakes or naivety.

Here is how the Passover table is set (click on the picture to make it bigger and easier to read):

Passover table

All the components of a proper setting.

We didn’t have everything shown in this photo (like the reclining pillow) but we had most.

So the seder is divided in 15 parts and you read the Haggadah as you go through the parts. Simply put, the Haggadah is the guide on how to celebrate Pesach. Some families follow it very strictly and other families are more relaxed. The family I joined were more relaxed as you will see. There is a Seder leader, which in our case was my friend’s father. Last night, we each took turns reading the various parts. The Chagal family had found Haggadah that were both in Hebrew/Aramaic and English so we were able to follow along with no problem. And each of us were able to take part in reading too. Here are the parts with a brief explanation:

1) Kaddesh (Sanctification): Everyone’s glass was filled with wine and the Kiddush is read before sitting down. This is the blessing of the wine. I was used to this part since the wine is always blessed before Shabbat dinner. I was surprised that I recognized this fact. Technically, very observant Jews would drink their whole first glass of wine and fill a second glass here. We choose to be more relaxed about that.

2) Urchatz (Handwashing): This is the ritual washing of the hands. My family did not do this part (shhh…don’t tell!).

3) Karpas (Vegetable): At this point, several dishes on the table are pointed out. There are two dishes that contain celery (any green vegetable can be used – cucumber, parsley, etc). Each person takes a piece of celery and dips it into salt water. A blessing is said for vegetables (FYI – there are many blessings before eating depending on what you are eating), then we eat the celery. The salt water is said to symbolize the tears of Jews trapped in enslavement in Egypt.

4) Yachatz (Breaking of the matzah): The Seder leader picks up a ritual plate with three symbolic matzahs (plural for matzo). He takes a piece from the middle of the plate and breaks it in half. He puts the smaller piece back on the plate and the larger piece becomes the afikoman. Traditionally, children try to “steal” the afikoman and then ransom it off at the end of dinner in exchange for presents or candy. Since our youngest family member was old enough to be in the middle of her military duty – we bent the rules a smidge for this part.

5) Maggid (Telling of the story of the Exodus): I really liked this part – especially after just watching the History Channel’s new miniseries The Bible the night before. At this point, the youngest person is supposed to ask a series of four questions basically centered around “Why is this night different than all other nights?” These questions are asked in a song that everyone sings (our first song of the night!). After telling the story, the upbeat song “Dayenu” is sung. It’s 15 verses long and relates all the gifts G-d has given the Jewish people and how each gift on their own “would have been enough for us.” This was my favorite song. At the end of the song, as each of the ten plagues that struck Eqypt are recited, we dip a finger in our wine and put a drop of it on our plate. Then the second glass of wine is finished and a third glass is poured.

6) Rachtzah (Handwashing): Another ceremonial washing of the hands – we skipped this part too.

7) Motzi (Blessing of the bread): The standard blessing of the bread is given. This is the same blessing given at Shabbat dinner.

8) Matzah (Blessing of the matzo): A second special blessing is given which retells of the commandment to eat matzah. A piece of matzo break is broken up by the seder leader and passed to everyone. Each person eats their matzo.

9) Maror (Bitter herbs): A blessing is given and everyone puts bitter herbs (horseradish) on their matzo and eats it to remember the harshness of slavery. The horseradish is sometimes mixed with beetroot – we had fresh, homemade horseradish that was really good and extra strong.

10) Koresh (The sandwich): Then a bit of horseradish is put on the matzo with a bit of charoset (a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine – tasty!) a second piece of matzo is put on top to make a “sandwich” and that is eaten as well. The charoset is to symbolize the mortar the Israelites used while slaves in Egypt.

11) Shulchan Orech (Dinner): Now it’s time to eat dinner! We had an amazing salad filled with dried cranberries, pieces of grapefruit, chopped peppers, onions, mushrooms and lettuce. Appetizers included meatballs (made with matzo) and chicken livers. The next course was a large serving of matzo ball soup. The main course was pot roast and prime rib (that horseradish from earlier came in handy!), oven roasted cauliflower, carrots and sweet potatoes and regular potatoes. A sweet dish of wine soaked fruit was served last (but it’s not dessert time yet!).

12) Tzafan (Afikoman): At this point the afikoman is ransomed off by the children. It’s said this game of hiding the afikoman is done to keep children awake and interested during a very long night. It’s fun. Everyone gets a small piece of the matzo to be eaten as “dessert.” Except my family decides to do real dessert at the very end.

13) Barech (Blessing): A third glass of wine is poured for everyone. A blessing is given and the third glass is finished. A fourth glass is poured (or just a top off in most of our cases) and a glass is poured for the Prophet Elijah. A ceremonial cup has been present on the table since the beginning of dinner. The front door is open to allow Elijah into the home. Children are told that Elijah visits every house on this night (another trick to keep children awake!).

14) Hallel (Songs of Praise): The door is closed and everyone sings happy songs praising G-d before blessing and drinking the final glass of wine. Why the “-” in G-d’s name? Jews believe his name is sacred and should not be said or written.

15) Nirtzah (Conclusion): A statement is given that seder is officially completed. We sing a few more songs, including a fun one reminiscent of the 12 Days of Christmas – “Echad Mi Yodea” (Who Knows One?). It goes through each of the numbers one through 13 with a religious theme to each number – items include 5 books of Moses, 9 months of pregnancy. As each new verse is sung – all proceeding verses are sung in descending order. Lots of silly hand motions are involved too. Then the seder is finally closed when everyone says, “L’shanah haba’a bi Yerushalayim!” Which means, “Next year in Jerusalem!” Basically, that the Messiah will come in the next year and celebrations will be held in rebuilt Jerusalem.

After all this, we had dessert – flourless (of course!) chocolate cake. Everything we so delicious! I’m so happy for being able to take part in this evening. It was so interesting to learn the traditions and experience them as well. All told, it took us three hours to complete the ceremony. We sat and chatted a bit more afterwards so I never got home until nearly 12:30 a.m.

I can’t thank the Chagal family enough for taking us in. If you know any international students in your area, around the holidays (doesn’t matter what holiday – Christmas, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July), I strongly encourage you to invite them into your home so they can experience them with a family. If you aren’t sure where to find international students – ask the international office of your local university. I know I made a resolution with myself this night to do this more often.

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3 Responses to “Chag Sameach”

  1. Karyn McNeal March 26, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    Awesome!!! Thanks SO much for sharing! It sounds like your host family was just amazing with bringing you in and explaining everything to you. What a blessing!

    • Mary in Haifa March 26, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

      Glad you’ve enjoyed my posts! Israelis are so hospitable – I had many invites for the evening since everyone wanted to make sure we had a chance to experience the holiday properly. It’s so interesting to celebrate familiar and not so familiar holidays through a different “lens.” As we ate dinner, my classmate, who is Catholic, and I explained the celebration of Easter and how we celebrate it with our families. They had just as many questions for us as we had for them!

  2. Sue Neilson March 27, 2013 at 4:56 am #

    What a wonderful experience, I appreciate your mom sharing with me. Your description of the evening made me feel as through I was there. I’m so happy that you are having this experience.

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