Years ago when I was in Israel, I enjoyed a Sabbath meal in Jerusalem. I once shared a Passover seder with friends in St. Louis. This year I got an invitation to join the Gilberg family in their traditional observance. On Friday, I drove out to St. Albans to join a large gathering at the home of the family matriarch, 93-year-old Muriel Gilberg.
The rolling green pastures and dogwood-dotted hillsides are some of the prettiest anywhere in the state. (My stop at Head’s Store, est. 1892, is worthy of a entire post and I plan to write about it later in the week).
Passover Foods: Powerful Historic Symbols
The ritual Passover seder is based around foods that are given special meaning in the re-telling of the Biblical story of the Exodus from Egypt after ten plagues were inflicted on Pharaoh.
An Ancient Story Retold in Food
At one point, the youngest in the gathering asked the traditional questions. The five-year-old twins at our table got the honor of inquiring: “Why is this night different from any other?” In reply, the Exodus story was read, in turn, by those at the five tables. The Biblical account of oppression and deliverance was interspersed with wine, hand washing, and eating of the traditional Passover foods.
Sharing the symbolic foods help the participants relive the struggles of their fore bearers. Bitter Herbs (often horseradish) is a reminder of the bitterness of slavery; Sweet Apple Salad, reminiscent of the mortar used by slaves to make bricks. Parsley, or a fresh green vegetable, dipped in salt water, denotes the tears and sweat of enslavement. The Roasted Lamb Shank, represents the meat prepared the night before the Hebrew slaves fled Egypt; the Roasted Egg, a symbol of renewal.
It has been said that the greatest contribution of the Jewish people can be summarized in five words: remembrance, optimism, faith, family and responsibility. During the Passover meal, all of those come to life in story and food. It’s always good to gather around the table and remember who you are and why you’re here.