Suggested Lenten reading: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist

This year for Lent, we’re reading aloud Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper (affiliate link) by Brant Pitre.  I’m hoping to finish before Easter, so we’ll have plenty to think about over the Triduum. The high school kids are following it fine, and the younger kids are listening in and picking up some, if not all. I LOVE THIS BOOK. Pitre is a teacher, so the book is a pleasure to read out loud.

(You may recall that we were reading Bendict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth. Well, I really dug it, and so did Damien, but the kids were just not into it. So after a few chapters, we gave up. I still heartily recommend it, for high school-aged kids and up. If you’re looking for Lenten reading, you could go with the Holy Week volume of this three-book series.)

Here’s my review of Brant Pitre’s book, which was originally published on Patheos in 2011.

***

Having celebrated more than forty Passover Seders with my Hebrew Catholic family, I anticipated already knowing most of what Brant Pitre has to say in Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper I already knew that Moses prefigured the Messiah to come; that the Last Supper was a Passover meal; that Jesus is both the paschal lamb and the unleavened bread eaten by the Jews, and that we celebrate this same mystery at Mass.

But, the details!

Did you know that the Jews’ Passover lamb was commonly nailed to a cross-shaped board? Did you know that the manna which sustained the Hebrews in the desert was thought to have been created before the Fall, and “had existed ‘on high’ in heaven” until God gave it to the people to eat? Did you know that the Bread of the Presence, which was consecrated and reserved in the tabernacle of the Temple, constituted both meal and unbloody sacrifice, and was offered with wine each Sabbath?

Did you know that temporarily-celibate Jewish priests would elevate this bread on feast days, and proclaim, “Behold, God’s love for you!”

All astonishing and illuminating facts. But this book is no mere collection of obscure coincidences and historical novelties related to Christ. Pitre sweeps the reader up in his enthusiastic rediscovery of the glorious symmetry of salvation history. It is a gorgeous, persuasive, and enthralling story that you’ve heard bits of here and there, but never with this cohesion. Pitre puts it all together.

The overwhelming sensation I had on reading this book was one of relief. I had fallen into thinking of the New Testament as the half of the Bible that is bright, hopeful, and fresh; whereas the Old Testament is blood and thunder, irrationality and murkiness, with flashes of half-understood prophecies whose fulfillment could only be appreciated in retrospect. As I read Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, I imagined Pitre’s research and exegesis rescuing generations of pre-Christian believers from that terrifying squalor of the half-life of prefigurement. He shows how all the world always has been, and always will be, loved and guided, and nourished most tenderly by the one true God.

A minor quibble—and I offer it mostly to show some balance to my enthusiasm; in his zeal to illustrate how Jesus’ contemporaries would have perceived his words and actions, Pitre occasionally strays into slightly jarring language. He speaks of Christ “expecting” and “hoping for” future events in His own life to fulfill the prophecies and traditions of the Jews. Although Pitre by no means implies that Jesus was not omniscient, this vocabulary sat oddly with me. It is, perhaps, the natural way to speak about the life of Christ in a book about the fulfillment of promises; but I wish he had made it more clear that the Exodus, the manna, the Bread of Presence, the Passover meal and its fourth and final cup of wine were all ordained expressly for, and in anticipation of, the things to come. Pitre does say this, to be sure (and the evangelist John says the same thing: that Jesus did things “to fulfill scripture”); but his tone occasionally implies that Christ’s actions were cannily calculated to persuade the Jews.

This is, as I say, a very minor and debatable quibble, which is overwhelmed by the true brilliance of the rest of the book.

Although this book is rigorously researched, Pitre’s tone is conversational and appealing. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist began as a lecture, and reading it is like sitting in class with a gentle and intelligent teacher who anticipates questions, reminds us of what he told us before, and even suggests that we mark certain pages for future reference. The book is highly accessible, but by no means light reading. It is insightful, original, and frequently profound. Pitre shows his sources, and he warns the reader when his ideas are speculative.

This is, above all joyful book. And who may appreciate it? Curious Jews who do not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Protestants who think of the Eucharist as mere symbol. Casual scholars who sanction the mundane dumbing-down of miracles. Indifferent Confirmation students, whose eyes glaze over when they hear the words “sacrifice” and “covenant.”

And most of all, Catholics who desperately want to be more attentive, more engaged in the mystery of the Eucharist, because every time they go to Mass they know it’s really, really important, but it’s so hard to pay attention after all these years.

Pitre’s book will get your attention. With his strange and beautiful story of how God brings us the gift we receive every week, Pitre’s book will make you rejoice again—or maybe for the very first time—for what you have.

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 78: Hallelujah! Let’s eat!

Hooray, a Friday food post again! I actually spent last Friday, Good Friday, cooking and not tasting. IT WAS HARD. But I was way behind on Passover cooking, so that’s how it turned out.

Here’s what we had this week:

SATURDAY 

Holy Saturday is when we have our Passover seder. On the menu for the feast:
Chicken soup with matzo balls

The soup turned out much buttier than usual; no idea why. It’s supposed to be on the clear side, and “golden” (i.e. shimmering with fat). Tasted great, though.

Chopped liver


Gefilte fish (store bought) with horseradish


Charoset


Spinach pie


and Garlic cinnamon chicken and
A tiny bit of roast lamb (it hadn’t gone on sale yet!)

You can find recipes for all of the foods above in this post.

The only thing I intentionally made different this year was to cook the spinach pies in mini muffin tins, rather than in a pie plate. I just don’t think you should hear “pie” and then taste spinach and onions. (For some reason “spinach muffin” doesn’t trouble me.) I thought they were cute and tasty this way, and will make them this way again.

I didn’t have a meat grinder this year (but am eyeing this attachment for my Kitchen Aid), so I made the four pounds of chopped liver in small batches in the blender. This was not a gratifying experience. It wasn’t velvety smooth, but still delicious.

Dessert:
Chocolate walnut cake with apricot
Lemon sponge cake
Four kinds of macaroons (store bought)
Chocolate-covered jelly rings
Chocolate-covered halvah (sesame candy)
Sesame crunch candies
Pistachios and almonds
Chocolate caramel matzoh

I moaned and groaned over not having any fruit slice candy this year, but we survived.
Both cakes were from new recipes this year. The chocolate one had a nice flavor, but it was squashier than I would like. Pretty, though.


The lemon one also tasted fine, but man, it was dense. No sponge about it. I just don’t have a light touch with baking, and baking without flour or yeast is just asking for some really compact treats! I think I used the recipe on the side of the potato starch can.

***

SUNDAY
Seder leftovers!

And boy, there were plenty.  And of course hard boiled eggs, and a world of Easter candy.

***

MONDAY
Matzo brei, salami, dill pickles, grapes

Matzo brei is a weird little recipe that everyone should know. You take a sheet of matzo, break it into chunks in a bowl, and pour hot water over it. Let it sit for thirty seconds or so, and then press the water out. Then beat up two eggs, stir in the drained matzo, and fry the mixture up in some hot oil, turning once, until the edges are crisp.

You can serve it with jelly, you can serve it with salt and pepper and fried onions, whatever. It’s SO GOOD. Worth venturing into the Jewby aisle to get yourself a box of two of matzo, believe me.

***

TUESDAY
Beef banh mi

Remember when I asked how to make Easter last for fifty days? You could do worse than making a lot of banh mi, especially if you just happen to have a lot of leftover chopped liver in the house. These sandwiches were out of this world.

In the morning, I sliced up some carrots as thin as I could, then put them in a jar to pickle with some white vinegar, a little water, and some sugar.

Then I sliced the meat (I used London broil) pretty thin and put it in a bag to marinate, using this recipe. I let it go for about six hours. My husband cooked up the meat — well, first he ran out for more bread, because I burned the first batch while toasting it. Then he toasted more bread, and then he cooked up the meat in a single layer on a roasting pan under a hot broiler, just enough to blacken the edges a tiny bit.

So, the smell. This marinade calls for garlic, shallots, and fish sauce. Benny spent the dinner hour hiding under a fleece Our Lady of Guadalupe blanket and weeping because the house smelled “wike dog frow up.” Which, well, she wasn’t wrong, especially early in the cooking. But it tasted so good.

Toasted rolls with mayonnaise, lots of cilantro, pickled carrots, sliced cucumbers, the meat, and then chopped liver. Oh, my stars. The sweet, savory meat frolicking with the snappy, sour carrots, and the strong, bitey liver cuddling up to the cool cucumbers and cilantro. It was so good, it was almost indecent.

***

WEDNESDAY
Hot dogs, chips

I spent the afternoon sorting winter clothes to be stored away. Four hours from start to finish:

so the kids made hot dogs.

***

THURSDAY
Instant pot mac and cheese

I made a triple recipe of this in my Instant Pot (associates link). The hot sauce and mustard give it a good flavor. This is miles easier and faster than cooking the pasta, cooking the sauce, and then mixing them together and baking it. Also, this time, I read the directions more carefully and did not shoot a geyser of yellow cheese at the ceiling through the steam vent.

***

FRIDAY
Roast lamb, challah, maybe asparagus if I remember to get some

Today is Friday within the octave of Easter, or, as it’s traditionally known, Meatster Friday. Leg of lamb was at the astonishing price of $2.99 a pound, so I got a niiiiiice big one. Gonna stud it with slivered garlic and rosemary, slather it with white wine and honey, and roast it.

Gonna try out this challah recipe. Here’s a pic of the last time I made challah:

And now I’m running out to buy some yeast. Benny says, “Yeast makes everything rise! God thought of it! He thought of everything! He made friends and family! He made sisters and brothers! And cousins! Well . . . I’m not so sure about cousins.”

Sorry, cousins. I don’t know how you earned a place in Benny’s theodicy, but there it is.
Happy Easter! Happy Meatster! He is risen! Let’s eat.

Simcha’s favorite passover recipes that will have you schvitzing under the eyeballs

In the past, I’ve written about the emotional and spiritual experience of celebrating the Passover seder as Hebrew Catholics.

passover

This year, I’d like to talk about what’s really important: THE FOOD.

We do not keep kosher, and we don’t clean the house of chametz (leavened bread), and we don’t follow the special, even stricter “kosher for Passover” rules. The foods we prepare for Passover are symbolic and nostalgic, as well as delicious; but I wouldn’t serve them if we had a rabbi for a guest! We serve some homemade and some store bought food.

To keep this post from getting too long, I’ll post all the recipes on a separate page. Click on the names of any of the homemade foods below to get to the recipe page. Here’s what’s on the menu:

 

WINE

For the full Jewish American experience, you should at least know what Manischwitz tastes like.

horror

I’ll save you some trouble: It’s completely awful. With every swallow, you will feel like a giant hand made out of hot syrup is squeezing your brain to death. MD 20/20 (here listed as #3 in the top five Bum Wines) is only marginally better. So unless you’re keeping kosher, which you’re not if you’re coming to me for recipes, then go ahead and just have whatever goyishe red wine you actually enjoy drinking (for cheap and drinkable, I’m partial to Yellow Tail). The seder is supposed to be a spiritual exercise, but not a penitential one.

 

CHICKEN SOUP WITH MATZOH BALLS

You know what schmaltz is, right? It’s anything corny, sappy, sentimental, and overdone (but you secretly love it)

But literally, schmaltz is rendered chicken fat. That’s the secret ingredient in what is sometimes called “Golden Chicken Soup.”

Chicken_fat

That tightness you feel in your chest is just your heart being happy!

Talk about “beaded bubbles winking at the brim!”  You want to give the flavor ple-e-e-e-e-e-enty of time to develop — all day, at the very least. You know it’s almost done when the air in the kitchen is shimmering with a golden, chickeny haze. If you can walk through the room and not come out smelling like a happy childhood in Eastern Europe, keep simmering.

Some years, the matzoh balls turn out fluffy and airy; some years they stay small and rubbery with a dry nut of undercooked matzoh meal in the center. Every year, they all get gobbled up.

 

CHOPPED LIVER

If you can get your hands on one of these:

meat grinder 2

then do!  (The good ones are pretty expensive, new.) You could, of course, use a food processor, but there are few tactile experiences more fulfilling than turning a heavy steel crank and watching the velvety pate come churning out the other end. If, you know, you like that kind of thing. WHICH I DO.

GEFILTE FISH

I was never, ever, ever tempted to make this by hand. Apparently the authentic method is to buy a few live cod and pike from the fishmonger in the Bowery, dump them in your bathtub, and then on Friday morning you head in there with a club and WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK.
Then the real work begins. “Gefilte” means “stuffed,” as in “a fish stuffed with other fish”

gefilte fish whole

For those days when you have seven or eight hours to spend wrist deep in a fish that you have clubbed to death. So, we get it in jars.

gefilte fish jar

I prefer the Manischewitz brand — the other ones I’ve tried are sweeter. I prefer the fish packed in gel, rather than broth. We serve this on top of a sheet of matzoh with a dab of horseradish. It’s likely that, if you haven’t tasted gefilte fish by age five, you’ll never learn to like it. I’m okay with that. More for me.

CHAROSET

Best best best best best. Chopped walnuts, chopped apples, red wine, cinnamon, and sugar or honey.

charoset

The charoset is supposed to remind us of the mortar the Hebrew slaves used between bricks as they worked building Pharaoh’s cities. When I was little, this gave me the impression that maybe slavery wasn’t so bad after all, because best best best best best!

This is the year I finally bought what is apparently called a mezzaluna

mezzaluna

a sharp rocking knife, for chopping all those apples and walnuts. I like this tool very much. It’s heavy and quite sharp. And if this is the year that Elijah comes back and he turns out to be a zombie– wait, no, that’s inappropriate.

 

SPICED GARLIC CHICKEN

I don’t remember where I found this recipe, but it’s moist and yummy, and I only make it at Passover, so therefore it’s Passover chicken. You already know what roast chicken looks like, so here instead is a picture of something that is very, very important to our family:

garlic

We put the lick in garlic!

as well as to this particular recipe. And here is a gratuitous chicken joke:

Tevye: As the good book says, when a poor man eats a chicken, one of them is sick.
Mendel: Where does the book say that?
Tevye: Well, it doesn’t say that exactly, but somewhere there is something about a chicken.

 

SPINACH PIE

A vegetable dish for the times when you can’t bring yourself to say, “But we areserving something green! See? Olives!” It’s pretty, anyway, and doesn’t take much time to throw together, especially if you have a food processor. Bunch of vegetables shredded up, sauteed, mixed with egg and matzoh meal, and baked (no crust involved).

TSIMMIS

not to be confused with tsuris. I don’t actually make tsimmis, but I remember when my mother used to, and it gives me an excuse to tell this joke:

Two old friends reunite after many years. One brags about her children, their professional success, their beautiful houses, their talented offspring. The other one says, “Well, I don’t have any children.” The first one says, “No children? So what do you do for tsuris?”

Anyway, Wikipedia describes tsimmes as “Ashkenazi Jewish sweet stew typically made from carrots and dried fruits such as prunes or raisins, often combined with other root vegetables. Some cooks add chunks of meat.” Am I punchy, or is that hilarious? You can almost hear the sigh at the end. “Look, this is what we eat, what do you want from my life.”

 

ROAST LAMB

Some day, when we win a million dollars or a sheep farm, we’ll serve this as the main dish. As it is, we usually buy the biggest leg of lamb we can afford for the seder dish. Last year, the electricity went out just as we were putting the lamb in the oven, so we ended up grilling it outside

grilled leg of lamb

and it was magnificent. Gonna do it that way every year now.

EXTRAS

Two kinds of horseradish, olives, and dill pickles. We ground our own horseradish one year, and it was unbelievably strong. The air around the dish went all wobbly, and it made an audible snarling sound when you spooned it onto your plate. Call me a coward, but I’m sticking with the jarred kind. I’ve never really tasted bad horseradish, so I don’t have a particular brand to recommend. The red horseradish is just dyed with beet juice, but tastes about the same.

Also, don’t forget a little dish of blonde raisins. These are like raisins, only they areyellow. I know.

 

DESSERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

MACAROONS

macaroons

Not to be confused with macarons, which are an entirely different food! I always think I’m going to make these myself, but I always run out of time, so I buy them ready made. My favorite are the plain almond-flavored ones, but there are dozens of varieties.

HALVAH

Halvah is not strictly a Jewish food, but just a Middle Eastern one. It’s made of crushed sesame seeds, and I’m not gonna lie to you, it tastes kind of like sweet, gritty Play Doh.

halvah

I usually buy a few bars of it, some plain, some dipped in chocolate, and serve it in little slices. You gotta have it, but a little goes a long way.

CHOCOLATE MATZOH CRUNCH

Nice easy recipe. I didn’t grow up with this, but my kids go berserk for it.

SPONGE CAKE

We usually have two kinds of sponge cake made with matzoh cake meal and made poofy with tons of egg whites. We usually make two chocolate walnut cakes and two white ones. So nice with the slightly eggy crunch of the crust and the light, spongy insides.

JELLY FRUIT SLICES

fruit jell slices

 

possibly my kids’ favorite part of Passover.  These symbolic confections remind us of, um, the Land of Caanan, I guess? With fruit? Anyway, I like them, too.

***

Passover begins on the evening of April 3 this year. We always have our seder on Holy Saturday, regardless of when actual Passover is. Since Jesus’ last Passover seder with the disciples (the Last Supper) was on Holy Thursday, it almost works out this year! We usually spend Holy Week cooking and baking, and try to schedule things so the most fragrant foods are already made and in the freezer before we start fasting for Good Friday, because nobody needs to suffer that much.

Again, click here to get to the page with just the recipes.

L’chaim! Let’s eat.

 

***

Simcha’s passover menu, part two: just the recipes

If you’re here, it means you waded all the way through my last post. Good work!  Here’s your food!

passover lucy


Chicken soup (can be made ahead and frozen)

 

In a very large pot, put one whole chicken, chicken parts, or chicken carcass. Do not include giblets.
Add a quartered onion, 2-3 peeled carrots, a few sprigs of dill and a few sprigs of parsley.
Cover, bring to a boil, cover loosely, and allow soup to simmer for many hours.
Strain the soup with a colander and return the broth to the pot. When the chicken and veggies are cool enough, sort through them and add several handsful of shredded chicken back into the broth.
Cut the carrots into thin discs and add them, too, along with some bits of onion and herbs. Some people like lots of chicken and vegetables, some people like it to be just a tasty broth with a few bits and pieces in it — it’s up to you.
You may want to skim some of the fat off. If so, cool the soup completely. The fat will rise to the top and solidify, and you can scoop off as much as you like. Do leave some, to make the soup “golden!”
When you’re ready to serve the soup, heat it up (don’t let it boil) and then add salt and pepper to taste.

 

 

Matzoh balls (can be made ahead and refrigerated)

 

If you buy matzoh meal or a matzoh ball kit, there will be directions on the side of the box or can! Just follow them. This is time consuming, but quite simple.
Just remember to chill the batter before attempting to form the balls; and rinse your hands frequently.
And don’t crowd the matzoh balls, or they will be dense and rubbery.
I find that it’s easier to make the matzoh balls in a separate pot of chicken broth (made from bouillon) or water and then transferring the cooked matzoh balls into the pot of soup.
Don’t try to make them too many days ahead of time, or they will sit there sopping up the broth and getting all gelatinous and yucky.

 

Chopped liver (can be made ahead and frozen. Just remember to take it out of the freezer several hours before you want to eat! It’s very dense and thaws slowly.)

 

2 lbs. chicken livers, rinsed and trimmed
2 eggs
3 onions
2 cubes chicken bouillon
2 Tbs. vegetable oil salt and pepper

1. Put liver, whole eggs, and 1 whole onion into saucepan with a quart of water.
2. Boil, stir in bouillon, simmer 1 hr. Drain out water and set liver, onion, and eggs aside to cool.
3. Chop the other two onions. Set one aside.
4. Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the third onion.
5. When the liver is cool, grind it up together with the peeled eggs and the three onions.
6. Season with salt and pepper and chill.

 

Charoset (can be made ahead and refrigerated)

Peel, core, and chop three pounds of firm apples (like Cortland, Fuji, or Gala) into bits
Chop two cups of walnuts until they are about the same size as the apples
Add several Tbs. of sweet red wine and a few Tbs. of white sugar to taste. It should taste sweet, but more fruity than sugary
Add a tbs. or so of cinnamon.
Mix thoroughly and chill.

 

Sweet garlic and cinnamon chicken (can be made ahead, carved, and then frozen or refrigerated. You can reheat it or even serve it cold.)

Preheat oven to 500.
Mix together:
2 tsp salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp.  nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cinnamon

Rinse and dry a 4 lb chicken
Rub the spice mixture all over the skin
Stuff the cavity with 5 cloves crushed garlic
Put the chicken breast side down on a rack in a roasting oven.

Roast 15 minutes.
Reduce heat to 450, roast another 15 minutes.
Baste chicken with pan drippings, reduce heat to 425, and roast another 30 minutes until the thermy reads 180.
Let stand 20 minutes before carving.

 

 Chocolate Matzoh Crunch (can be made ahead and stored in plastic wrap or an airtight container for good long time)
I just use this recipe from Epicurious. I was going to rewrite it so it seems like my recipe, but why? I found the recipe a little confusing, but then realized you’re basically just making caramel on top of the matzoh. Then you take it matzoh out of the oven and sprinkle chocolate on it. The caramel is so hot that it melts the chocolate while it sits there, and then you can spread it around. This looks nice with almond slivers or slices on it.
Spinach pie (this can be frozen and reheated or served at room temp)

Preheat the oven to 350.
Grease a pie plate.
Cook one package of frozen or fresh spinach and squeeze the water out.
Heat a saute pan, add some oil, and fry up:
1/2 cup celery chopped or grated
1-1/2 grated carrot 1 cup diced or grated onion
When the veg are soft, add the drained spinach, salt and pepper.
Beat 3 eggs and add them to the veggies.
Add 3/4 cup matzoh  meal
Mix this all thoroughly, put it into the greased pie plate, and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes or until firm and very slightly browned.

 

Roast leg of lamb (you really want to cook this right before you eat it and serve it hot!)

The lamb should be at room temperature. Rub it with olive oil.
Score it all over with a sharp knife and stud it generously with slivers of raw garlic.
Salt and pepper all over. Add rosemary if you like.

Put it in a shallow pan and broil for a few minutes on all sides, then lower the temp to 325.
Loosely wrap the lamb in foil and continue cooking for an hour or so, depending on how big it is, until the internal temp is 135.
Let it rest for 15 minutes before carving. You can serve it with mint jelly if you must, but mint jelly is kind of disgusting. Just eat the lamb. It’s amazing.

 

Sponge cakes. Okay, I can’t find my recipes, so I’ll just link to some that look similar. You can usually find decent recipes on the side of the box of matzoh cake meal, too.

Chocolate walnut sponge cake

Lemon Sponge Cake

Next Year in Jerusalem

Have you taught your children that, while Christmas is very important, it’s really Easter that’s the greatest feast of the year? Do they buy it?

When I was little, this point of doctrine was obvious: All during Holy Week, my father could be heard practicing the Exsultet to chant at the Easter vigil, as my mother fried and ground up liver and onions in preparation for the Passover seder. The fragrant schmaltzy steam of the chicken soup, the palm leaves, bags of jelly beans for Easter Sunday and the boxes of jellied fruit slices for the seder—these were all equally essential for Holy Week. We drooled over the growing heaps of luscious Passover food as we suffered the final pangs of Lenten sacrifices. My mother covered her head to bless the candles at the start of the seder, and then a few hours later, hovered over us in the pew to save us from singeing our hair on the Easter candles. I can’t imagine eating leftover gefilte fish without a chocolate bunny on the side; and I can’t imagine hearing “Christ our light!” without echoes of “Dayenu!” – “It would have been enough!” still lingering, both exultant prayers of thanksgiving to the God who always gives more than we deserve.

You might be pardoned for imagining some kind of schizophrenic clash of cultures in my house, but that’s not how it was. My parents did struggle to synthesize the incongruities between Catholicism and Judaism (and for a hilarious read, check out my mother’s account of interfaith communications). My parents were raised secular Jews, and went through a long and strange exodus through the desert together, and eventually converted to Christianity—and then, when I was about 4, to Catholicism.

But for us kids, there was no incongruity: Growing up Hebrew Catholics just meant having much more FUN on Easter than anyone else. My Christian friends wore straw hats, ate jelly beans, and maybe dyed eggs if their mothers could abide the mess. We, on the other hand, whooped it up for an entire weekend as we prepared for and celebrated the Passover seder, the ceremonial feast which Jesus ate with his disciples at the Last Supper. At our seder, which we held on Holy Saturday, there was chanting and clapping, giggling over the mysterious and grisly ceremonial roasted egg and horseradish root, glass after glass of terrible, irresistible sweet wine,

special silver and china that only saw the light of day once a year, pillows for the chairs so we could “recline,” and the almost unbearable sweetness as the youngest child asked, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

It was different because, every single year on that night, there were laughter and tears. The laughter was always more: I waited with bated breath for my father, after drinking his third or fourth ceremonial glass of wine, to trip over the Psalm and say, “What ails thee, o mountains, that you skip like rams? And o ye hills, like lung yams?” And then there are the tears, when we remember the slaying of the first born, and a drop of wine slips from our fingertips onto the plate.

Most Catholics are familiar with the idea that Moses prefigured Christ: Baby Moses was spared from Pharaoh’s infanticide, as baby Jesus was spared from Herod’s; Moses rescued his people from slavery, as Christ rescues us all from sin and death; the angel of death passed over the houses whose doors were marked with the blood of the sacrificial lamb, just as death passes over the souls of those marked with the sign of baptism. Moses brought the Jews on a generation-long journey through the desert, during which God showed constant mercy and forgiveness, and the people demonstrated constant faithlessness and ingratitude—a journey which is mirrored in the lives of everyone. And Moses eventually brought the people within sight of the promised land of Canaan, as Christ has promised He will lead us to the gates of Heaven.

I will always remember my father pausing in the middle of the ceremony, and holding up the broken afikomen matzoh to the light of the candles. When he had the attention of all the children he would ask, “Do you see the light, shining through the holes? Do you see it?

It is pierced, just like Jesus’ hands, feet and sides were pierced. And do you see the stripes? Just like Jesus was striped by the whip of the Romans.” And then we would replace the matzoh in the middle compartment of a silken pouch. This special pouch held three sheets of matzoh (a Trinity?)—and the middle one would be hidden away (as if in a tomb?). Until it was taken out and consumed, we couldn’t have dessert. All the sweets that were waiting in the other room—the chocolate and honey sponge cake, the fruit slices, the nuts and blonde raisins, the halvah and the macaroons—all of these had to wait until that middle piece was found and found (resurrected?) again.

But what always stopped me in my tracks is something my father discovered one year. Imagine, he told us, the Hebrews in their homes, painting their doorpost and lintel with the blood of the lamb as the Lord commanded. They would raise their arm to brush the blood on the top of the door, and then down again to dip again into the blood; and then up to the left, to mark the post on one side, and then to the right … does this sound familiar?

Act it out: up, down, left, right.  It’s very possible that, thousands of years before Calvary, the children of God were already making the sign of the cross.

Make of it what you will. At our house, what we made of it was that God loves us, has always loved us, and always will love us. “I have been young, and I have grown old, and I have never seen the righteous man forsaken or his children wanting for bread” (Ps 37:25). We are all the chosen people, and God speaks to us each in our own language, through our own traditions.

And I believe that he laughs and weeps along with us when we say with a mixture of bitterness and hope at the end of the seder, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

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[This post originally ran in Register in 2011 – re-posted at the request of several readers]

God Said “Gevalt”

Are you a SCOIT (Suffering Catholic of Insulted Taste)? Have you white-knuckled your way through “Ashes” and “Hosea,” and bitten your tongue as your PinterEst pals gush over empty tomb rolls?

PIC empty tomb rolls. “Gather ’round, children, as I tell you a tale of a marshmallow named Jesus, who melted. Now eat His grave. EAT IT!”

In the spirit of ecumenism, I would like to remind you that Christians by no means corner the market on ghastly religious kitsch bordering on blasphemy. As your token mudblood Jew who is allowed to make fun of stuff like this, I present

TEN PLAGUE FINGER PUPPETS

For Passover.  Because, in the words of Sepharidic Medieval philosopher Mosheh ben Maimon, when you want to convey an ontologically freighted story of misery, death, loss and salvation, you want to do it in the most oogly googly, felty welty, puppety wuppety way possible.

Then this morning, my daughter sent me this link from from Etsy:

Yarr, it’s the Ten Plagues Fingernail Decals.

You won’t want to Pass-over these Ten Plagues Nail Decals! These adorable frogs, flies, and locusts are bound to be a hit at your Seder. Order yours today!

And God is saying, “Gevalt, did you want Me to smite you again? Is that what you want?