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Right now it seems like weeks away, but before you can say “matzah brei”, Pesach will be upon us. The annual holiday commemorating our ancestors’ exodus from Egyptian slavery is almost here, accompanied by family customs and nostalgic rituals. Love it or loathe it, the so-called festival of freedom undoubtedly poses more restrictions and requires more attention and preparation than any other time in our calendar.
Between shopping for bizarre ingredients that would never normally grace our kitchens (ten dozen eggs, several gallons of sweet red wine and six kilos of matzah meal, anyone?), thoroughly cleaning every room in the house (just in case someone ate toast in the bath) and cooking mountains of usually-unpalatable food like gefilte fish and haroset, it’s easy to overlook some of the true Passover essentials.
After all, the cornerstone of Passover shouldn’t be bread cravings, an ongoing mild hangover and a sudden hatred of eggs in all their forms. Our springtime festival exists so we can commemorate the events of Yetziat Mitzrayim (the exodus from Egypt), and celebrate our unification into the entity known as Bnei Yisrael – the Children of Israel. Our focus shouldn’t be the preceding weeks of spring cleaning or the ensuing week of bread and beer deprivation; rather, the essence of Passover lies in Seder night.
Seder is a truly unique Jewish experience. The first night (or two) of Pesach is spent gathered round the table with your nearest and dearest, drinking glass after glass of wine, crunching through stacks of crisp, crumbling matzah and recounting the age-old story of the ancient Jews’ redemption from centuries of slavery. More than this: we use our families’ secret recipes to cook our festive feasts; we sing holiday songs from our childhoods; we entice our children with promises of afikoman bribes and stories of evil kings and deadly plagues. Like the mah nishtanah song explains, Seder is truly a night unlike any other.
Just like every other special occasion in the Jewish calendar, there are certain things you need to make it happen. Judaica – the special objects that surround and enhance our lifestyle and practices – plays a crucial role in creating the perfect Seder experience, but with everything that goes into making the perfect Pesach, it’s easy to overlook the obvious! This is my guide to the Passover Essentials:
- Kiddush Cup In Judaism, wine symbolizes joy and abundance. Like every other festival, we begin the Seder by making Kiddush. A total of four cups of wine are drunk throughout the Seder: while some people use ornate glass goblets or wineglasses, many families give each participant their own Kiddush cup. There are Kiddush cups available to suit every taste and budget, ranging from simple nickel and silver plated designs to colorful anodized aluminum pieces, and from contemporary artisan ceramic cups to extraordinary sterling silver creations! Speaking of Kiddush – if you’re going to drink 4 whole glasses of wine during the Seder, make sure it’s something worth drinking! Israel produces some of the most highly-acclaimed wines in the world, so consider ordering an award-winning bottle from one of the country’s prolific vineyards ready for your Seder!
- Matzah Tray and Cover Matzah – sheets of unleavened bread – is eaten to remind us of the hurry in which the Jews left Egypt. Copious quantities of the crispy flatbreads are consumed at the Seder, so don’t forget an ornate cover to hold those used ritually, and a decorative tray ready to fill with extra sheets. You’ll also need an afikoman bag ready for your kids to steal! Conveniently, many matzah covers are available with a matching afikoman bag to keep your Seder coordinated!
- Seder Plate The Seder plate is the night’s centerpiece. It displays six ritual foodstuffs used through the service, and is picked up and moved around to demonstrate different points throughout the night. Given the role it plays, it’s only right that your Seder plate should be the most beautiful thing on the table! They are available in a jaw-dropping range of styles, so you’re sure to find the perfect plate to suit your taste and budget. For more information, check out this buying guide.
- Haggadah The haggadah book is there to hold your hand and guide you through the Hebrew-heavy, unfamiliar parts of the Seder. Make sure you have one for each of your holiday guests: you’ll find a range of beautiful books with a choice of illustrations and translations here.
- Elijah’s Cup The 4 cups of wine on Seder night are symbolic of four biblical expressions of redemption. Although we drink four cups of wine, we pour a fifth. Called “Elijah’s Cup” or “the Cup of Elijah”, it represents a fifth expression that is yet to be fulfilled, and is supposedly drunk by the infamous prophet when he visits Jewish homes on Seder night. Although a standard Kiddush cup or wineglass can be used, it is customary to pour Elijah’s wine into a special cup.
So that’s it: my basic essentials list to make sure you have everything you need for the perfect Passover Seder! Wishing you and your family a chag kasher vesameach – a happy and kosher holiday!