Passover begins at sundown, Monday April 18, by the secular calendar for 2011 CE. Long before Dr. Atkin’s carb-free regimen, observant Jews have abstained from eating leavened bread in order to keep the feast called Passover—only matzo, which contains no yeast.
At the Pesach Seder, three matzo have a place of honor on the table, regally, and somewhat cryptically, kept in a linen bag. The Seder climaxes with the eating of a broken piece of matzo, called the “afikomen”.
There is mystique, mystery, possibly misunderstanding, lots of discussion and scholarly argument about the meanings and origin of the afikomen tradition.
Some traditions encourage hiding and ransoming the broken piece, rewarding the children who find it. In some parts of the world, a bit of the afikomen is preserved, kept as a talisman against (you guessed it) the evil eye, even tossed into the sea to calm the waves before ocean-travel.
Let’s start with the obvious: the word itself. Like many other words in our vocabulary—let’s say, “Sephora”—it may “sound” like Hebrew. In context, we may think it’s Hebrew—sounds good, as in, “Please allow me to introduce Miss Sephora Bindefeld of Great Neck, New York.”
But unlike “Sephora”, which is a completely made-up word (kudos to those clever marketing people!), afikomen is a Greek word. Depending upon who you ask, this Greek word means literally “nothing”, or “what comes after”, or something else entirely. For the record, Christian scholars who study Greek give the word a specifically Messianic interpretation.
Most people would translate “afikomen” as “dessert”, because this is how it’s used at the Seder table: “Bring out the (flourless) dessert!”. (For all the moms and other Passover bakers out there, check out these flour-free, Passover-perfect dessert recipes from smittenkitchen.com: http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/04/17-passover-dessert-ideas/)
A more complete reference is the law of Passover: “Ein maftirin ahar he-pesah afikomen”, usually translated as “One may not eat dessert after the Passover offering.”
Another reading is more to the effect of “Do not go out after eating the Paschal lamb.” Okay, wait a minute. You may be thinking to yourself, Hey, I’ve been to a lot of Seders, and we’ve never eaten lamb, although Moses makes reference to the traditional sacrificial lamb whose blood was used to mark the doorways, protecting the families within. You know the story by now.
But lamb was edited out of the Seder menu after the destruction of the Temple. Now matzo stands in its place, since without the Temple, proper sacrifice could not be offered.
Some scholars draw on the interpretation of Rav, who wrote that the phrase means that after the Passover meal, one should not wander from group to group. Rashi interpreted this to mean that we are commanded not to take our utensils from the table and go off for a nosh, elsewhere.
Oy, the opinions. There are more esoteric interpretations, too. Shemuel and R. Yochanan, for instance, describe the word as meaning “mushrooms for me and pigeons for Abba” (?), dates, “parched ears” (which we’re thinking is like toasted wheat and barley…), and nuts. Finger-foods? Snacks? You decide.
In modern times, this familiar Talmudic passage has also been interpreted as a reference to a slightly different Greek word, “epikomazein”, transposed into Hebrew as “epikoman”. This may refer to the fact that the Hellenic Greeks were terrific partiers, and frequently stopped by the homes of friends after dinner for a few goblets of the grape, maybe some ouzo, some dancing, a few laughs.
Here’s a sharp division between the Hellenic world and the Hebrew world. Passover is not the time, the Talmud tells us, for getting rowdy. Although Passover is absolutely a time of joy, the holiday keeps its solemnity. It is a time to connect with the Almighty—a different sort of celebration.
Okay, right now I happen to be swooning over the recipe for Chocolate Caramel Crackers made with matzo on www.smittenkitchen.com. It’s frum-yum, but indeed, the last taste in our grateful mouths at the end of the Seder is the taste of matzo—an “olive-sized” bite, as the Talmud tells us. Not dessert in the conventional sense. It indeed is sweet, not literally but symbolically, and, it’s a mitzvah—a commandment.
I’m still thinking about those mushrooms for me…. and pigeons for Abba.
April 18 – April 25, L’chaim ! Next year in Jerusalem!
So do I clean out the freezer this Passover? Hmmm… I admit it, I try my hardest to clean out the hametz from the house for Passover, but usually I end up moving it to the garage. It seems that the garage is a free-for-all in my house a collection of stuff where you go-to-die. (I would post a picture by why embarrass myself?)
I think of the really good food in my freezer and realize I have about 2 weeks to eat it all. You know, I started swapping food with my good friend so we don’t have to cook as much during the week. This lasted a good 3 weeks, and I was inspired to cook and prove I was talented! I have meatloaf, 3 types of burekas, tilapia, Morrocan kebabs and who knows what else in the freezer. I guess I was so inspired to cook, that I left them all in the freezer (you know the one in the garage)! I will try my hardest to cook all of my creations in time for Passover. Come to think of it, I need to tell my friend we have to get back on track and start those swapping meal days again.
Does anyone else hide their hametz in the garage? Is this even somewhat “kosher?” I am not going to ask any Rabbis, don’t want to be proved wrong. I do keep a flour-free holiday after all. I do have a confession though– we eat rice. My husband is Sephardic, so I decided I am too for the week. Don’t prove me wrong on that one though, ok?
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But the origin of the charm-bracelet, and the wearing of charms, was originally a bit more powerful. Charms are amulets, talismans. Their general purpose: to protect the wearer from harm.
The English word “charm” comes from “carmen”, the Latin word for song, or singing. Romance languages clearly reflect this origin. In Spanish and French, a polite greeting translates “I am enchanted to meet you” (enchante, encantado)—and in these words, we see the word “chant”, as in song. Meaning to literally be charmed, or bewitched, by singing or song.
Many of our favorite pieces of jewelry may be called charms, because their ancient origins trace back to a belief in protective magic. With cultural roots deep in the Mediterranean and Middle East, the “eye”, the protective hand, the “red thread” bracelet, even the emblem of the fish are now worn by people all over the world. We’ve seen the “eye” and the Hamsa worn by young hipsters in Oslo, Tokyo, and lots of other places far from the lands where these symbols originated.
Do charms “work”? We certainly believe that a symbolic gesture of love, such as giving the gift of our “eye” or Hamsa jewelry, surrounds and shields the wearer with good vibes. That’s the great thing about love: one size fits all.
As you know, people of the Mediterranean and the Middle East have been using traditional jewelry to ward off the “evil” eye and bring them good luck for…well, for as many generations as the pomegranate has seeds.
These amulets and talismans were not really a fashion-statement. Often, they consisted of no more than a single blue bead on a leather strand. Like a good pair of boots or a good hat, they served a functional purpose—mainly, for protection.
But, guess what: the Beautiful People have discovered these ancient emblems of protection, and they’ve become glamorous. We especially love the fact that brilliant businesswoman Lynda Resnick wears a red bendel bracelet in her executive portrait. By the way, we are in no way suggesting that Ms. Resnick, or any of the other celebs, is wearing a piece of Alef Bet jewelry—we only wish. But, it’s still cool. Ms. Resnick is the strategic powerhouse behind POMWonderful, the brand who put fresh pomegranate juice, cleaned pomegranate arils (seeds) and other fantastic pomegranate products on the shelves of mainstream American supermarkets. Her Los Angeles-based company also owns Fiji Water and Teleflora. Did the magical red thread around her wrist help it all to happen? Couldn’t hurt.
And check out these pics of LiLo, Kim Kardashian, Shakira, Rihanna and even Paris Hilton riffing on the Evil eye theme. Since the rich and famous inspire so much envy, again, a little traditional protection certainly could not be a bad thing.
Growing up in Denver, my Aunt Blanche started a family tradition of baking pireshkes for Purim. Even when we moved to California, those pireshkes came every year, packed carefully and shipped to us in a shoe box. We’ve carried on this tradition by baking every year at Purim time, and this year the grandchildren were able to partake in the event.
Have any terrific recipes to share? We are going to share ours with you, hope you enjoy it! Have a very Happy Purim. We’ll be thinking of our Auntie this holiday while we eat, and eat, and eat our pireshkes.
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 tsp almond extract
1 orange, juice and rind
3 heaping cups of all purpose flour
1 heaping tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
Cream together the eggs, sugar and oil. Add almond extract, orange juice and rind. Add dry ingredients slowly until able to handle dough. Divide dough into 3 parts, and add more flour as needed. Roll dough on floured pastry board. cut dough with cookie cutter or glass, and place a teaspoon of filling in each round. Pinch together to look like a hamentasch triangle. Place pireshke on a cookie sheet lined with foil. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 1/2 hour, or until golden brown. Yield about 4 dozen.
1 lb. extra large prunes, ground (she was adamant about the size of the prunes, and collect boxes all year long. In fact, she said you can only find them in California and bring them back to Denver in her suitcase.)
1/2 lb. black raisins
1 orange, juice and rind
1 lemon, juice only
Mix all ingredients until well blended. (Modern day– use Cuisinart and pulse all ingredients)
We think that it’s no coincidence that Purim falls in March, which is National Women’s Month. Purim always calls for the reading of the Book of Esther, the woman who embodies Jewish resistance to annihilation. That’s what we call girl-power, Kosher-style!
Rabbinic tradition tells us that Esther was one of the four most beautiful Jewish women of all time (Sarah, Rahab and Abigail were the others). What you may not know about Esther is that her Hebrew name was Hadassah (meaning “myrtle tree”), now familiar to us as the benevolent organization of women who work in support of the Jewish community, and the larger world-community, too.
She was a Jewish orphan who became the most powerful woman on earth, by marrying King Ahasueras , King of Persia. Was it looks alone? Was it that year-long makeover that Esther experienced, with all of those aromatic baths, oils, myrrh and perfumes? Not likely – King Ahasueras had lots of options. He was, after all, the world’s most eligible bachelor! Yes, he had a harem. And of all the babes in the realm, he chose Esther as his queen. And the rest is history.
Our advice for Purim: enjoy a lovely bath, a nice massage with aromatherapy oils, and put on your favorite jewelry in celebration of Esther, and women everywhere.