Monday, March 29, 2010

Preparing for Passover

In just a few hours at sundown tonight, Passover will be here. Like a good Boy Scout, I have done all I can to ensure that I am well prepared. Last week I spent over $300 on food for just this week at the only local kosher grocery store. Remember that I am just a single person. Imagine that kind of investment spread across the entire kosher community in New Orleans or, if you will, the entire kosher-keeping community nationwide. That is a significant amount of money. Also, I have placed all of my non kosher for Passover food in inaccessible or blocked off areas so that I will only be eating food deemed appropriate for the next eight days. This is a bit of an ordeal, but there is a method to this madness. It is intended to bring to mind the period of redemption that came about when the Hebrew slaves were freed from their Egyptian masters. We are commanded to recall the time as if we ourselves had been freed. It is a period of celebration, but also a period of introspection. Starting on the second night of Passover is a 49-day period of privation similar to Lent called the counting of the Omer. Certain events like weddings and certain grooming habits like haircuts are prohibited except for one day, Lag B'Omer, which literally means the 33rd day of the count. This period, which traces back to the agrarian society that worshipped at the Temple, leads up to the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. Meanwhile, it is time to prepare myself for lots of matzah (unleavened bread), matzah balls, gefilte fish and a delicious mixture of nuts, apples, cinnamon and wine (or grape juice) called charoses. So, while it won't be a culinary event, it will be spiritual. Speaking of spirits, all grain alcohol including my favorite rye used in Sazeracs, Bourbon and Scotch whiskies are forbidden. That means only tequila made from agave or vodka made from potatoes are the only allowable spirits. Because it is distilled with grain spirits, rum, made from molasses, has also been deemed as not acceptable. All beers are out too. That just means there's more emphasis on drinking kosher wines. As a matter of fact, it is a tradition that four glasses of wine are consumed at each Passover seder meal. So, all in all, it's not that bad. At the seder table, the youngest child asks "why is this night different from all other nights?" This question and three others that follow it concern the practices of dipping greens (like parsley), eating bitter herbs (like horseradish or romaine lettuce), and eating matzah. So I will leave you with the modern interpretation of the Four Questions that probably should be asked by the oldest member at the seder table. "Why me? Why you? Why us? Why not them?" Chag Samayech or Happy Passover to you all!

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