Drew and Will’s Wedding

Mazal tov to Drew Barrymore and Will Kopelman! They’ve made their wedding date (June 2) public.

E! Online suggests the rushed wedding date is because she’s pregnant (they refer to the upcoming wedding as “bumptastic”), but I have  a different theory.

Traditionally, the time between Passover and Shavuot is a period of semi-mourning. The period is known as the Omer. But what’s an “Omer”? It was a unit of measurement used for counting barley sheaves brought as an offering to the Temple in ancient Israel. The 49 days from Passover to Shavuot were each marked with a sacrifice of barley; today we count the days (“counting the Omer”) instead.

The rabbis of the 2nd century saw the period of counting the Omer as a “semi-mourning” period. As a result, some Jews refrain from having weddings or parties, dancing, listening to music or getting haircuts — all of which are customarily avoided during shiva (first week of mourning) — during the Omer.

There’s one escape from these restrictions: a minor holiday called Lag BaOmer (or “Lag b’Omer”) that falls on May 10 this year, 33 days after the start of Passover. The name literally translates to “33rd (day) of the Omer.” On Lag BaOmer, the restrictions are lifted for the day. (Check out how one Californian handles the restrictions in this humorous video.)

But back to Drew and Will.

E! Online reports that the wedding will be small and intimate, taking place at Drew’s home (er, “estate”). And, “keeping in line with the traditional values of Kopelman’s close-knit family, his family rabbi is expected to conduct the service.”

Since we’re currently counting the Omer, and since Will’s family (and, presumably, rabbi) are “traditional,” maybe they’re not wanting to be married during the Omer. Which would mean the first chance to be wed would be May 10, a Thursday. Most Americans choose to marry on the weekend so that family and friends can travel to and from the event. Not so easy to do in the middle of the work week. So the next option would be waiting until a weekend after Shavuot. Shavuot starts the evening of May 26 and ends the night of May 27 (for some communities, including many Reform congregations) or the night of May 28 (for the rest of the Jewish communities). The next weekend after that? Yup, June 2.

You heard it here first: Drew Barrymore and her fiancé, Will Kopelman, are following the laws of the Omer.

Key Seder Elements

A few interesting articles crossed my desk this morning, all about Passover.

The Four Questions

The Four Questions hold a central spot in the Passover seder. Why is this night different from other nights? Reform Judaism, the magazine for the named denomination, asks in its spring issue, “What’s your favorite language for reciting the first question?” They include 20 examples of that first question asked in different languages, from Phoenician to Thai to Klingon.

Binary
010101110110100001111001 0110100101110011 01110100011010000110100101110011 0110111001101001011001110110100001110100 011001000110100101100110011001100110010101110010011001010110111001110100 01100110011100100110111101101101011000010110110001101100 0110111101110100011010000110010101110010 01101110011010010110011101101000011101000111001100111111

Spanish
¿Por qué es diferente esta noche de todas las otras noches?

Klingon
Qatlh pimlaw’ ramvan rammey latlh je?

I’ve signed the Four Questions before (both in ASL and LSQ) and recited them in French. Which languages does your family ask them in? Have you tried having each person at the table ask one of the questions in a language that they know? It’s an interesting way to make the questions both universal and accessible in new ways.

The Ten Plagues

In discussions at your Passover table, how do your friends and relatives view the plagues? Inside Magazine, of Philadelphia, offers a review of the Ten Plagues, another central component of the Passover seder. In “Decimation and Emancipation: Understanding the impact of the 10 plagues,” competing opinions are presented on the importance of the plagues, their historical accuracy, their relevance, and more.

One view is that the plagues are “political allegory that is part of Exodus, the Israelites’ ‘birth of a nation’ story.” But that there weren’t ten, they didn’t happen in that order; there wasn’t this unnamed Pharaoh. Instead, the plagues represent the “systematic dismantling of the Egyptian socio-economic system, which was based on agriculture and the Nile.” In other words, they were formed so that the story is, “Our God brought Pharaoh of Egypt to its knees. That’s why we Israelites have the right to live independently.”

The opposing view could be summarized as more faithful. “Having not found proof of the plagues doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. It means the proof has not yet been found.”

“Are there acts of nature that can account for some of the plagues? Yes,” Rabbi Albert Gabbis, who lived in Egypt, says. “For example, the plague of blood in the Nile. We know that sometimes, the Nile turns red. When I was a child, I saw it with my own eyes. The rain brings the red clay from the mountains of Ethiopia into the Nile. But I would say this: In either case, the hand of God is there.”

Dinner!

Of course, food is super important to the seder! Jamie Geller recommends three Passover recipes that won’t “taste” like Passover. (Score!)

Then there’s the confusing matter of kitniyot (legumes, corn, rice, soy/tofu, etc.). Last year, we offered a concise guide to Passover food guidelines via our pals at JewishBoston.com. This year, the Jewish Journal (greater Boston area) expands on that guide with Corn, Rice? Yes, No? – and some often contradictory answers:

Rabbi Baruch HaLevi of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott has advocated for the consumption of kitniyot on Passover for those who are comfortable with it.

“I believe in making Judaism more, not less accessible, and it makes Passover a heck of a lot easier if we can have corn products,” HaLevi said.

The important thing is that people understand the difference between a Jewish law and a custom. Chametz, like bread, is forbidden by Jewish law. Corn products depend on your custom, he said. Each year, he gets questions as people try to sort out the differences.

Rabbi Deborah Zuker of Temple Ner Tamid also receives questions, especially from people who visit Israel during Passover. She follows the Ashkenazic tradition of not consuming kitniyot.

“In Israel, you can find products marked ‘kosher for Pesach’ for people who eat kitniyot, but here we can’t know if the kitniyot have been mixed with wheat,” Zuker said.

She believes the Ashkenazic practices are old enough to be considered law in some communities, but added that different communities have different practices.

Dessert: the Afikomen

Not every seder is lucky enough to host Jake Gyllenhaal (sorry!), but you can enjoy his company for a few moments:

As far as “new thoughts” goes, this one might be a stretch. But come on – who doesn’t love Jake?

Hopefully some of these thoughts will help liven the discussions at your Passover seders this year!

Passover is Nigh!

I’m the first to admit it: I’m a little stressed out by Passover’s rapid approach. If, like me, you need a bit of a break from the cleaning, cooking, menu planning, seder prep, and last-minute-bread-and-pasta-binge-fests, take a look at the fun and interesting resources in this post.

Our friends at JewishBoston.com have just released a free guide to engaging kids and adults together at the seder, written by Jodi Jarvis, Director of Early Childhood / Family Life at Temple Isaiah in Lexington and CJP consultant. This 15-page booklet contains activities, discussion prompts, recipes and more to help prepare your family for Passover and spice up the seder itself. (It’s a great addition to the free Haggadah they released last year!)

Have you heard of Projecting Freedom: Cinematic Interpretations of the Haggadah? I hadn’t either. But I did enjoy their short animated film on maror (bitter herbs), a Passover seder plate staple:

The folks at Jewlicious have decided that, because President Obama uses the Mawell House Haggadah, he’s actually Jewish. Hrm…

Over on Bible Belt Balabusta, helpful tips for for bringing a “this is what Jewish is” show and tell to your child’s classroom, specifically for Passover.

Are any of you in NYC, ordering from the sustainable gefilte fish folk? If so, I’d love a review!

And, I’ll leave you with a blessing for interfaith families, written by Rabbi Frank Tamburello of the Westchester Community for Humanistic Judaism:

A Blessing for the Celebration of Passover and Easter

Again we come to our celebrations of Passover and Easter.
A time to celebrate the ever-newness of the resurrection of the spirit;
and the liberation of the peoples of the earth.
We rejoice in the rebirth of spring, as flowers, fields, and birds
come alive after the long sleep of winter.
May we, during the Easter and Passover season share along with them
the excitement of being alive and being free.

From our ancient traditions, we have prepared ageless signs of life,
bread, herbs, salt, eggs, and the paschal lamb.
These simple gifts have both power and meaning for us:
Bread to give us nourishment, herbs to give our lives healing and flavor,
salt to preserve our hope in a future world of peace;
the egg, the eternal sign of life, and the paschal lamb that represents
the cycle of the seasons.

May these blessed gifts of food grace all who shall partake of them.
May the family table where they are shared be illuminated with the
light of holiday candles, song, and happiness.
And may we be richly blessed with joy and peace. Amen.

A zissen Pesach – a sweet Passover!

Our Passover/Easter Survey Results Are In!

Thanks to all of you who responded to our Passover/Easter survey.

The results are in! Yesterday, we sent out the following press release – let us know what you think of the findings.


Interfaith Families Participate in Secular Easter Activities Without Compromising Their Children’s Jewish Identity; Trend Towards Less Comfort with Easter, More Observance of Passover

Newton, MA — March 29, 2012 — The eighth annual Passover/Easter Survey conducted by InterfaithFamily.com, an independent non-profit, shows that interfaith families raising their children Jewish address the “Spring dilemma,” the confluence of Passover and Easter, by continuing to participate in secular Easter activities and continuing to believe that doing so does not compromise their children’s Jewish identity.

Some observers of intermarriage have cast a skeptical eye on this behavior and argue that interfaith families cannot impart a strong Jewish identity to their children and celebrate Christmas or Easter. The results of InterfaithFamily.com’s surveys suggest that they are doing so.

Interfaith families raising Jewish children who participate in Easter celebrations are giving clear priority to Passover over Easter, as both a family celebration and a religious holiday:

* Virtually all plan on hosting or attending a seder; less than a third will host or attend Easter dinner.
* Small minorities engage in “religious” Easter activities like attending church (5%) or telling the Easter story (3%).
* Seventy percent see their Easter celebrations as entirely secular.
* A full 85% of the respondents believe that their participation in Easter celebrations does not affect their children’s Jewish identity.

“For eight years, about half of interfaith couples raising Jewish children have told us they participate in Easter celebrations,” said Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily.com. “These families consistently, and by very large measure, see their Easter celebrations as entirely secular in nature and not confusing to their children’s Jewish identity.”

“This year we observed a steady decline in the percentage of respondents who reported being comfortable participating in Easter celebrations – from 47% in 2010 to 40% in 2011 to just 32% in 2012,” Case added. “The percentage of respondents who are not Jewish who reported being comfortable participating in Passover increased from 67% in 2011 to 78% in 2012. We also observed more following of the dietary restrictions of Passover – interestingly, almost the same percentage of respondents who are (56%) and are not (54%) Jewish plan on following those rules for most or all eight days of Passover.”

For more information, read the full report, What We Learned from the 2012 Passover/Easter Survey.

About InterfaithFamily.com
InterfaithFamily.com empowers people in interfaith relationships – individuals, couples, families, and their children – to engage in Jewish life and make Jewish choices, and strongly encourages Jewish communities to welcome them. We are the premiere resource supporting interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and inclusive Jewish communities, offering educational content; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals, and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy, and other program providers; and our new InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative providing coordinated comprehensive offerings in local communities.

###

Editor’s Note
InterfaithFamily.com has developed a resource page for interfaith families dealing with the Passover and Easter holidays that includes resources such as “Tips for Interfaith Families: How To Make a Seder Inclusive” and numerous articles that help interfaith families have a more enjoyable and meaningful holiday season. For more, visit our Passover and Easter Resource Page.

Do check out that full report, and let us know your thoughts!

Gefilte Fish

We recently asked readers for their gefilte fish stories. We didn’t really say more than that, hoping for as broad a response as possible. Because, really, if there’s one odd part of the Passover seder to pick out, one bizarre element to explain to your friends and relatives who’ve never experienced a seder before, gefilte fish is as likely a target as any. Most other elements of the seder have direct explanations: they stem from the elements of the Haggadah, the story read at the seder that retells slavery in Egypt, the Exodus.

But gefilte fish? Stretching for a plausible answer, I once heard a desperate Hebrew school teacher explain that gefilte fish honored the fish of the Red Sea, which Moses parted allowing the Jews to cross, escaping the Egyptians. I’m not so sure of that one…

About ten years ago, debating a career change, a friend suggested I start a Jewish cooking show on television. And, in his words, he would be my ever helpful “gentile sidekick, asking such important questions as, ‘why is the fish gefilted?’”

Deb M. of Massachusetts sent us this in response to our request:

Still trying to figure out exactly what it is… No stories for me. Sorry, just yuck for now!

So what is gefilte fish?

A patty made of ground up varieties of fish, matzo meal and spices, boiled in fish broth. Typical main ingredients include fresh water fish like pike, carp, and, most commonly, whitefish. Gefilte fish gets its name from the Yiddish for “stuffed fish” and is commonplace to have on festivals and Shabbos. Some say that gefilte fish became popular due to how it’s made: the deboning meant some Jews who don’t want to break the rules of the things you shouldn’t do on Shabbos would feel more comfortable having the fish, because they weren’t “choosing” not to have the bones. Also, the addition of breadcrumbs or matzo meal meant they could make the fish last longer.

Whatever the reason, many of us will be seated at Passover seders next week enjoying gefilte fish (often served with a side of horseradish – to help (or hide) the flavor).

To help get you ready for this culinary adventure, we received some interesting tales, often humorous, involving this Passover seder staple. Share yours in the comments!

Julie G. of Montreal, QC:

Back in 1990, my brother was 6 years old and a very picky eater. My parents had tried almost everything to get him to eat a variety of foods, to no effect. But what my brother wanted, more than anything else, was a Nintendo. So one night, in a fit of despair, my father made a deal with my brother: “If you finish the gefilte fish on your plate, I’ll buy you a Nintendo!” He knew that this ploy would fail, as so many of his ploys had failed in the past.

Wouldn’t you know it, in less than 30 seconds my brother’s plate had been wiped clean, and he stared up at my father with the excited, hopeful eyes that only exist in small children who know they’re just about to get everything they ever wanted.

My father bought him the Nintendo. My brother still loves gefilte fish.

Rebekah M of Philadelphia, PA:

My last semester of college, I made friends with a bunch of freshman that joined the fencing club. We were hanging out and some of my new friends, who were Jewish, were saying that they missed home and Jewish food. So I promised to make them lots of food. Between the 3 of them, they decided they wanted matzah ball soup, brisket, latkes, challah and gefilte fish. My friend David was quite insistent that there be gefilte fish.

The following Friday I went out and bought all I needed, including a jar of gefilte fish. I had everything set out when everyone got there, but I couldn’t open the jar of gefilte fish, nor could my dorm neighbors. When David arrived, I told him that I had bought the gefilte fish but he’d have to open it if he wanted any. He was also unsuccessful. People arrived sporadically over the next few hours; everyone that came in was told that they had to try and open the jar of gefilte fish. No one could. As the night went on, we forgot to tell people to open it. Every once in a while David would remember and loudly lament the fact that no one could open the jar of gefilte fish. Four hours later, it was still unopened and I made him take it with him back to his dorm.

I don’t actually know if he ever got the jar open and ate the gefilte fish.

@MarjorieMoon on Twitter:

Grandma would buy fresh pike & keep it in the tub till ready. I thought every grandma did this! Homemade and super yummy.

Karen K of San Francisco, CA:

My assignment for the seder was to bring the gefilte fish. Which meant going to the store and buying two jars, which I did. Of course I then had the task of placing the fish on individual plates to be distributed to each the guests. I was a young mother who enjoyed cooking and brought a chocolate sponge cake for dessert but never even entertained the thought of cooking the gefilte fish, I wasn’t even going to eat it!

So there I was in the kitchen of the host family, finishing the first jar and opening the second when a second layer of scent enveloped me. I peered into the open jar and saw a short brown something. The smell reminded me of my grandfather — not surprising since he led the seders of my childhood. But this scent wasn’t a seder memory. It reminded me of the nights when he invited his cronies over for pinochle. I was swept away by a vivid memory of those sweet old men gathered around the table, laughing and smoking their cigars!

Oh boy, it was a cigar in the top of the jar! My mind flashed to an overworked man on the assembly line in the Manischewitz factory angrily putting out his cigar in the tub of fish. There was little appetite for jarred gefilte fish that night, but there was a new discussion on the additional workload of the laborers who made all the kosher for Passover food for us.

David D.:

I won’t do the story exactly, but a cousin’s friend’s father, Jim, was touring Israel. He was on a boat on the Sea of Galilee with other tourists including a Christian bible study group from the American Midwest.

A middle-aged women was discussing all the fishermen they saw and said to her friends, “I wonder what they catch here?”

Jim, ever helpful, volunteered, “Gefilte fish.”
“Oh”, she said, “I’ve heard of those. What do they use for bait?”
Jim explained, “Little pieces of cooked carrot.”
“Oh, how odd…”

New Haggadah on The Colbert Report

Stephen Colbert is getting ready for Passover.

Colbert introduced the segment – an interview with author Jonathan Safran Foer – with a joke that the only Jew in the audience chuckled at (a reference to the four questions).

But the interview itself was fun and included some good questions for the author of the New American Haggadah. Watch for yourself as they talk about the tradition of retelling the Exodus story each Passover, and what Safran Foer hopes people will experience with his new haggadah (hint: he hopes it makes you “feel” not just “read”).

Of course, Colbert being, well, Colbert, he couldn’t resist a jab or two: “You think you can improve on Moses?” He continued, “You got some matzah balls, buddy.”

Passover Hodgepodge the Third

In case the first two Passover blog posts weren’t enough, here’s the third, and final, installment:

Gateways: access to Jewish education just announced their Passover resources for kids with special needs. Or, as one employee put it, “a whole lot of ways to help kids who have special needs (or just get bored, or are pre-readers!) to participate in and enjoy the seder.” You might also check out Gayeways’ Seven Strategies for a Successful Seder for All Learners – Pointers for a perfect Passover from Gateways’ Special Educators, Therapists & Specialists.

JewishBoston has a Passover youtube playlist. Seriously. It includes Les Matzarables (which we at InterfaithFamily were singing, and had stuck in our heads, a few weeks ago)…

Having recovered from that Shalom Sesame video (or maybe to help you recover?), check out the Passover Martini on the Gloss. (I’m not sure why there’s so much Passover cocktail action this year, but the first post also had cocktails.)

The BJPA (Berman Jewish Policy Archive, out of NYU) offers up four articles, representing the four cups of the seder, on the “mixed, modern seder.” Mixed marriages, Jews and Christians, Jews and Palestinians, and Jews and Jews.

And food. So much food, recipes, yumminess to share!

For those of you who are addicted to your iPhones, Tablet Magazine has a round up of apps that “offer everything from a simulated candle for ferreting out hametz to a Ten Plagues noisemaker that you never knew you needed.” And how else would you know which of the half dozen haggadot to download or which games? (And, thinking ahead, they also review iPhone apps for counting the Omer. My favorite, that I’ve been using since 2008, is Sefirat HaOmer.)

There are great resources for kids on Uncle Eli’s site, but be warned: it hasn’t been updated since the late-90s, so be prepared for frames and music!

For the more social justice inclined, a hodgepodge can’t be complete without mention of two more resources. COEJL (the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life) explains the value of Hunger Seders, “to celebrate the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, introduce the challenges our nation faces in regard to hunger and nutrition, and present opportunities for action and advocacy opportunities to combat hunger.” Then there’s the Uri L’Tzedek Food and Justice Haggadah Supplement, as reviewed on Jewschool. The supplement, featuring 26 articles and insights about food, justice and Pesach, is available via free download.

Be’chol Lashon (In Every Tongue) has a Passover Torah study on the diversity of the ancient Israelite community. Their Passover resources include recipes, lesson plans, global traditions and more.

And with that, I wish you all a happy Passover – chag sameach!

The Second Passover Hodgepodge

Ok, so maybe the last Passover Hodgepodge didn’t contain everything-and-the-kitchen-sink Passover, but it had a lot to offer. Still, there was more I could have shared.

On the Reform Judaism blog, Ben Dreyfus approaches a seemingly simple question: how many days is Passover, 7 or 8? “When does Pesach end? Why do some calendars say it ends April 25 and others say April 26?  The answer in most Reform Jewish communities is April 25, but the history is complicated….”

G-dcast presents a new spin on the Passover story of the Four Sons: 

Atlanta Interfaith are hosting an Interfaith Pesach Seder, which is great. But what makes it even better? It’s for a suggested donation of $10!

Serious Eats, one of my favourite foodie blogs, has a delicious-looking recipe for “matzo brei with pear and dried sour cherries.” Wow. I will definitely be trying it this year. (For more recipes, don’t forget to check out our Jerusalem Post has a feature on “non-traditional items showing up on seder plates. Of particular interest, did you know that some folks put an artichoke on their seder plate to symbolize interfaith families (this was actually taken from Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael’s article on our site!) while others use a kiwi (this is from Jim Keen’s article on our site!). (The JTA has a similar article.)

I’ve tweeted (and posted to Facebook) a Peep S’mores interfaith video before (see below). Now there’s an instructional article on JewishBoston.com too!

If you’re looking for yet another free, downloadable Haggadah, you might want to check out Including Women’s Voices: The Jewish Women’s Archive edition of JewishBoston.com’s The Wandering Is Over Haggadah.

For a current reinterpretation of the seder plate, Tablet has a News Junkie’s Seder Plate, complete with Qaddafi charoset and bitter Boehner herb.

And stay tuned. There’ll be one more Passover hodgepodge before the seders start!

The Passover Hodgepodge

It’s been a while since I’ve rounded up some favorite links, but what better excuse than Passover? There’s something for everybody!

Let’s start with Passover and Easter in a Box. For your convenience, you can now get Passover standards (matzah, a seder plate and grape juice) packaged with Easter treats (candy, chocolate bunnies and Easter cookies).

Sweets aren’t your thing? Is that skewed a little young for your tastes? There’s always the Sipping Seder, a seder in cocktail form! If this isn’t a great way to introduce Passover to your friends and family (of legal age), I don’t know what is.

Looking for the 2011 version of the Passover story? Check out this video:

This year we found a great crop of Haggadahs for all tastes and styles:
[list][*] – JewishBoston.com has a Haggadah and a Leader’s Guide, which is free, downloadable, and easy to edit;[/*]
[*] – haggadot.com">Haggadot lets you pick and choose, for free, which components you want to use and download, as you crowd-source your customized Haggadah;[/*]
[*] – and The Forward has a review of seven more that you can find at your favorite store.[/*][/list]

Following her recent post on religion, exploration and making Passover kid-friendly, Galit Breen has blogged about more ways to make Passover fun for kids.

My buddies at JewishBoston.com are to blame (or be thanked) for this punk seder cover song:

You might enjoy the interfaith Passover video ecard, featuring Rabbi David Wolpe and an interesting version of “Eliyahu Ha’Navi” in the background.

That’s it for now…. Enjoy!

Cokie and Steve Roberts, Revisited

I have to confess: I expected not to like Our Haggadah, the new book by Cokie and Steve Roberts.

But I did. I like it.

I’m doing a lot of confessing about the Robertses. Last week I confessed to envying all of the publicity they are able to garner for their book, and some regret because they are known for observing both of their religions in their home, exposing their children (now grown) to both religions, and not to raising children to identify with one religion or the other. As I said then, we don’t say the Roberts’ approach is wrong, or bad, it’s just not the approach that we recommend to interfaith couples.

Having now read the book, I was wrong to suggest that for the Robertses, the seder is not exclusive to Judaism. It is clear from Cokie Roberts’ introduction that she completely respects the seder as a Jewish ritual. She explicitly says she is not trying in way to “Christianize” the seder. In fact, it’s clear that the Robertses started conducting their seders at her insistence, which happens with many other interfaith couples and is something we want to applaud. Including partners who are not Jewish, and others, in experiencing the seder is of course something that InterfaithFamily.com also applauds.

I also want to credit Steve Roberts for saying that “many young Jews are marrying outside their faith, but at the same time, they are eager to preserve and nourish their ties to Judaism. Cokie and I have long argued that organized Jewry needs to embrace these couples, not reject them, and that is clearly beginning to happen.”

We’re happy to see that the Robertses mention a wonderful article written for us by Rabbi Rayzel Raphael, about adding an artichoke to the seder plate, as well as a wonderful article by Jim Keen about his experience as a non-Jewish father asked to lead a seder.

We still have differences in our approach to interfaith family life, but I don’t have any reservations about recommending Our Haggadah to interfaith couples. I share in the Roberts’ concluding hope that their Haggadah will inspire interfaith couples to celebrate their own “great heritage.”