Jewish families get more Passover options

Luxury vacations, special food on tap

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While teaching her daughter the family Passover recipe for brisket, the mother cut off each end of the meat. When asked why, she said, "that's how I learned from your grandmother."

When the girl asked her grandmother the same question, she answered, "That's how I learned from your great-grandmother."

Great-grandma happened to be visiting for the holiday, which this year begins after sundown tonight, and she gave the young girl a quizzical look after being asked the same question.

"I cut the tips off because my pot was too small," she said.

Old traditions may die hard, but when it comes to making life easier during the eight-day festival of Passover, most folks are glad for any help. It is, after all, a time when Jews remember the struggle for freedom against slavery and tyranny. If, for some, that means escaping the drudgery of cleaning house and preparing meals, then useful alternatives are welcome.

That used to mean spending Passover with the kids. Now, families take their Passover break together as a vacation. The ritual seder meals can be enjoyed on kosher cruises, at dude ranches, in Alaskan chalets or on Costa Rican beaches. Luxury hotels offer inclusive stays with exquisite pampering and top-shelf entertainers.

But prices for many of these getaways can start at $2,000 per person. For smaller budgets, there's JewishTVNetwork.com. Featuring celebrity hosts and acclaimed chefs, the site offers help creating holiday menus with recipes ranging from a decorative challah bowl to matzo lasagna and mango charoset.

Then there is Le Marais, a kosher classic French boucherie, rotisserie and charcuterie in New York City, with delicacies including a selection of pates, popular cuts of steak, whole chickens and duck that it will send anywhere in the country for Passover.

This year, the 13-year-old restaurant offered selections of lamb including the traditional lamb roast, lamb shoulder, rack of lamb, lamb chops and crown roast, "perfect," a release from the restaurant's publicist says, "to celebrate the history of the Israelites being 'passed over' by the mark of lamb blood at their door."

There's no question that food plays a major role in the Jewish faith. Jewish comedians often boil Jewish history down to, "They tried to kill us. We survived. Let's eat."

"In fact, some people use the term 'gastronomic Judaism' to refer to people whose closest connection to their faith is food," said Rabbi Yale Butler, a Pittsburgh native and resident and former food columnist.

"To a great degree, when all else goes [from their faith], that remains."

For Ashkenazi Jews, whose strictness about avoiding chometz, or leavening, along with such items as peanuts, legumes and corn, has precluded such foods as peanut butter, pizza and bread during Passover, now there is Hoo-lachmu, a gluten-free flatbread made of potato starch that's kosher for Passover. Its name is a play on the Aramaic phrase "ha lachma anya" from the haggadah used during the seder, which says of matzo, "this is the bread of affliction."

Rabbi Butler jokes that Hoo-lachmu is part of Passover Technology Inc., a fictitious company dedicated to developing new Passover foods so that "people don't whine as much because they don't have pizza."

Jonathan Sarna, author of "American Judaism: A History" and the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, said societal changes are behind such innovations.

"As we see women working, it's exceedingly difficult to properly prepare for Passover when one holds a full-time job," he said. "What we're seeing increasingly is that people find Passover cooking, cleaning and a big seder just more than they are able to get done.

"The solution either is, 'Let's go away and bring our vacation and Passover and family together, or, if we can't go away, let's cater the big seder.' "

There was a time, he noted, when machine-made matzo and the vacuum cleaner were seen as innovative changes, too.


Steve Levin can be reached at slevin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1919.


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