“Go down Moses” and an Orange on the Seder Plate

A seder plate with pictures of an orange, grapes and a door

Seder Plate by Harriete Estel Berman, U.S.A., 2003 © photo: Jens Ziehe, Jewish Museum Berlin

Passover is not only a feast day evoking an historic event through a ritualized form of remembrance. It also appeals to reenact the exodus out of Egypt and envision divine mercy, freeing us from bondage and disenfranchisement. Like many Jewish holidays the original biblical Passover story has been and still is seen in relation to other historical events. The Egypt of the Exodus story turned into Ukraine and Belarus in the 17th century, when the Cossack chief Bogdan Chmielnicki allowed many hundreds of thousands of Jews to be murdered over the course of his struggle to liberate Poland. In the 20th century, Germany under the Nazi regime became the country to flee.

Through its culinarily-underscored recitation and discussion of the narrative, the seder provides a framework for each new re-interpretation. This appears primarily at the dinner: even while the symbolic dishes are determined by the Passover Haggadah, the other foods vary according to geography and the cultural conventions of the place where the celebration is taking place. There are especially numerous recipes for the “mortar,” the charoset, which resembles in color and texture the cementing agent used to build houses.

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Stories of Heroes and Wrangling with History

Man in front of golden statue

Tobias Schabel as Wallenberg, photo: Ingo Hoehn © Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe

Raoul Wallenberg, who has been celebrated for decades as a great hero, would have turned 100 this year. The son of a Swedish family of bankers travelled to Budapest at the beginning of July 1944 on behalf of the War Refugee Board, in order to warn Jews living there of their coming destruction. He used his diplomatic immunity to issue Swedish passports for their protection as well as to create safe housing and is believed to have saved tens of thousands from death. Wallenberg disappeared at the end of the war, allegedly dying in a Russian prison. The first memorial to him had already been erected in Budapest by 1949.  continue reading

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Music in the Mountains

The Aspen Music Festival, 8000 feet above sea level and high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, is in full swing. musicians in the mountainsFor 8 weeks 600 students from all over the world are making music literally around the clock: in concert halls, music tents, churches, a brass quintet has set up on a street corner just in front of the ice cream parlor usually in the afternoon between scheduled performances and the very handsome, very young Eylon Ben-Yaakov is regaling us with Chopin’s polonaise in A-flat, followed by Prokofiev’s piano sonata No, 3 at the Aspen Chapel, a faux 12th century construct.   continue reading

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