The Holidays Celebrated In Colonial America


{ An eight-day celebration
beginning on the evening of the 15th day
of the Hebrew month of Nissan }

  In the days when the Israelites begged Pharoah to permit them to leave Egypt to return to the lands of their forefather, Abraham, his refusal induced God to visit plagues upon the Egyptians. One such plague (the tenth) took the form of God traveling throughout the land, taking the lives of all the firstborn sons. God forewarned the Israelites to sacrifice lambs and to smear the lambs' blood over the door lintel and sideposts. As the Lord moved through the land of Egypt, He would "pass over" any home where the lintel and sideposts were daubed in blood.

  According to verses 11 to 13 of the Twelfth Chapter of Exodus in the Jewish Publication Society's translation of the Tanakh (variously, the Old Testament of the Bible), " is a passover offering to the Lord. For that night I will go through the land of Egypt and strike down every first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and I will mete out punishments to all the gods of Egypt, I the Lord. And the blood on the houses where you are staying shall be a sign for you: when I see the blood I will pass over you, so that no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt."

  The Passover holiday was established at that time by the Lord, Himself:

{Exodus 12: 1 to 32}  The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:
2. This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.
3. Speak to the whole community of Israel and say that on the tenth of this month each of them shall take a lamb, to a family, a lamb to a household.
4. But if the household is too small for a lamb, let him share one with a neighbor who dwells nearby, in proportion to the number of persons: you shall contribute for the lamb according to what each household will eat.
5. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a yearling male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats
6. You shall keep watch over it until the fourteenth day of this month; and all the assembled congregation of the Israelites shall slaughter it at twilight.
7. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they are to eat it.
8. They shall eat the flesh that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs.
9. Do not eat any of it raw, or cooked in any way with water, but roasted - head, legs, and entrails-over the fire.
10. You shall not leave any of it over until morning;
11. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly: it is a passover offering to the LORD.
12. For that night I will go through the land of Egypt and strike down every first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and I will mete out punishments to all the gods of Egypt, I the LORD.
13. And the blood on the houses where you are staying shall be a sign for you: when I see the blood I will pass over you, so that no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14. This day shall be to you one of remembrance: you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD throughout the ages; you shall celebrate it as an institution for all time.
15. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.
16. You shall celebrate a sacred occasion on the first day, and a sacred occasion on the seventh day; no work at all shall be done on them; only what every person is to eat, that alone may be prepared for you.
17. You shall observe the [Feast of] Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day throughout the ages as an institution for all time.
18. In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.
19. No leaven shall be found in your houses for seven days. For whoever eats what is leavened, that person shall be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a citizen of the country.
20. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your settlements you shall eat unleavened bread.
21. Moses then summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go, pick out lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover offering.
22. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and to the two doorposts. None of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning.
23. For when the LORD goes through to smite the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, and the LORD will pass over the door and not let the Destroyer enter and smite your home.
24. You shall observe this as an institution for all time, for you and for your descendants.
25. And when you enter the land that the LORD will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite.
26. And when your children ask you, 'What do you mean by this rite?'
27. you shall say, 'It is the passover sacrifice to the LORD, because He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses."' The people then bowed low in homage.
28. And the Israelites went and did so; just as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.
29. In the middle of the night the LORD struck down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on the throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle.
30. And Pharaoh arose in the night, with all his courtiers and all the Egyptians - because there was a loud cry in Egypt; for there was no house where there was not someone dead.
31. He summoned Moses and Aaron in the night and said, "Up, depart from among my people, you and the Israelites with you! Go, worship the LORD as you said!
32. Take also your flocks and your herds, as you said, and begone! And may you bring a blessing upon me also!"

  The commandment to keep, or observe, Passover is found in the Book of Leviticus. Chapter twenty-three, verses 5 to 8 says:

5. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, there shall be a passover offering to the Lord,
6. and on the fifteenth day of that month the Lord's Feast of Unleavened Bread. You shall eat unleavened bread for seven days.
7. On the first day you shall celebrate a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations.
8. Seven days you shall make offerings by fire to the Lord. The seventh day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations.

  The celebration of the Passover through the centuries would follow the directions recorded in the Second Book of Moses.

  The Hebrew word for Passover is Pesach.

  The Passover is variously known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread or Hag HaMatzot, the Festival of Matzo. Matzo is an unleavened flatbread. The word leaven refers to the process by which bread dough rises. Tradition states that the Israelites, when freed by Pharoah, left their homes in such a hurry that their bread was not given the time to rise, or leaven. Celebrants in later years would eat unleavened bread in commemoration of that event.

  Matzo {variously, matzah} is a simple flatbread consisting of one part flour and three parts water that is worked and baked without rising. To accomplish this, the cook quickly mixes the flour and water and forms it into a ball about one to two inches in diameter. The dough ball is then rolled out flat and holes are poked into it. The Jewish tradition calls for this step in the making of matzo to last no longer than eighteen minutes from mixing the ingredients to rolling it out flat to placing it in the oven. (Apparently, if the dough is left unbaked past eighteen minutes it will start to leaven.) The flattened piece of dough is placed into the oven which has been heated to the hottest setting possible, and baked for two to three minutes. Note: The flour used in kosher cooking is called kemach shel matzah shamura; it is harvested, ground and packaged for sale without coming into contact with any moisture.

  The Passover celebration began with the removal of all chemetz, or leavening, from the house prior to performing the Seder. Chemetz included anything that was made using yeast to cause fermentation (with the notable exception of wine). Any chemetz existing in the house when it was time for Passover would be either burned, thrown out or given or sold to non-Jews. In ages past, a final and thorough search for any remaining chemetz would be conducted on the night before Passover. That final search was originally conducted by the head of the household, but over time it developed into a sort of game for the children. Some families even hide morsels of bread in order to guarantee that the children will be succesful in their search.

  The Passover Seder was, and continues to be, celebrated on the first night of Passover. The seder was a meal that followed (and still follows in the present time) a very ordered procedure. Fifteen ritual steps are outlined in the Haggadah:

   Kadeish The Kiddush is recited and the first cup of wine is drunk.
     Kadeish is a ritual of purifying and santifying oneself. Each celebrant fills another celebrant's cup with a sweet red wine, and with everyone standing, the Kiddush (or prayer to bless the meal) is recited. The wine is drunk and everyone then sits down, or more specifically reclines, resting with a cushion under the left side (as was the custom in Biblical times).
   Urchatz (Without a blessing) the hands are washed.
     Before any food is to be handled or eaten, the hands must be cleansed. It is the custom of many Jews to use a basin and a pitcher of water to perform this ritual in the room in which the Seder is taking place. Each celebrant, in turn, takes the pitcher of water in the left hand, and holding the right hand over the basin, pours water to cover it. This is repeated one or two times and then the same is done for the left hand. Then both hands are dried with a towel.
   Karpas The karpas is dipped in salt water.
     Karpas refers to 'appetizer'. In practice, it is a small piece of a vegetable, such as parsley, celery, radish, potato, or onion which is eaten before anything else. The piece should be smaller than the bulk of an olive. The small size of the piece, combined with the fact that it is eaten before the bread, might illicit questions from any children present. And that it just what is intended: the karpas serves as an appetizer for the mind as well as the body. Not only is the karpas eaten, but it is dipped in saltwater. The purpose of the dipping is to remind the celebrants that the tender, green shoots of the earth were combined with the salt of the oceans to sustain life. A blessing is said, and then the karpas is eaten.
   Yachatz The matzo is broken. (The larger of the pieces becomes the afikoman, to be eaten during the ritual of Tzafun.)
     Three motzos are on the Seder Plate. The middle one is pulled carefully out from between the other two. It is then broken into two pieces. The smaller of the two is replaced back between the two whole motzos. The larger piece, though, is broken into five pieces and they are then wrapped in a cloth. The cloth with the pieces is called the afikoman and will be hidden until the end of the Seder. In many Jewish homes, the afikoman is literally hidden, and the children will have to search for it.
   Maggid The second cup of wine is drunk and the Ma Nishtana or 'Four Questions' are recited by the youngest children.
     The second cup of wine is poured while the children recite the Four Questions regarding why this night is different from all other nights:
1.) Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either leavened bread or matza, but on this night we eat only matza?
2.) Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but on this night we eat bitter herbs?
3.) Why is it that on all other nights we do not dip {our food} even once, but on this night we dip them twice?
4.) Why is it that on all other nights we dine either sitting upright or reclining, but on this night we all recline?
     The answers to these questions are given:
1.) We eat only matzah because our ancestors could not wait for their breads to rise when they were fleeing slavery in Egypt, and so they were flat when they came out of the oven.
2.) We eat only Maror, a bitter herb, to remind us of the bitterness of slavery that our ancestors endured while in Egypt.
3.) The first dip, green vegetables in salt water, symbolizes the replacing of our tears with gratefulness, and the second dip, Maror in Charoses, symbolizes the sweetening of our burden of bitterness and suffering.
4.) We recline at the Seder table because in ancient times, a person who reclined at a meal was a free person, while slaves and servants stood.
      In some traditions, a fifth question is asked: Why is it that on all other nights we eat meat either roasted, marinated, or cooked, but on this night it is entirely roasted? The answer is given: We eat only roasted meat because that is how the Pesach/Passover lamb is prepared during sacrifice in the Temple at Jerusalem.
Then the second cup of wine is drunk, during which time the first part of the Hallel (i.e. the Psalms of Praise) is recited.
   Rachtzah (With a blessing) the hands are washed.
     As in the Urchatz, each celebrant, in turn, takes the pitcher of water in the left hand, and holding the right hand over the basin, pours water to cover it. This is repeated one or two times and then the same is done for the left hand. Then both hands are dried with a towel. But this time a blessing is said while the hands are washed: Blessed be You, L-rd our G-d, King of the World, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us concerning the washing of the hands.
   Motzi A traditional blessing is performed before the eating of the motzo, a special, unleavened bread.
     This ritual goes hand in hand with the following ritual. In fact, many sources name the two rituals as one: Motzie Matzah.
The motzos that are on the Seder Plate consist of a portion of a motzo (created in the ritual of Yachatz) between two whole motzos. At this time the three are raised above the plate and the blessing is said: Blessed be You, L-rd our G-d, King of the World, Who brings bread out of the earth.
   Motzo The eating of the matzo, an unleavened bread.
     Continuing from the preceeding ritual, the bottom, whole motzo is released and allowed to fall back down onto the Seder Plate; and the following blessing is said over the top, whole and middle, portion of motzo: Blessed be You, L-rd our G-d, King of the World, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning eating motzo.
Pieces from each portion of motzo are broken off and the remainder passed to the other celebrants. The celebrants then, reclining onto their left sides, eat the pieces of motzo.
   Maror The maror is eaten.
     The word maror refers to bitter herbs. Horseradish is most often used to represent the bitter herbs eaten by the early Israelites. A small portion is broken off from the piece lying on the Seder Plate. It is then dipped into charoset (a type of dip consisting of chopped nuts and fruit mixed with wine and flavored with cinnamon). Although the original Seder did not include the charoset, later Jewish authorities added it to counteract the bitterness of some of the bitter herbs used in the ritual. (A recipe for charoset is given below.)
   Koreich A sandwich made from the matzo and maror is eaten.
     There is still one whole matzo on the Seder Plate. Two small pieces are broken off of it by each celebrant. A small piece of the maror (e.g. horseradish) is also broken off, and it is placed between the two pieces of the matzo. While this is being done, the celebrant in charge of the Seder says: This is what Hillel did, at the time that the Temple stood. He wrapped up some Pesach lamb, some matzah and some bitter herbs and ate them together. Then, relaxing to the left, each celebrant eats the maror and matzo "sandwich".
Shulchan oreich
The table is set with the holiday meal.
     It is now time to eat the holiday meal. The meal is begun by the eating of a hard-boiled egg. The hard-boiled egg symbolizes mourning for the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. Other items which might be included in the holiday meal are: matzo ball soup, gefilte fish (a sort of fish stew), roasted potatoes or potato kugel, sweet brisket, roasted asparagus, and roasted cauliflower kugel. Borsht, a beet soup, is a traditional Passover dish for Jewish families in Eastern Europe. (See recipes below)
   Tzafun The afikoman is eaten.
     The pieces of motzo that were wrapped in a cloth and hidden during the ritual of Yachatz (i.e. the afikoman) are now retrieved. The motzo is eaten while reclining onto the left side.
   Bareich A blessing is performed after the meal is eaten, and a third cup of wine is drunk.
     A third cup of wine is poured for each celebrant. Then a set of blessings, the Birkat Hamazon variously known as Grace After Meals is recited. And then the cup of wine is drunk while reclining onto the left side.
   Hallel The Hallel is recited, and a fourth cup of wine is drunk.
     The Hallel refers six Psalms ~ #113 through 118. They are the Psalms of Praise.
During this ritual each celebrant is poured a fourth cup of wine. An additional cup is poured and set in the middle of the table. This additional cup is traditionally offered to Elijah the Prophet, who comes to announce the imminent arrival of the final Exodus.
It will be remembered that the first part of the Hallel was recited during the Maggid. The remainder is now recited.
   Nirtzah The conclusion of the Passover Seder.
     This is the conclusion of the Seder. The celebrants' lives are in G-d's hands

Following are recipes for some of the traditional dishes served during the Passover holiday.

4 to 5 medium sized apples, peeled and cored
2 bananas
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 cup pecans
2 to 4 tablespoons red wine
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)


Put apples, bananas, raisins and nuts into a food processor. Process to desired consistency.
Put the fruit-nut mixture in a bowl. Stir in wine, orange juice, cinnamon and sugar if desired.
Cover and refrigerate.

Gefilte Fish                     
7 to 7 ½ pounds whole carp, whitefish, and pike, filleted and ground
4 quarts cold water or to just cover
3 teaspoons salt or to taste
3 onions, peeled
4 medium carrots, peeled
2 tablespoons sugar or to taste
1 small parsnip, chopped (optional)
3 to 4 large eggs
Freshly ground pepper to taste
½ cup cold water (approximately)
1/3 cup matzo meal


Ask your fishmonger to grind the fish. Ask him to reserve the tails, fins, heads, and bones. Be sure he gives you the bones and trimmings. The more whitefish you add, the softer your gefilte fish will be.
Place the reserved bones, skin, and fish heads in a wide, very large saucepan with a cover. Add the water and 2 teaspoons of the salt and bring to a boil. Remove the foam that accumulates.
Slice 1 onion in rounds and add along with 3 of the carrots.
Add the sugar and bring to a boil.
Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes while the fish mixture is being prepared.
Place the ground fish in a bowl. In a food processor finely chop the remaining onions, the remaining carrot, and the parsnip; or mince them by hand.
Add the chopped vegetables to the ground fish.
Add the eggs, one at a time, the remaining teaspoon of salt, pepper, and the cold water and mix thoroughly.
Stir in enough matzo meal to make a light, soft mixture that will hold its shape.
Wet your hands with old water, and scooping up about ¼ cup of fish form the mixture into oval shapes, about 3 inches long.
Take the last fish head and stuff the cavity with the ground fish mixture.
Remove from the saucepan the onions, skins, head, and bones and return the stock to a simmer. Gently place the fish patties in the simmering fish stock.
Cover loosely and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Taste the liquid while the fish is cooking and add seasoning to taste.
Shake the pot periodically so the fish patties won't stick.
When the gefilte fish is cooked, remove from the water and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon carefully remove the gefilte fish and arrange on a platter. Strain some of the stock over the fish, saving the rest in a bowl.
Slice the cooked carrots into rounds cut on a diagonal about ¼ inch thick. Place a carrot round on top of each gefilte fish patty. Put the fish head in the center and decorate the eyes with carrots.
Chill until ready to serve.
Serve with a sprig of parsley and horseradish.

Matzoh Ball Soup                     
1 (5 or 6 pound) hen
2 large celery stalks with leaves, chopped
2 large carrots, sliced in big chunks
1 onion, quartered
3 sprigs parsley
3 sprigs fresh dill (or 1 teaspoon dried)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Matzoh Balls
4 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons chicken fat (from the above soup)
1 cup matzoh meal
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup hot water
12 cups salted water


Wash the chicken with water and place in pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat, skimming off bubbling foam as it forms.
Add celery, carrots, onion, herbs, salt and pepper and simmer, half-covered at lower heat, for at least 45 minutes, until the chicken seems done. The chicken will come away easily from the bone.
Pour soup through strainer to get a clear broth.
Let cool. When broth has completely cooled, skim off the fat and save for the matzoh balls.
In a mixing bowl, mix together 4 eggs and 4 tablespoons chicken fat. Stir in the matzoh meal and salt. Add 1/4 hot water.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Form the matzoh dough into balls the size of walnuts.
Bring the salted water to a boil.
Add the matzoh balls, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.
Bring the chicken broth to a simmer.
Remove matzoh balls from hot water with a slotted spoon and add to the simmering chicken broth just a few minutes before serving.

Sweet Brisket                     
1 (5-7 lb) brisket, washed and drained
1/2 cup oil
1/4-1/2 cup Coca-Cola
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup honey
4-5 Tbsp. ketchup
1 onion
1/2 tsp. mustard powder
1/2 tsp. paprika


Place brisket in a roasting pan.
Chop all seasonings in food processor and pour over brisket.
Cover and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit (165° Celsius).
Bake at 325° Fahrenheit (165° Celsius) for approximately 4 hours, or until a digital instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the brisket reads 190° for well done.
When cool, thinly slice the brisket against the grain.
It is best to prepare the brisket a day before it is served as the taste is enhanced after it sits in the fridge.

Roasted Asparagus                     
2 pounds fresh asparagus
olive oil
kosher salt


Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wash and trim the ends off the asparagus spears.
Lay the asparagus spears on baking sheet.
Sprinkle olive oil and kosher salt over the asparagus.
Roast for 15 minutes.
Asparagus is ready when it is a nice bright green color and tender.

4 medium size beets with tops
1 onion, peeled
4 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup mild vinegar or 1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons brown sugar (or to taste)


Cut the tops off of the beets. Then scrub the beets thoroughly.
Place the beets in a large pot and fill with water to cover. Boil for 15 minutes or until tender enough to pierce with a wooden toothpick.
While the beets are boiling, wash the leaves and chop finely. (The stems may also be used.)
Strain the liquid from the beets into a bowl or soup pot.
Slip the skins from the beets and grate them using a fine grater.
Grate an onion into the grated beets.
Add the grated beets and onion to the strained beet juice, boiled water and chopped beet tops.
Add salt and bring to a quick boil.
Reduce heat and cook 5 minutes.
Add vinegar that has been sweetened to taste with brown sugar.
Cool and chill in closed jars.
Before serving, add a boiled potato, 3 tablespoons of diced cucumber, and 1 tablespoon of sour cream to each bowl.

Roasted Cauliflower Kugel                    
2 large onions, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets (about 8 cups)
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup matzo meal (breadcrumbs can be substituted if not for Passover)
3 tablespoons chopped dill
2 tablespoons chopped parsley


Preheat oven to 450°F
Toss cauliflower with 2 tablespoons oil, reserving remainder.
Place cauliflower on a baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes tossing occasionally or until browned and tender. Reduce oven heat to 350°F.
Heat remaining oil in skillet over medium-high heat and add onions. Sprinkle with salt to help the juices come out. Sauté for about 2 to 3 minutes or until onions have softened.
Turn heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 18 to 20 minutes or until onions are a thick tangled golden mass.
Stir in honey.
Pulse cauliflower in a food processor until finely chopped. Transfer to a mixing bowl and stir in onions, eggs, matzo meal, dill and parsley.
Season well with salt and pepper and place in oiled baking dish.
Bake for 45 minutes or until mixture is browned and set.

Potato Kugel                    
6 large potatoes (about 2 1/3 lbs)
1/2 cup oil (olive,vegetable or cottonseed)
2 1/2 cups chopped onions
12 ozs. mushrooms sliced or diced
1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
2 eggs, lightly beaten (or 1/2 cup Passover eggbeaters or 4 egg whites)
freshly ground pepper


Drop potatoes in boiling water to cover in a large saucepan.
Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender.
Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle.
In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil.
Add onions. Saute over medium heat until golden (about 15 minutes).
Remove about 1/2 cup sauteed onions to mix with potatoes.
Add mushrooms and another tablespoon of the oil to remaining onions. Saute until mushrooms are tender.
Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Let Cool.
Peel potatoes. Mash with a potato masher in a large bowl.
Add remaining oil, reserved sauteed onions, salt and pepper, any mushroom liquid and eggs to the potatoes. Mix well.
In greased 2 qt casserole, layer half of the potato mixture. Top with the mushrooms, then add another layer of potatoes. Smooth top. Sprinkle with paprika.
Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour or until the top is firm and the edges are golden.
Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Spoon out.

Apple Kugel                    
6 Golden Delicious apples, peeled and sliced thin
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup potato starch
1/4 cup oil
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup chopped walnuts


Mix apples, eggs, potato starch and oil.
Pour into an 8 inch square pan
In a separate bowl, mix sugar, juice and walnuts.
Pour over apple mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour.
Serve cold or at room temperature.