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Pesach Memories

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Holiday preparations

Pesach (Passover) is quite a big deal every year. It takes about a month before the holiday to clean the house, clear away every little crumb of ‘chametz,’ bread, and only then can we start preparing the food.

Cleaning for Pesach is hard work but once I start it feels good. Though I am cleaning I’m doing something that’s very holy at the same time. I feel a connection to my Jewish brothers and sisters because what I’m doing Jewish women, men, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and children have been doing for centuries. L’dor vador, from generation to generation, we continue on as a people, Am Yisrael Chai!

When I was young our family sat in the kitchen and worked together to create the holiday meal. I remember my grandmother making the matza balls. She stirred the pot, adding seltzer to the Streit’s matza ball mix, dropping the mixture into the water. Surprise! Gigantic matza balls appeared on the slotted spoon. And they were melt-in-your-mouth soft and yummy.

My grandfather would sit at the round family kitchen table willingly chopping nuts, mixing the honey cake, stirring, helping to measure whatever ingredients were needed. He was happy to be part of the preparations. 

My mama made and still makes the most delicious gefilte fish for Passover, and I help her. It is moist, sweet and filled with carrots, celery, onions, matza meal, salt, pepper and eggs. We use a giant can of small oblong pieces of gefilte fish, mash them till blended, add everything else, especially some of the gel, carefully pour it into an aluminum pan and bake till golden brown. It is a pan filled with family history and memories. I look forward to it at each holiday celebration.


Matza, another one of my favorites is the most special food of Passover. We eat it in memory of how little time we had to rush out of our enslavement in Egypt and had no time for the bread to rise. Crunchy, versatile and holy, matza is the food that has no ego. It’s not puffed up like bread. Even though I eat too much of it on Passover, I can rationalize that it’s good for me. I am eating something that can help me with humility, one of the most special spiritual qualities to strive for. What exactly is humility? It is a blessing, and I recently heard this description: It is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. I humble myself to walk with and connect to my creator. 

There are a variety of ways to enjoy this special holy food. It is very popular to spread cream cheese, butter and salt and jelly for a delicious flavor. And we also made fried matza, matza latkes, eaten with jelly or sour cream, matza rolls and chocolate covered matzas. We love our traditional Jewish foods.


My Bubbie and Zadye, my great-grandparents on my mom’s side, came to America from Russia on a boat in the early 1900s. Zadye sat at the head of the table and led the Seder with a kind and sagely, elderly, traditional, presence. It reminds me of the famous song by Moshe Yess, where he sings about his Zayde, “Zadye made me laugh, Zadye made me sing and Zadye made a kiddush Shabbos night. Check out the link to this beautiful bittersweet melody. I loved my Zadye and I will always miss him. He brought Russian Jewry alive, bringing Torah and tradition to our family. Dor L’dor. From generation to generation.

One year for the Seder I wrote out a whole script of the Passover story. Different people in my family read the parts. It seemed so much easier than reading the entire Haggadah, and more meaningful. I am not one to sit for long periods of time, and my family grows impatient for the meal. It was a more personal spin on the story and gave everyone a chance to express themselves, especially my Aunt Sandy. She was quite dramatic and loved to read. Sadly, she is gone now, like many of the people in my family who once graced our Seder table.

There’s a famous story in my family about my Uncle Marvin, my mother’s brother. As a young boy he got the prestigious job to open the door for Elijah the prophet who comes to every Jewish Seder. As he marched up to perform this part of the Seder, he opened the door and to his amazement someone entered. I would loved to have seen the look on his face. Unfortunately, it was not Elijah the prophet but a neighbor coming to the door for something. My family tells that story over and over again with humor and delight.

The music for this holiday, when everyone sings together, is my favorite part of the Seder.

  • Dayenu with a rousing chorus
  • V’he shay amda, the prayer on page 12 of the Maxwell House Haddadah that I always sang with my oldest brother
  • Chad Gad Yaw, one little goat my father bought for two zuzim were favorites.
  • L’shana habaya b’Yerushalayim, may we all be in Jerusalem next year, sung at the end of the Seder.

After the Seder meal, and all the hidden matzo was discovered, we always had a big dessert with favorites like:

  • sponge cake with strawberry sauce
  • sesame candies
  • jelly candies in a rainbow of colors
  • chocolate candies with all kinds of surprises inside
  • Passover apple cake
  • Mondel bread
  • Barton’s almond kisses that were all the rage
  • a large assortment of colorful fruit to enjoy while we bonded as a family and shared family stories, songs and laughter.


Back in the day, especially in Europe, everything was made by hand for Passover, even mayonnaise and horseradish. The stores didn’t have much commercial Kosher L’Pesach food. Today you can walk into the Seven Mile Market here in Baltimore and find aisles and aisles filled with almost anything your heart, and stomach, desires. Who would have dreamed back then? I’m not a big fan of all the commercial food but things change. Our world has certainly changed since the 60s and 70s.

My family has also changed, and I dearly miss all those who have passed on. Families, not just individuals, have souls. I miss and remember the “soul” of my family, a warm heimishe neshama with a Jewish tam (taste). I will treasure those memories always.

Pesach is different for me as an adult as I have taken on a more Torah observant life. I still don’t have much patience for sitting at the table for a long Seder like most of my community, but I do my best. I enjoy the music and many of the foods. These days I am drawn to the spiritual messages, the kavannah, of the holidays. I pray to feel a connection to the spirit of Passover. We were slaves and now we are free. Free to serve Hashem, to work at and also be aware of the ways we still feel enslaved today, and tap into the possibility of freedom in our own lives.

Every holiday has a central theme, a kavannah, an intent that makes it special. It is “in the air.” If we are open to it, we can feel the blessings of this holy energy to help support our growth and that of Jews everywhere.

Happy Pesach memories to you and yours. May you find new freedoms and enjoy what is most special to you. The whole world is healing from a virus that has plagued us for way too long, and finally, Spring has arrived.

My Family’s Baked Gefilte Fish Recipe

One jar 2 pounds gefilte fish in liquid 
Drain and reserve some liquid

In blender put:

  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 medium carrots 
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • Liquid reserved from fish

Mash fish well in a large bowl and add

  • 1 teaspoon pepper 
  • 2 teaspoons sugar 
  • 8 tablespoons oil 
  • 3 eggs beaten slightly
  • 3/4 cup matzo meal

Add the matzo meal last. Work through thoroughly and add blended ingredients. 
Bake in 9 x 13 greased pan on 350° for 1 1/4 hour.

Better if made with extra piece or two of fish. Also, when you mix all the ingredients together, you can add more matzo meal if you think it needs a heavier feel. But, don’t make it too heavy. As for the amount of fish liquid, I would say use 1-2 cups, see how it blends as you pour it in. One cup may be enough.

Let cool for about an hour. Cut into slices, and enjoy with horseradish, mayonnaise, etc.

Please leave your comments below. 

Read more by Hinda Blum.

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