פֶּסַח PESACH (Passover)

Name     Pesach – פֶּסַח

A.K.A.     Spring Festival חַג הֶאָבִיב (Chag He’aviv)

Festival of the paschal sacrifice הַפֶּסַח חַג (Chag HaPesach)

Festival of matzah (during the escape from Egypt) חַג הַמַּצּוֹת (Chag Hamatzot)

Festival of our freedom זְמַן חֵרוּתֵנוּ (Z’man Cheruteinu)


  1. Nisan (Hebrew month, roughly corresponding to March/April) for seven days in Israel and among progressive communities in the Diaspora (outside Israel) and for eight days outside Israel in general

Mentioned in

Exodus chapter 12, chapter 13, verses 3-8, chapter 23, verse 15, Leviticus chapter 23, verses 5-6, Numbers chapter 28, verses 16-25, Deuteronomy chapter 16, verses 1-8


  1. Commemorating the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt
  2. Spring harvest festival – Pesach occurs at the time of the beginning of the spring harvest. In biblical times theIsraelites would bring an omer [a measure] of newly cut barley to the Temple as a harvest offering

Customs and Traditions

  • No leavened foods (made with ordinary flour, which may have absorbed moisture and potentially risen) prepared from five grains – wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt. The forbidden foods will include bread, cakes, biscuits, pizza, pasta, cereals,
  • Among orthodox and traditional Jews separate crockery and cutlery used during the eight days to prevent contamination with any crumbs from forbidden grains, etc.
  • Holding a Seder – the eve of Pesach meal with family and friends with the reading of the story of the escape of the Israelites from Egypt, using a book, known as the Haggadah הַגָּדָה
  • Reading of Haggadah – a twin purpose book – a manual how to conduct a Seder and a history lesson about the escape of the Israelites from Egypt. [The oldest complete manuscript of the Haggadah dates to the 10th century.  It is part of a prayer book compiled by Saadia Gaon.  The earliest known Haggadot produced as works in their own right are manuscripts from the 13th and 14th centuries, such as “The Golden Haggadah” (probably Barcelona c. 1320) and the “Sarajevo Haggadah” (late fourteenth century).  It is believed that the first printed Haggadot were produced in 1482, in Guadalajara, Spain; however this is mostly conjecture, as there is no printer’s colophon. The oldest confirmed printed Haggadah was printed in Soncino, Lombardy in 1486 by the Soncino family.]
  • Inviting guests to the family meal – a mitzvah (a good deed)
  • Elijah’s cup with wine, also a door opened by a child to welcome Elijah, as a forerunner of Messiah and so of the ultimate redemption (origins in Middle Ages to show to Christians Pesach as a family celebration and to counter anti-Semitic accusations of matzah being made with the blood of Christian children.

Plagues (with which God punished the Egyptians)

1. Blood (דָם): Exodus 7:14-25                                             6. Boils (שְׁחִין): Exodus 9:8–12

2. Frogs (צְּפַרְדֵּעַ) Ex. 7:25-8:11                                              7. Hail/storms of fire (בָּרָד)

                                                                                                   Ex. 9:13-35

3. Lice (כִּנִּים) Ex. 8:16-19                                                       8. Locusts (אַרְבֶּה) Ex. 10:1–20

4. Wild beasts or flies (עָרוֹב) Ex. 8:20-32                           9. Darkness (חוֹשֶך) Ex. 10:21–                                                                                                      29

5. Cattle disease (deceased livestock) (דֶּבֶר) Ex. 9:1-7    10. Death of the firstborn                                                                                                            (מַכַּת בְּכוֹרוֹת) Ex. 11:1–12:36


Matzah brei – Softened matzo fried with egg and fat; served either savoury or sweet

Matzo kugel – A kugel made with matzo instead of noodles

Charoset – Chopped or ground apples and nuts in wine mixed with raisins or dates, cinnamon, etc

Chrain – Horseradish and beet relish

Gefilte fish – Poached fish patties or fish balls made from a mixture of ground deboned fish, mostly carp or pike

Chicken soup with matzah balls (kneidlach) – Chicken soup served with matzo-meal dumplings


Essentials for Seder

Haggadot, a Seder plate with Pesach symbols and roasted egg (beitzah), roasted lamb shankbone (zeroah), parsley/celery (karpas), horseradish (maror), lettuce (chazeret), charoset, a bowl with salt water (for dipping), festival/Shabbat candles, three matzot (unleavened bread in a matzah cover), Elijah’s cup, Kiddush wine/grape juice, wine cups for each participant, matzah plate and cover, pillows (optional), cup + basin + towels,


Chag Pesach sameach  חַג פֶּסַח שָׂמֵחַ


The Pesach פֶּסַח (Passover Seder Plate)

Wordle – PesachWordle – Pesach

Beitzah בֵּיצָה

The Roasted Egg is symbolic of the festival sacrifice made in biblical times. It is also a symbol of spring – the season in which Passover is always celebrated.

Chazeret חֲזֶרֶת

Lettuce is often used in addition to the maror, as a bitter herb. The authorities are divided on the requirement of chazeret, so not all communities use it. Since the commandment (in Numbers 9:11) to eat the paschal lamb “with unleavened bread and bitter herbs” uses the plural (“bitter herbs”) most seder plates have a place for chazeret.

Zeroa זְרוֹעַ

The Shankbone is symbolic of the Paschal lamb offered as the Passover sacrifice in biblical times.  Some communities use a chicken neck as a substitute.  Vegetarian households may use beets.

Charoset חֲרֽוֹסֶת

Apple, nuts, and spices ground together and mixed with wine are symbolic of the mortar used by Hebrew slaves to build Egyptian structures. There are several variations in the recipe for charoset. The Mishna describes a mixture of fruits, nuts, and vinegar.

Karpas כַּרְפַּס

Parsley (or watercress or celery) is dipped into salt water during the seder. The salt water serves as a reminder of the tears shed during Egyptian slavery. The dipping of a vegetable as an appetizer is said to reflect the influence of Greek culture.

Maror מָרוֹר

Bitter Herbs (usually horseradish) symbolize the bitterness of Egyptian slavery. The maror is often dipped in charoset to reduce its sharpness. Maror is used in the seder because of the commandment (in Numbers 9:11) to eat the paschal lamb “with unleavened bread and bitter herbs”.

Chanukah (in case you weren’t sure)

Chanukah חֲנֻכָּה


חֲנֻכָּה – Chanukah (Dedication) – Festival of Lights – חַג הָאוּרִים (Chag Haurim)


  1. Kislev (כּה״בְּכִּסְלֵו) for eight days


The first struggle for religious freedom.  The festival celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem to the service of God, following the defeat of the Greek army and their expulsion.  The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of a Chanukiah, a nine-branched Menorah.


Neither the festival nor the historical events are mentioned in the Torah, as these took place after the Torah had been completed but they are written about in the Books of the Maccabees of the Apocrypha and the observance is described in the Talmud.

Place: Judea, within the Greek Empire, ruled from Syria

Time: 2nd century BCE

Circumstances: Hellenism spreading, Greek substituted for Hebrew and Aramaic, Greek names in fashion, Greek educational institutions, Jewish Hellenic literature and philosophy.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Seleucid king of Syria built an altar to Zeus in the Temple in 167 and ordered pigs to be sacrificed there, banned the study of the Torah, sacrifices in the Temple and the ordinary practice of Judaism.

Antiochus’s actions provoked a large-scale revolt.  Mattityahu, a Jewish priest, and his five sons JochananSimeonEleazarJonathan and Judah led a rebellion against Antiochus.  Following the death of Mattatyahu Judah (Yehuda HaMakabi) took over and by 165 BCE defeated the Seleucids. The Temple was liberated and rededicated.


Candles are placed right to left but lit left (the latest) to right.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל חֲנֻכָּה׃

Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melech haolam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah.  (Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the Universe, who sanctified us with His commandments and commended us to kindle the lights of Chanukah.)

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁעָשָה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם וּוַזְּמַן הַזֶּה׃

Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melech haolam, asher asa nisim la’avoteinu bayamim hahem uvazman haze.  (Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the Universe, who did wonders for our ancestors in those days at this season.)

On the first night also            בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה׃ Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melech haolam, shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh.  (Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive and supported us and brought us to this season.)


Ashkenazi tradition – latkes, doughnuts (Israeli sufgania סֻפְגָּנִיָּה),

Sephardi tradition – Bimuelos (fritters), Sfenj (North African yeast doughnuts), Keftes de prasas or leek patties, doughnuts (Greek style – loukomades, Persian style – zelebi),


Home-centred celebration with Chanukah songs, games with a dreidl (Yiddish – spinning top), סְבִיבוֹן (s’vivon in Hebrew) four sides with the letters נ ג ה שׁ (נֵס גָדוֹל הָיָה שָׁם – a great miracle happened there) and Chanukah gelt (chocolate coins)

An opinion in an LBC phone-in

Yesterday I was listening to James O’Brien on LBC.  At the point when I turned the radio on James was introducing a controversial view put forward by two law professors at Yale Law School in their book The Triple Package.  The authors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld appear to claim that “…certain groups do much better in America than others—as measured by income, occupational status, test scores, and so on…”

The book write-up further suggests that “…Despite America’s ideas about equality, some groups in this country do better than others.  Mormons have recently risen to astonishing business success.  Cubans in Miami climbed from poverty to prosperity in a generation.  Nigerians earn doctorates at stunningly high rates.  Indian and Chinese Americans have much higher incomes than other Americans; Jews may have the highest of all.  Why do some groups rise?  Drawing on ground-breaking original research and startling statistics, The Triple Package uncovers the secret to their success.

The write-up sums up the reasons as:  “A superiority complex, insecurity, impulse control: these are the elements of the Triple Package, the rare and potent cultural constellation that drives disproportionate group success.”

The ideas summed up in the write-up about the book become even more controversial when they receive airing on a widely listened-to talk show on the radio in London and broadcasters like James throw the topic open to the public.

I get concerned when anyone suggests anything that may cast aspersions on us, Jews, whoever may be raising them.  Fortunately James is open-minded enough to question the validity of the notion itself.  However, as Jews we have found out to our cost over many centuries that mud sticks.  In my 60+ years on the planet I have never come across a suggestion by any Jew, be it my parents, teachers, rabbis, colleagues, friends, etc. that we feel superior to anyone else.  Insecure?  Maybe.  Occasionally paranoid about anyone knocking Jews?  Definitely.  But superior?  Please, haven’t we had enough ‘tzores’ (‘problems’ for the uninitiated) already over the centuries, without some (Jewish!) whiz kid giving every racist and anti-Semite more ammunition to use about how apparently we feel about others.

Without any research I suggested to James in a live phone call that just maybe we as Jew, and probably other minorities as well, endeavour to succeed in a country that has given us refuge partly to integrate and become useful members of the society, partly to prove ourselves that we can contribute to the well-being of the society and partly because we want our children to have easier lives than we had as immigrants starting from scratch.

A Chinese in China, a Nigerian in Nigeria or a Jew in Israel will be one of hundreds of thousands or millions and hardly superior to anyone else.  Therefore if we strive to do well as minorities, it is not to put down anyone else or to show our superiority over anyone but to show we do not need to rely on the State for hand-outs and can succeed in our own right through sheer hard graft or through higher education and success in a variety of fields the country is able to offer.

Is this so difficult to comprehend that someone needs to put success down to a superiority complex?

Geography and I

I am not pedantic about anybody’s accurate knowledge of geography. I am sure someone would take ME apart at the first opportunity if they really tried.

My roots are subject to confusion as well, depending on who I talk to. Czechoslovakia or Czech Republic has never been the centre of any universe and so it is not surprising my students find my place of birth hard to figure out. My accent has been placed anywhere from South America to South Africa, from Russia to Hungary. Some years ago someone in Leeds placed my accent south of London! Add to it the fact that I am Jewish and, I suppose inevitably, I get instantly placed in Israel. (Not by my students, I hasten to add.) Invariably this is followed by a question, whether I ever go home or intend to return – sweet…

But it does amuse me when my birthplace is guessed at as Asia and even more so when an innocent face with a quizzed look poses a searching question: “What’s the capital of Prague?”

Reconciling Cultures

I was born a Jew in old Czechoslovakia, although because of strong anti-Semitism at the time my parents didn’t even bother explaining my roots to me until it became necessary.  One day I came home from school aged about six and I asked my father what a ‘filthy Yid’ was.  My father was naturally curious to find out how his (secretly) Jewish son came to ask such a question.  I explained that a group of kids at school got together in one corner of the room and were shouting this at me.

Thereupon my mildly Jewish education began.  I started to appreciate why we had not had Christmas trees until a few years before when I asked why we had not had them when I saw them in other people’s homes.

I began to appreciate silly things like the name Yerushalaim on maps, which suddenly acquired a secretly warming feeling.  We then ran away in the old Iron Curtain way by stealth in December 1967, never to return.  After eight days in Vienna we flew to Tel Aviv.  Judaism re-born.

Where is all this leading?  My dad’s sister, Eva (z”l) died in Prague of cancer last Saturday, 17.November 2012.  She was the last Wolf of the old generation of Wolves from Uzhorod in Ukraine, formerly Soviet Union, formerly Czechoslovakia, formerly the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.   Having survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald and with a shortage of Jewish men in post-war Eastern Europe she married a Goy.  Tomek (Thomas) was a nice man, inoffensive, gentle, typically Czech.  They had a daughter Eva Junior or Evicka, who until a few years ago didn’t know what a Jew was.  In fact it could have been a computer virus, except that my cousin knows even less about computers than she does about US Jews and Judaism.  Some despicable nitwit managed to ‘convert’ her to a ‘Jehovah’s witness’, although I doubt she has any idea, what it is all about.  Tomek died in July this year aged 92.  As is the (Catholic) practice in Czech Republic today his body was cremated and his ashes handed over to the family in a casket to be displayed at home on a mantelpiece together with his photograph.  That in itself is macabre enough but being nominally Christian this could be explained.

My aunt passed away two days ago at 10.45 local time (9.45 London time).  I learnt about her passing at a few minutes past 10 o’clock as I was driving from a Barmitzvah lesson to West London Synagogue for a Bat Mitzvah of one of my students.  I got to the shul in time to ask one of the Rabbis to mention Eva’s name during the Service before the Kaddish.  I made the request through tears and then later said the Kaddish in the same way.

So, what’s so special about that you might ask?  This Buchenwald survivor, remembered in a London synagogue within three hours of her passing is going to be cremated(!) in Prague, her ashes deposited in an urn(!) and displayed in her (now my cousin’s) flat on a mantelpiece!  No funeral, no gravestone, no memorial plaque for the last of her generation, but an urn.  Yitgadal v’yitkadash shmei rabah…

Hello world!

I am about to start on the journey of stories and experiences linked with my teaching, past, present and future.  I hope to interest and/or amuse interested students, parents or anyone else inclined to read about days in the life of a Barmitzvah tutor.