The Passover Order

I did not grow up in a kosher home. In fact, I refer to the home in which I was raised as “glatt treiff.”  My becoming a bar mitzvah in 1973 coincided with my mother’s personal liberation.  A few months after I became a bar mitzvah, my mother returned to work and the kitchen closed forever.  It re-opened, however, once a year, for one week:  Passover.  We did not change dishes, but it was the occasion for a major spring cleaning.  My father and I would make the long trip by subway down to the Lower East Side.  We would visit my father’s mother, who would send us home with jars of chicken soup and matzah balls, potato kugels, and a cake that was too dry to swallow.

Around the same time, a large box would appear in our foyer.  There was no room in the small kitchen for this large box from the supermarket.  It contained my mother’s Passover order.  Before its contents were sorted and put away, it held jars of gefilte fish and horseradish, a couple of jars of honey, dozens and dozens of eggs, and many boxes of matzah, plain and egg.

During the week of Passover, my family (which often dined on spaghetti and clam sauce or shrimp scampi) ate brisket, soup with matzah balls, matzah brie, macaroons and colorful cookies, and plenty of matzah.  For one week, we ate no bread. We had matzah with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  That week, we did not eat out.

My family would never consider keeping kosher, in any other form, during the rest of the year.  In fact, when I came home one day from Hebrew School and at the dinner table that night, asked if we could keep a kosher home, my parents just stared at each other.  They must have thought to themselves, “eleven years ago the hospital must have given us the wrong child!”

But somehow, my family intrinsically understood that by “keeping Pesach” one week a year, Passover would keep us.  My parents probably believed in assimilation as much as they believed in Judaism.  Yet they understood that if Passover were to have any value for us, it needed to be kadosh, distinct and special.  Not only did that night need to be different from all other nights, that week needed to be different from all other weeks.

Without ever saying as much, each year at Passover, my parents tried to teach us that sometimes when God calls upon us to be kadosh, to be holy or to be a light unto the nations, we will sometimes have to make a korban, a sacrifice, in order to draw close to God.  Once a year, for a week, we gave up bread and the other foods we normally ate.  This sacrifice, this change of routine would somehow bring us close enough to God that we might hear God’s voice.

By drawing close to God, we could hope to find out what it is that God expects from us.  Like the time my parents sacrificed their beach club membership when the club would not allow them to bring a black friend as their guest.  Or the financial sacrifices my father made to keep his grocery business in Harlem, at a time when most supermarkets would not open stores in African-American neighborhoods.

Through those rituals of keeping kosher for Passover, I learned that ritual commandments are not unrelated to moral commandments.  Our biblical ancestors did not see a separation between ritual and ethical behaviors.  Perhaps, sometimes, neither should we.  Along with the matzah and horseradish, the box that contained my mother’s Passover order contained a heaping dish of morality.  That humble box of groceries was also filled with the voice of God.

Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah.

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Rabbi Victor Appell

About Rabbi Victor Appell

Rabbi Victor Appell is the URJ's Congregational Marketing Director. He previously served as the Specialist for Marketing, Outreach & New Communities for the URJ’s Congregational Consulting Group. Rabbi Appell grew up in the Reform Movement, serving as a regional NFTY president and a staff member on Eisner Camp. He was ordained from Hebrew Union College in 1999, and began working for the URJ in 2005. He, his partner, and their two children live in Metuchen, NJ.

5 Responses to “The Passover Order”

  1. avatar

    Out of all the many readings I have seen this Pesach season, this was the most touching, relevant, and powerful. This is THE point we Reform rabbis and educators often fail to transmit to our congregants—the inter-connectedness between ritual and moral commandments. I will keep and treasure this article as one to share in the future with others. Todah rabbah, Victor!

  2. avatar

    Great story…

    Thank you so much!

  3. Larry Kaufman

    Victor, your post highlights two things I find interesting — the difference in our Passover and rest-of-the-year lifestyles, and the inconsistencies in our practice as measured against Orthodox norms.

    For example, my Aunt Betty z”l kept a kosher home, ate anything out 51 weeks a year, but wouldn’t set foot in a restaurant during Pesach. I have friends who are kosher in their home in the city but not at their weekend home; and Jerry doesn’t eat pork, shellfish, or cheeseburgers — but will eat tortillas during Passover because they are unleavened. However, he won’t drink his usual vodka, because it’s grain-based. I assume whatever vodka is being poured is potato-based, following my own rule, If it can be kosher lePesach, it is.

    I personally do not observe the laws of ,i>kashrut, but I do abstain from chametz during Pesach. Thus no shrimp fried in batter, but sauteed is another story.

    One part of the equation is whom we are observant for — Ourselves? God? or others? During my time in graduate school I began eating chametz (although I kind of expected a thunderbolt with the first bite of a roll). When I finished school and entered the working world, many of my colleagues were Roman Catholic, and made much of the dietary sacrifices they were making in honor of Lent. I decided to go off bread and back on matza for Passover to demonstrate that others, too, were making sacrifices for their religions. Jewish Pride, you might have called it. But having done it for what may have been a wrong reason, I have continued it for more than half a century. Im lo lishma, ba lishma . That which doesn’t begin in God’s name, God’s name comes into.

  4. avatar


    Thank you so much for the read. Thinking about why we do what we do sets us apart and choosing our own path through the sea of Judaism is a big responsibility. You made me think some more about my own path and it’s relevance.

    Well Done!

  5. avatar
    Patti LaVene Kommel Reply April 9, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    I so enjoyed your commentary. I was not raised Jewish, I was not even aware of my Jewish heritage until much later in life. But I do remember my father, once a year, going to this small grocer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where we lived, to buy groceries at Weiner’s Delicatessen. He would buy matzah, Manischewitz wine and Mt. Carmel wine, gefilte fish, horseradish and most importantly, to me, macaroons. My mother always called this my dad’s “special food”. It was never really discussed but that is what he would eat for the week. I would get the macaroons, almond were my favorites with chocolate close behind. Now married many years and happily celebrating my Judaism, I too carry on the tradition with my family sharing with me. But I can walk into a grocery store, look at the Kosher for Passover aisles of food and tears will come to my eyes. I always say a silent Kaddish for my father in these aisles while I too buy horseradish, matzah and most important, the macaroons–now for my daughter and my grandson. I love the tradition, I cherish the memories. Chag sameach!

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