USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Judaism’
Customs
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Chuppah

Context: My informant is a 37 year-old Jewish woman who recently moved to Los Angeles from Toronto. She was preparing for her upcoming wedding when she began to discuss what Jewish traditions she planned on incorporating in her ceremony. In the piece, she is identified as J.T. and I am identified as D.S.

 

Background: The Chuppah is essentially a canopy in which the bride and groom and their family members stand under in a Jewish wedding ceremony. The tradition can be traced back to biblical weddings in Jewish culture, and is deeply rooted in its’ history and religious customs.

 

Main Piece:

DS: “You mentioned your fiancé is Christian, are you still going to have a traditional Jewish wedding?”

JT: “Definitely. My family is fairly religious, and he’s in the process of converting right now, so his family is open to keeping it more traditional too.”

DS: “What are some of the traditions you’re going to include?”

JT: “Well, pretty much everything. A Rabbi is speaking at our ceremony, we’ll be reciting the seven prayers and the blessing over the wine, the chuppah, and of course breaking the glass at the end of the ceremony.”

DS: “Do you mind elaborating on the importance of the chuppah a bit?”

JT: “Sure! The chuppah is pretty much a canopy, and it represents the home that the bride and groom will build together. Couples usually decorate it beautifully for their weddings. I’m planning on having mine strung with vines and white roses. It’s supposed to stand with all four sides wide open, to represent a home with open doors that’s welcoming and loving. Hospitality is something that’s highly regarded in Jewish culture, as I’m sure you know.”

 

Analysis: Since I come from a reform Jewish family, I’m aware of most traditions, but I don’t have much background knowledge on the meaning behind them, so it was interesting to hear the symbolism behind this tradition in particular. Having attended quite a few Jewish weddings, the Chuppah is always the staple of the ceremony, and is always decorated beautifully.

 

Annotation: For more on Jewish wedding customs and the history behind the Chuppah, reference to:

Goldman, A. L. (2000). 3. Weddings. In Being Jewish: The Spiritual and Cultural Practice of Judaism Today (pp. 69-86). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Narrative

How Purim, A Jewish Holiday, Came to Be: The Story of Esther

The following is a conversation with AJ that describes her interpretation and knowledge of the Story of Esther; the story behind the Jewish holiday of Purim.

 

AJ: So basically, the second in command to the King, named Haman, made a decree that everyone needed to bow down to him, but this one guy named Mordecai didn’t want to bow down to him because you’re really not allowed to bow down to anyone that’s not God. So, Haman then hated all the Jews. So, he made a decree for a lottery, which picked a day that would essentially be “the purge” for killing Jews; you’d have the whole day to kill Jews and you wouldn’t get in trouble. So, the day he chose “the purge” for was on the 13th of Adar, which falls tomorrow (March 20th), I think, and it was called Purim.

So, while this is happening, the King was having a three-day festival party, and he told his wife to come so he could show her off or whatever. But she didn’t come and just had her own party with the girls, and it was so disrespectful to the King that he got rid of her. So, then he held a beauty pageant for a new wife, and he recruited every girl from the city. So basically, Mordecai, from earlier, had a niece named Esther, and they were trying to hide her, but the King’s men found her. When she went to the beauty pageant, the King liked her the most and she was the most beautiful, so she became Queen. Mordecai then told Esther that this [happening] was a sign that she needed to use her position as Queen to try and convince the King that he shouldn’t kill the Jews with the purge system that Haman created. And then basically Esther was really scared because you can’t approach the King, even if you’re the Queen, without him calling [upon] you or using his power on you. So that’s why the Jews fasted for three days, to make sure nothing would happen to her when she went to the King. They fasted because it was custom that you were supposed to fast if you really wanted something to happen […]; fasting helps give you luck. So, she went to the King and asked for a tea party to talk about Haman. So, Esther had the party twice, but couldn’t find her words until the third time when she told the King that Haman was trying to kill her people, the Jews. The King then was like, “What, oh my gosh!” […] there are more details, but anyway, the King sentences Haman and all his sons and they were hung, but only after Haman carried Mordecai on a horse to get his full embarrassment before his death. The lottery decree was able to be reversed because of the King’s power and then the Jew’s were saved because of Esther.

 

EK:  So, then what do you, and other Jews, do to celebrate for Purim?

 

AJ: Um, okay, so we fast for a day, which is tomorrow (March 20th), the same as the 13th of Adar, and then we read this story at night before we have a big feast. Also, it’s a custom to give each other food baskets to friends and family during this time.

 

EK: Interesting, so what does this story mean to you, as someone who is Jewish?

 

AJ: Basically, I know it because through being Jewish and it’s just a story that’s identifiable to all Jewish people because everyone in the religion celebrates the holiday, so it just brings us all together and we get food baskets in the process, haha.

 

My Interpretation:

It is very clear that the Jewish religion places a lot of emphasis on the stories of their religion and the sacredness of their celebrations. These origins seem to date back thousands of years, as well as the worship during the sacred holiday. During Purim, I watched AJ strictly abide by the rules of fasting throughout the day; obviously this is a holiday that Jews take very seriously. As this story is a part of their culture and religion, it seems that many Jews know it by heart. When AJ was sharing the story, she did not have to think twice about many of the details, like it was common practice for her to recite.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Passover Plate and Matzah – Symbolic Food at the Passover Seder

Item:

L: This is gonna explain the Passover plate in the middle, not all things are on it ‘cause we have a big bowl of charoset and um, and we don’t have a lamb’s shank bone because yenno, where you gonna find those?  Not really, so we’ll just break something else and uh..

S: For reference, my, uh, my family uses the same lamb shank bone every year.

L: That’s terrifying.

E: Do you actually break it or is it just symbolic?

S: No, it’s just symbolic.

L: So there’s the egg, symbolizes, uh, new life, uh, new beginnings, that sort of thing.  A little bit of the karpas which is the vegetables, spring new life, that sort of thing. Uh, the egg is more of a new life for you as person and the culture, spring is the vegetable.  There’s the charoset, um, and the maror, that’s the herbs and the bitterness.  Um, and the salt water, which is supposed to represent the tears of our ancestors and how much they suffered! Yaaay! Um, it’s all- this is all pretty much about remembrance.  Um, and being- welcome to Judaism, pretty much everything is remembering the troubles you went through in the past so that you, uh you know, remembering your past.  Don’t, you know, take things for granted.  Uh, think about how fortunate you are now that you’re not building pyramids

S: Be afraid of Egyptians and Christians and everyone.

L: But it’s also like, you know, new birth, rememb- like you know, it’s not all bleh.  Um, which comes across in the charoset, which is the mortar between the bricks that we built.  Um, yeah, why is mortar made out of apples and walnuts? I don’t know, it tastes good though.  And we’ll get to that later with the Hillel sandwich.  But that’s what the plate in the middle is supposed to represent.  Um, so karpas! Which is the herbs, pretty much this is the parsley and the salt water.  The herbs, which is the little bitter, dip it into the salt water to remember the tears of our ancestors and the sweat of all the hard work they did when they were enslaved in Egypt. Hahum, once again. Tha- this is gonna be a reoccurring theme guys!

L: So um, we all take a little bit of the parsley… [distributes parsley] and do you typically say the prayer before or after you eat it?

S: Before.

L: Before? Okay, I did- somebody did it after, and I was like [makes a confused face].  I know, I was confused as well. Alright so, um, this is to remember the tears of our ancestors and all the hardships they went through.

All: Blessed are You Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the earth.

L: And then we dip it in the salt water.

L: Yachatz.  Matzah! What is matzah? It’s unleavened bread, because when we left Egypt, we didn’t have time to let our bread rise, um, ‘cause we were in such a hurry.  So we left Egypt in a hurry and the bread baked on the backs of the Jews who were walking through the desert, um, on their long journey.  So that’s what matzah is, we don’t eat any bread with wheat, or basically leavened bread this night, um, to signify that.. um, and we will break it in half.  So what we do is we break it in half, and hide the smaller piece, uh, and this is the Afikomen which is our “dessert” for the Passover uh, but yenno real dessert, it’s- it’s a modern thing. But what we do is we hide this somewhere in the area and then all the children go and find it and a lot of the time if you find it, you get a prize or something like that, um, I was thinking the people who could find it are the people who have not participated in Passover before.

S: In case you were wondering, as the oldest cousin, I did find the Afikomen every year.

L: I never found the Afikomen!

S: My grandma got dollar coins.  So it was a dollar, but it was a special dollar.

[Continuation of the Seder dinner, primarily the telling of the Story of Passover]

L: The pesach, which is the lamb bone that we don’t have.  No one actually uses roasted beets

S: That’s true

L: So that’s why I didn’t even think about it.  It’s the sacrifice that God passed over the Israelites’ houses with the tenth plague, um, what they did is they painted lamb’s blood on their doorways so that God would pass over their doorway and not kill their firstborn. So that’s what the shank bone is for, the blood of the- the sacrifice of both the firstborns of the Egyptians also the lambs that we painted blood with.

[Second Glass of Wine]

[The Second Urchatz – Washing of Hands]

L: Blessing over matzah, so now we get to eat the matzah.  This is eating the unleavened bread so you can crack off a little piece.

All: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His laws and commanded us to eat matzah.

S: Whenever you make matzah at home, it’s circular.

L: It’s supposed to look like this ‘cause that’s how they made it back in the day.  However, you know, factory processed matzah.

S: This is in fact why you have matzah that’s not Kosher for Passover ‘cause they were too lazy to get a rabbi in there.  Or too cheap.

L: The maror, okay the bitter herbs. Here’s the horseradish.  This is the bitter herbs, um, remembering the bitterness and pain, again, of our ancestors.  Yep.  It sucked being slave so what you do is take a little bit of the horseradish.  If you’re feeling the pain of your ancestors, you get a big ol’ glob on there but if you’re not really feeling the pain of the ancestors. This- this would also be a competition.  Whoever could eat the most bitter- the most maror, would be the most remember-y Jew.

S: What my family does is we’d chop up the horseradish and take a teeny tiny little bite.

All: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His laws and commanded us to eat bitter herbs.

L: Yaay, the best part, the charoset. So charoset, anyone remember?

Participant: It’s the spackle and the mortar!

L: Yeah! Cool. So what we do is that we make a Hillel sandwich.  Hillel was a famous, ah, um.. is he a rabbi?

S: He was a rabbi, they’re all rabbis.

L: Yeah, he was a famous religious figure in Judaism who made the- who would- this is what we name after, Hillel.

L: So what we do is we take the mortar, there’s no prayer for this funny enough, you take – if you want, you don’t have to – a little bit of the radish, the bitter.

S: You kinda have to.

L: You do.

S: You kinda have to, but you drown it out with the charoset.

L: Now the charoset, oh so we take it ‘cause we still remember the bitterness, but we put in the charoset ‘cause we- because it’s also the hope of the future and the- the taste of the joys of life.  So there’s the sweetness outweighs the bitter, but you still need the bitter to remember.

S: In case you were wondering, for this and the previous thing, most people take like a teeny teeny little bite.

L: Oh yeah, no- no one ever really goes super hard.  That was just the first time ‘cause someti- it’s always a competition, especially if there are kids.

 

Context:

This recorded excerpt is only parts of the Seder dinner I attended that reveal the symbolism of food at Passover.  I collected this piece as the leader of the Seder, denoted by ‘L’ in the excerpts above, was going through the ritual agenda.  That being said, it should be noted that these excerpts were not consecutive in the procession.  In some locations there are brackets with the rituals that came in between certain sections.

The primary informants of the Seder dinner were two students from the University of Southern California.  They are both Jewish and both grew up celebrating Passover and attending Seders with their families.  As such, throughout the transcription, there are places where one of the informants may have an additional comment regarding something their family did specifically or what their family may have changed from the a more traditional Seder as prescribed by a guide book called the Haggadah.  For example, typically three days of Seder are observed, on Friday, Saturday, then Sunday, but both informants mentioned how their families typically only did one.  Both the informants also talked about the Haggadah they used in their families, but the guide book was not a means of learning the rituals or the traditions by far.  It served as amore of a refresher and catalog of knowledge on the stories that are told through the night.  People would actually learn about the rich symbolism and reasoning behind Seder as they experience it and partake in it.

 

Analysis:

The Passover Seder is very rich in food symbolism, as seen in the excerpt of the dinner I attended above.  The food itself does not inherently hold meaning, but it is the context in which it is presented and consumed in which the meaning arises.  The choice of a particular food to hold meaning may have different origins as well.  Whereas matzah is a literal representation of the unleavened bread that baked on the backs of the Jewish people as they traveled through the desert, some of the other items on the plate have physical connections to their intended meaning.  For example, the bitterness of the horseradish, or the maror, was meant to parallel the bitterness and pain of suffering in Egypt.  The charoset, though, a delicious mixture of apples and walnuts, is supposed to represent the mortar and spackle between the bricks of the pyramids.  There is not quite any apparent connection here as opposed to the other items whose taste or appearance is the basis of their symbolism.  On the other hand, though, later on one the informants mentioned how the charoset also represents the joys from life and hopes of the future, and this has more of a direct connection because delicious food can be a joy of life.  Children or non-Jewish participants in Seder are able to very quickly identify the symbolism of foods during Seder because some of the spoken rituals are about explaining them as well.

Not only is the symbolism of the food important at Seder, but the ritual interactions with these foods are significant as well.  The most prominent example of this would be having to eat the maror, or the bitter herbs.  As ‘L’ mentioned, those who really strive to experience the bitterness and pain of the Jewish ancestors would go for a large amount of it (though on the flip side, it may just be a competition).  If the foods hold the essence of some state of being, then eating the food could nurture that same essence within an individual by means of contagion.  I think this is part of the reason why such emphasis is placed on food symbolism during Seder.  Whether the resulting state of being is negative or positive, it provides a means to remember the events of the past.  By continuing to ritually reenact Seder dinner, during which the suffering of the Jewish ancestors is remembered and God is thanked for freeing the Jewish people of their slavery, the story of Passover for the Jewish people will continue to perpetuate and thus preserving this aspect of Jewish culture.

 

Annotation:

For additional examples of familial variations in celebrating the Passover Seder, please refer to  Sharon R. Sherman’s essay titled “The Passover Seder: Ritual Dynamics, Foodways, and Family Folklore” in Chapter 14 (pages 193 – 204) of Food in the USA: A Reader.

Sherman, Sharon R. “The Passover Seder: Ritual Dynamics, Foodways, and Family Folklore.” Food in the USA: A Reader, edited by Carole M. Counihan, Routledge, 2002, pp. 193-204.

 

Additional Informant Data:

The informant data for the leader of the Seder is included in the section above the item.  The same information is included for the other informant below:

‘S’ – Nationality: USA; Age: 26; Occupation: Ph.D. Student; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jewish Festival/Ritual: Non-Traditional Passover/Seder

Main Piece: Jewish Festival/Ritual

“My family hosts Passover dinner every year, but our celebration of the holiday is nontraditional in that we perform only a 10 minute seder. When we begin the seder, we always start with a reading of the Haggadah, which recounts the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt and helps us to remember the suffering the Jews experienced as slaves and their happiness and celebration upon being freed. The leader of the seder, my mother, starts of the reading of the Haggadah and then each person around the table reads the paragraph following the previous. The Hebrew prayers we recite together, and upon reciting the prayer for wine, we drink our cup of wine or grape juice. To remember our ancestors tears, we take bitter greens, which are parsley, and dip them in salt water. To remember our ancestors’ hard labor and the bricks Pharaoh forced them to build, we break the matzah and create small matzah sandwiches by adding charoset, a chunky mixture of apples, matzah, and nuts, and horseradish. Before we finish reading the Haggadah, we stop to eat dinner which always starts with matzah ball soup and then we move onto the main courses. In my family, we make some of the same dishes every year, including my aunt’s arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette and pine nuts, beef brisket, and kugel, a sweet-tasting baked noodle casserole. After everyone finishes eating, we finish reading the Haggadah and then prepare dessert. It is during this time too that one of the men in the household, usually my dad, would hide the afikomen, a wrapped-up piece of broken matzah that is to be hidden and searched for by the children of the house those younger than 13 years old, but we don’t do this anymore since there are no more children in our family. Our Passover ends with dessert. Because we are forbidden on Passover to eat foods containing grains like wheat, oat, barley, spelt, etc., we have flourless desserts, including spongecake, fresh fruit, macaroons, chocolate, and flourless cookies.”

Background Information:

-Why does informant know this piece?

The informant is Jewish, and the Seder festival has been celebrated in her family for generations.

- Where did they learn this piece?

She learned about these traditions because she participates in this festival every year

- What does it mean to them?

This event is a way for her distant family to meet up each year.

Context:

- Where? The Seder happens at the dinner table in the informant’s home.

- When? The Seder tradition happens on Passover, which often falls near Christian Easter.

- Why? The Seder serves as a reminder of the Jewish people being freed from Egyptian slavery.

Personal Thoughts:

This year, my friend invited me to attend the Seder at her house. It was a very warm and pleasant experience. According to her, the Seder that happens at her house is very relaxed compared to a traditional Seder which can last up to four hours or more depending on how religious the family celebrating it is. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I think this tradition of bringing the family together and eating a ritualized meal is very important for the preservation of Jewish culture.

Holidays
Humor
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Leaving a Place for Elijah

The source is an Israeli Microsoft employee describing a prank he pulled on his children on Passover.

Well, as you may know for Passover Seder, we set an extra place at the table for the Profit Elijah. The tradition normally is that we pour a cup of wine for the profit and the husband of the household open the door for him. Of course, the seat remains empty and the wine full. And many parents know you can have some fun with young children, who of course are watching the Elijah’s Cup intently, by knocking the table when they’re not looking so that some of the wine spills out and it appear that the cup is drunk. When they’re older maybe they don’t fall for this.

Anyway, last year we had the idea to take that one step further and I asked my friend from work Farhan to help me with a prank. He’s Zoroastrian so he’s not doing anything that night. So this Seder we set a place for Elijah like normal; we pour the wine like normal. My children are nine and thirteen so they don’t take the whole thing too seriously anymore; they know the trick of knocking the table and spilling the wine; you know, they’re too wise to fall for that anymore.

Well this year we start eating and suddenly a bearded olive-skinned man in a tunic walks in the front door, comes to Elijah’s place, drinks the wine, and walks out again without saying anything. My kids drop to the floor and they say, “who was that, Dad.”

And I say very casually, “That’s Eliyahu [Elijah].”

To this day I won’t tell them that it was really my friend Farhan.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Non-Traditional Passover Traditions

The source describes how his family’s Passover traditions are non-traditional:

Passover is really fun at my mom’s house. And I didn’t realize how unorthodox it was until one year we went over to my aunt’s place for Passover and she’s a lot more religious. She was really strict and me and my sister got in an argument with her.  

What do you do for Passover that’s unorthodox?

Well we don’t read an actual Haggadah [the Haggadah is a Jewish which sets forth the order of the Passover Seder], we read a children’s picture book.

And the adults usually don’t drink wine or they only have one glass. But my favorite part is that we play a game where you throw mashed potatoes at the front door with a spoon. It’s based on marking the doors of the Israelites with blood. But our version is a lot more fun and more P.G. 

Is the Seder kosher?

Yes, we make sure the Seder is kosher, but my family doesn’t keep kosher most of the time. Only on holidays.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Passover Dinner

Main Piece: Passover Dinner

 

I personally am not Jewish, but I had the opportunity to attend a Passover dinner at my friend Sam’s house this year with their family. We ate a lot of different foods traditionally associated with Passover. There was brisket, matzo ball soup, Gefilte fish, and a sweet matzo kugel. The matzo kugel was something new to me, so I asked about it specifically.

My friends mother told me that Kugel is a Yiddish term stemming from Germany. German Jews would mix flour, water, and apples, that created a sweet matzo-like dessert. This is a dish traditionally served in the family as a savory dessert that has a historical context to it. It consisted of Granny-Smith apples, cinnamon, sugar, butter, and matzo.

 

Background:

 

My friend told me this is a dish that has been in his family for many generations, being passed down to his mother by her mother, and to her by her mother, and so on. Matzo itself is a traditional dish in the Jewish tradition. It stems from the Jewish diaspora from Egypt, when all they had was flour and water (no yeast), which resulted in the matzo bread being flat, since it could not rise.

They liked this recipe because not only is it delicious, but it has cultural significance and is more of a delicacy made for special occasions. It isn’t just prepared for your everyday meal, and that gives you a way to make a meal special in that sense.

 

Context:

 

Passover is a celebration of their liberation by God from slavery in Egypt. It commemorates the Exodus, and lasts for seven or eight days depending on the specific religion, during the Hebrew month of Nisan. Matzo is a big part of the meal, as it is derived from the event that is being celebrated during this holiday. This is why a majority of the dishes consist of matzo, and it has a certain level of historical context to being so prominent in the celebration.

Traditionally throughout the week of Passover, Jews are not supposed to consume yeast, and only matzo, to pay homage to the religion and its history. Because this is such an important holiday in the tradition, matzo kugel is prepared for this special occasion.

 

My thoughts:

 

Personally I am not a fan of fruity desserts, I think desserts should be something along the lines of ice cream or cake. I still tried it out of respect and although it was not my favorite, I could tell it was a delicacy in my friends household, as everyone got excited once it became time for dessert.

Game
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Passover Game Night

Main Piece: “I think there’s a couple of things my family does on Passover. One thing my dad does every year on one of the nights… because we do a whole seder the first and second night… we hold a game night. And that includes a different game every year. In the past, we’ve done Jeopardy night or… um… the amazing race Passover edition… we have even done American Idol Passover edition. And I think that gives a fun little way for the younger kids at seder to want to come…um…and something I’ve alwyas enjoyed.”

Background: The informant says Passover game nights have been a tradition her whole life. She says her father is quite creative and puts a lot of time into these games. The informant appreciates these games because she says it’s a good way to learn about the story of Passover without it being “too boring.” Trivia, clues, and rewards are used as incentive to make the seder interesting and enjoyable. A “seder” is a Jewish ritual of the telling and celebration of the liberation of the Isrealites from slavery in ancient Egypt.

Performance Context: I sat at my desk while the informant sat across from me in a chair.

My Thoughts: The informant’s father invests a lot of effort into this game night. His creativity unites cultures and traditions; U.S. games like Jeapoardy, American Idol, and the Amazing Race are combined with Jewish rituals, retelling stories of ancient Egypt and Israel on the holiday of Passover. The game night tradition involves the entire family, which according to the informant, brings together over 50 members of the family. Judaism, like other religions, values tradition. However, this Passover game night adapts tradition to a modern context. I expect the legacy of this game night will live on since the informant notes how enjoyable the seders become when the whole family is involved in the game.

Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Passover: Ashkenazi and Sephardic Foodways

Main Piece:  “In terms of food… um… my mom is Ashkenazi and my dad is Sephardic so I think my home is one of those rare homes that you see foods like rice and beans served, besides brisket…we have both brisket and lamb…which I don’t think anyone does that…’cause we cater to both sides of the family. There’s two dishes in particular that I think I’ve never heard of outside of my family. One of them is called Mina…and it’s a spinach matzoh dish… not entirely sure….but it’s amazing. And then the other one is Singato and that’s like mushrooms and meat and all sorts of good stuff…I don’t know what’s in it….but it’s Sephardic.”

Background: The informant notes that it is particularly interesting that her Ashkenazi mother and Sephardic father jointly contribute to the Passover meal because they are two different global denominations of Judaism. She remembers that when she was younger, her family wouldn’t serve the traditional Sephardic dishes because her older Ashkenazi relatives weren’t as accepting of these dishes as “traditional.” The informant prefers the Sephardic food served at dinner because there are more variations in the dish (vegetables, meat, grains, etc.) The informant’s family hosts over 50 people for dinner each year. She notes that it can be offensive to the hosts when a guest doesn’t eat a dish that is served.

Performance Context: I sat at my desk while the informant sat across from me in a chair.

My Thoughts: The unification of two branches of Judaism, Sephardic and Ashkenazi, is noteworthy because these affiliations are infamous for not collaborating on religious methods concerning diet, prayer, ritual, and more. Ashkenazi Jews are a European denomination especially prevalent in Poland, Russia, France, while Sephardic Jews have majority of their communities in Spain, Portugal, and Turkey. Folk foodways are an interesting way to unify multiple globalized traditions. The informant noted that her older relatives were not so welcoming of this collaboration because it wasn’t as “traditional.” A widely accepted sentiment, “non-traditonal” is usually understood as imposing on an individual’s personal tradition. Of course a tradition is unique to the individual, so Sephardic foodways and Ashkenazi foodways are each traditional, but bringing together both foodways at one time became a new tradition which required adjustment.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Passover Tradition: A Modern Haggadah

Main Piece: “So my dad makes these…um…books with all the different prayers that you… um… do on Passover and it has all that information but it also has little fun snippits in it including a festive front cover with my family’s pictures having to do with the biblical story in some way. And they often feature my horse and in the past, my dog, with matzoh in their mouths. So that’s always fun. And it usually includes some sort of news information on what’s happening in the world today.”

Background: The informant says these books have been used as long as she can remember (at least 21 years). She says her father likes making people laugh and likes to personalize the books with photos of their animals because he wants Passover to be enjoyable. According to the informant, her father also likes to share his political viewpoints concerning current events to inspire conversation during dinner. Each member of the table looks through the book at the seder. Her father uses the book, in Hebrew referred to as “haggadah,” in a traditional but contemporary way. It is read back to front, like the Torah. The informant also notes that her father keeps the book a surprise until the night of the dinner.

Performance Context: I sat at my desk while the informant sat across from me in a chair.

My Thoughts: The informant’s father places value on celebrating the holiday, rather than simply reciting the Hebrew prayers and practicing the rituals. Instead, he makes the books relevant, surprising, and humorous in a modern context. Hosting a Passover dinner for many people of many backgrounds is difficult, but engaging the entire table is even more of a challenge. The informant’s celebration of Passover is unique to her family. It has been tradition for over 21 years and incorporates a sense of enjoyment and festivity. The informant’s father has adapted the original haggadah to fit a contemporary context, considering current events, humor, and the guests’ engagement. The personalization of the books is similar to a copyright. There is a sense of ownership in this creative work, shared only with the guests at the Passover dinner.

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