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A different sort of charoset

Resa Cohen Stone: After Passover

April 10, 2013

Almost a week after Pesach has finished, I find that I’m still exhausted. I find that I’m still upset at the fact that most of the holiday was spent in the kitchen. I find that I’m sick of my Pesach dishes and‘making do’ for one week with equipment that is not as good as my regular stuff. I find that I’m still frazzled by trying to figure out what to cook on Pesach for Ashkenazi people who don’t like cooked carrots (aka tsimmes) squash, eggplant, cauliflower or broccoli. I mean, what’s left? (Chocolate, that’s what’s left.) I find that I am especially frustrated that after 42 shopping trips, about 1,000,000 NIS spent on food, 36 straight hours of cooking and baking, my kids would open the fridge, stand there for half an hour, then proclaim that there is ‘nothing to eat.’ (I hid the chocolate.)

What I don’t find is my favorite chametz knife, which got put away somewhere at the last minute before the holiday.


No doubt, Pesach is an exhausting, frustrating time. But a week later, I am more prepared to look at it objectively. There are those old clichés: I worked hard, but thank G-d I have the strength to do the work. It was very expensive, but thank G-d we have the money to spend, and jobs to earn more money. Family members can be truly aggravating, annoying, exasperating, and infuriating, but thank G-d we are surrounded by family.
Ok, so it’s still a bit too soon for me to be 100% sincere about that last one.

And yet,

I love Pesach. The weather is beautiful (here in Israel – not in London where it was snowing, and certainly not in Winnipeg where snow isn’t even news), the flowers are blooming, the kids are off school, and the whole country is on holiday. Everyone eats matzah. Bread is not to be seen (unless you really look for it, I suppose, and I did not).

The best part of Pesach in Israel are the various and varied customs. Each community has its own foods, songs, stories. It is the custom of Jews from Tripoli, I learned, to sit on the floor for the seder. Yemenite Jews go for a little walk with packs on their backs during the Seder to symbolize the exodus. While in our home, everyone dips their finger in the wine and shakes out 10 drops as the 10 plagues are recited, in some Sephardi homes only the father will dip his finger so that others will not be "contaminated." In other communities, the guests are not allowed to even look at the wine.

One of the main differences, and topics of discussion, is how to make charoset. I grew up making charoset – that sweet concoction that symbolizes the bricks the Israelites were forced to make in Egypt, and alleviates the taste of the bitter herbs when shmeered on matzah or lettuce –out of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon. However, Moroccans (and other North African Jews) make it from dates instead of apples; Persians use a variety of spices with over a dozen kinds of fruits and nuts, including dates, pomegranates, bananas, oranges and pistachios. Venetian Jews make charoset from chestnuts, rather than almonds or walnuts and apricots instead of apples. Some Greek Jews mash raisins in vinegar, and add pepper and even bits of brick! Yemenite Jews use chopped dates and figs, chili pepper and coriander. I once had charoset made with bananas – in an Ashkenazi home. And of course, we all know that we can't mix charoset with chopped liver. We'll get charoisis of the liver. (Say it fast, in a Yiddish accent. You'll get it.)

I’ll stick with apples and walnuts for now.
(For more customs from different communities see here, but there are a million sites online.)

I think what I love most about Pesach is celebrating Pesach in Israel. Pesach, like all Jewish holidays, is meant to be celebrated in Israel, where the weather is beautiful and the flowers are blooming, and where miracles happen daily. It’s on Pesach, with its plethora of customs, that the miracle of the ingathering is so palpable. Jews from around the world, from Afghanistan, Columbia, Ireland, Yemen, and Zimbabwe, and every country in between, have come to Israel, with their customs and their foods and their way of life, to live and grow old, to build homes and bear children, to work and to contribute, to celebrate and, yes, to mourn.

Tomorrow is Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG'vurah (??? ??????? ????? ???????; "Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day"), when Jews of Israel and around the world remember and commemorate the more than 6 million of their people who were murdered by the Nazis and their assistants between the years 1938-1945.

In his Bar-Ilan speech in 2009, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said:

The right of the Jewish People to a state in the Land of Israel does not arise from the series of disasters that befell the Jewish People over 2,000 years - persecutions, expulsions, pogroms, blood libels, murders, which reached its climax in the Holocaust, an unprecedented tragedy in the history of nations. There are those who say that without the Holocaust the State would not have been established, but I say that if the State of Israel had been established in time, the Holocaust would not have taken place. The tragedies that arose from the Jewish People's helplessness show very sharply that we need a protective state. The right to establish our sovereign state here, in the Land of Israel, arises from one simple fact: Eretz Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish People.

In other words, we are not here in Israel because we were persecuted, oppressed, abused, enslaved, tyrannized, expelled, forcibly converted, and murdered in all the countries of the world. We are here in Israel because it is our homeland, because here our people were born, and it is here in Israel that we will ensure that Jews, no matter where they are in the world – Yemen, France, Holland, Iran, or in Israel itself – will not be persecuted for who they are again.

“The Holocaust, said Irwin Cotler, former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, “did not begin in the gas chambers – it began with words.”

We are hearing those words again today: colonialism, conquest, oppression, apartheid. Blood libels are springing up yet again. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that "the very existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to humanity" and that "the Zionist regime and the Zionists are a cancerous tumor.” And no one censored him. No one even blinked.

We, the ingathered, remember the six million. We remember that they were murdered because of who they were, not what they did. They were murdered because the nations of the world turned a deaf ear and a blind eye. They were murdered because they had no land, and no government, and no flag, and no army.

There are nations in the world that are preparing for another holocaust. Other nations continue to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye.

But this time, we have our own Land, our own government, our own flag and our own army.

May we be blessed to continue gathering in our People, to build up our country in justice and holiness, and to celebrate our holy days in happiness and health.

And would it be too much to ask to be able to find my knife? 

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