Wednesday marks the beginning of Passover for the Jewish community.
The holiday commemorates the freeing of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery during the time of Moses. The exodus of the Israelites from Egypt came after the Angel of Death "passed over" their houses because they had placed the blood of the paschal lamb on the door posts of their homes, leaving them unharmed.
A Passover Seder, or meal, is traditionally celebrated the first two days of the eight-day holiday. Congregation Beth Sholom, on Civic Circle in Beverly Hills, will provide a completely kosher and traditional service and Seder at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Kellner Auditorium. Rabbi Zvi Ettinger will lead the service in which all guests will participate. The cost is $22.50 for members, $25 for nonmembers and $11.25 for children under the age of 12.
Preparation for a Seder begins days before the event.
Les Leavitt is the past president of the congregation and chairman of the committee that is preparing the meal. Hank Flatow is assisting him with the bulk of the preparation.
"We will begin Sunday with the cleanup in the kitchen," Leavitt said. "Kosher is the food we are serving. Kashering is the process of making everything kosher. We do that because we don't want any leftover from the chumitz being on any of our utensils that we are using, because that would make the food we eat not kosher."
Chumitz, explained Leavitt, is everything that has leavening in it or a bean or legume product. Tradition demands that everything eaten during Passover be kosher in order to come as close as possible to replicating how the Hebrews ate when they left Egypt and had to make their bread quickly with no time for leavening. Meals are prepared that way in Jewish homes during Passover as well.
"Whatever you eat during the year, you can't have it at Passover," said Freida Cassel, publicity chairwoman for the group. "You change your dishes, you change your silverware, you change your pots. The people who are really Orthodox put a board in their sink so that your dishes don't touch the bottom. You clean your stove. You clean your refrigerator, then you usually put down tinfoil on top of the shelves so that anything you are using is not the same as you've used during the course of the year."
Cassel explained how a game is played in Jewish homes that emphasizes the koshering process.
"The father of the house and the children go with a flashlight and a feather looking for chumitz that the mother has hidden. When they find it, they take the feather and take the chumitz outside and then they burn it."
Leavitt said they would even tape the cupboards in the kitchen of the auditorium shut.
"In some extreme Orthodox homes they have two kitchens," he said. "This is as close as we can come to reproducing what the Hebrews did."
The actual cooking of the meal will begin Sunday night.
"Sunday night I may start preparing the soup and then put it away in the fridge so it stays fresh," Leavitt said. "I am doing the basic cooking and Hank is helping me. Wednesday we have extra help when we start cutting the chickens."
Flatow prepared the Hanukkah meal last year, but this is his first Passover meal.
"I'm looking forward to doing this," Flatow said. "Les needs some help. It's an awful lot of work."
"Everybody helps in one way or another," said Sandy Flatow, the new president of the congregation. "Two people can't do it alone. It's a big meal to prepare. We have everything in a big horseshoe and we cover the tables and then the girls set the tables."
Hank Flatow said the Seder plate is an important part of the meal.
Included on the plate are six items: a roasted shankbone of lamb, a roasted egg, bitter herbs, charoses (a mixture of chopped apples, nuts and cinnamon mixed with a little wine); karpas (parsley, celery, lettuce or potatoes), and chazeres (Romaine lettuce or fresh horseradish). Each of the items relates to the Hebrews' exodus from Egypt. Other items are three matzohs, wine, saltwater, the "cup of Elijah" and a pillow.
The rabbi will lead the service from a book called the haggadah.
The Hebrew word for Passover is Pesach. Rabbi Ettinger recently explained the meaning of the word:
"Pesach is a contraction of two words, Peh Sach, "the mouth converses.' We most certainly realize that there is a decided emphasis on communication, questions and answers, unique to Pesach. Our Bible dictates that we relate to our children about the exodus from Egypt. Our haggadah starts almost from the beginning with the children who are taught in religious school to ask the Four Questions of the Seder. ...
"Only mankind is blessed with freedom of choice. That which clearly indicates the existence of this freedom is the power of speech. ... We commemorate this freedom in the most appropriate manner, in a way that demonstrates our recognition of the totality of freedom, in a way that confirms that we recognize the responsibility of this freedom with our mouths, with songs, with questions and answers, with stories, with speech. Pesach couldn't be a more appropriate name."
Leavitt said Passover is a way of remembering.
"This is as important as remembering what happened at the Holocaust," Leavitt said. "It's remembering your Jewishness."
MAKING MATZO BALLS
STEP 1: Les Leavitt whips an egg and water as Hank Flatow pours in a packet of matzo. The more you whip the egg, the fluffier the ball, Leavitt said.
STEP 2: Flatow uses a spoon to measure a small amount of matzo dough that will be formed into a ball and cooked.
STEP 3: Flatow keeps his hands wet while forming the matzo balls before dropping them into hot water.