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Encyclopedic Seder

(by Margie Goldsmith)

The only Passover seder of my childhood was based on what my parents read in the Encyclopedia Britannica. They were both Jewish, but had no religious education or celebration of religious holidays when they were growing up. My mother must have experienced some regret about that loss of heritage because, when I was ten, she sent my sisters and me to classes at a local synagogue where the teacher encouraged having the ritual feast that takes place on the first night of the holiday.

It was, and is, an occasion that tests the limited patience of children—full of symbolic rituals that tell the story of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, like bitter herbs and roasted shank bones (ours was a rib-eye from the butcher that became a chew-toy for our dog Jason). The youngest child in the family is supposed to ask four questions about the meal.

“Why does this night differ from all other nights?” my youngest sister Lynne dutifully asked.

“Because there’s no food,” I said, always the smart-ass.

My mother ignored me. “We’re all going to drink a glass of wine, which symbolizes freedom,” she said, reading from the Britannica and pouring a drop of the sweet, syrupy stuff into a small Dixie cup for each of us.

“Yuck,” I said.

My mother glared at me and continued reading. “Why on this night must we eat bitter herbs?”

That was it. “Herbs?” my older sister Kathy said. “Where’s the food? When do we eat?”

“There’s only these crackers,” I said, poking at the matzoh, which tastes like corrugated cardboard unless it’s disguised with slatherings of butter or jam. “What are we supposed to eat?”

Looking back now, I realize that the short attention span of children, and my parents’ response to that restlessness, set a path for our family that meant a continuing loss of heritage. I never really learned what Passover or any other Jewish holiday meant. Instead I have my own tradition, which I learned from my father: At the conclusion of our one and only family seder, he folded his napkin, pushed away from the table scattered with matzoh crumbs and said, “Let’s go out for pizza.” And I’ve been doing the same ever since.


Margie Goldsmith is a writer whose articles about travel and adventure are at

Matzoh Crack

4 - 5 matzohs

2 sticks (1 c.) unsalted butter

1 c. firmly packed dark brown sugar

12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 c. chopped pecans, walnuts, or almonds

1/2 t. kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place matzohs on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.

Combine butter and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until mixture boils.

Continue cooking and stirring for 3 minutes until foamy and thickened.

Carefully pour hot toffee over matzohs and spread evenly.

Bake about 10 minutes, or until toffee topping is crackled and bubbling.

Scatter chocolate chips over top.

Wait several minutes until chips soften, then spread chocolate into an even layer.

Sprinkle with nuts and salt.

Refrigerate until the chocolate is firm, about 45 minutes.

Cut or break into squares and refrigerate until ready to serve.


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