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Chernynkaya On March - 30 - 2010

Tonight begins the eight day holiday of Passover, the oldest continuing celebration among Jews.  In Judaism, there are three ways, or levels, of explaining a tradition or a text—the “simple” or face value meaning (Peshat), the story behind the text (Midrash), and the hidden or secret explanation or interpretation (Sod). Today, at the beginning of Passover, I thought I’d tell you about the basics of this celebration; later, I’ll post about the other ways of seeing it.

Personally, and because my parents were not religious, I learned the Passover story the old fashioned way—by watching Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments!

Great effects for 1956, but what a crappy movie. Still, as a kid, I loved it even though I understood nothing. The acting was truly laughable, unless you were seven years old. All I remember was Ann Baxter saying over and over, “Oh, Moses, Moses!” and Edward G. Robinson sneering, “Yeah? Where’s yer God NOW, Moses?”

And that very scary scene where this creepy green fog descends onto Egypt and kills the first born. (YIKES-Me! I am the first born too!) The parting of the Red Sea was awesome cool, but I distinctly remember thinking: What happened to all the fish when the sea parted? Are they spinning around in that turbulence?

Instead of posting that interminable movie, the easiest way to let you know about Passover—and also because I am lazy—is with this short video. It is from The History Channel, about five minutes.

The History of Passover


So, to recap, the festival of Passover is celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan. It commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. And, by following the rituals of Passover, we have the ability to relive and experience the true freedom that our ancestors gained.

Passover is probably the best known of the Jewish holidays, mostly because it ties in with Christian history (the Last Supper was a Passover seder). The seder is the name for the ritual meal we eat, and where we read aloud the story of the Exodus for Egypt. Seder is also the Hebrew word for “order” as in the order in which we tell the story and conduct the ritual.

Passover Observances

    The highlight of Passover is the two “Seders,” observed on the first two nights of the holiday. The Seder is a fifteen step, family oriented, tradition and ritual packed feast.

The focal points of the Seder are:

  • Eating matzah.
  • Eating bitter herbs—to commemorate the bitter slavery endured by the Hebrews.
  • Drinking four cups of wine or grape juice—a royal drink to celebrate our newfound freedom.

    Instead of chametz, we eat matzah— flat unleavened bread. It is a mitzvah to partake of matzah on the two Seder nights (see below for more on this), and during the rest of the holiday it is optional.

  • The term “Passover” derives from the Book of Exodus, where the Angel of Death ( the final Plague of Egypt) passed over the houses of the Hebrew slaves.
  • The recitation of the Haggadah, a liturgy that describes in detail the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The Haggadah is the fulfillment of the biblical obligation to recount to our children the story of the Exodus on the night of Passover
  • Passover is divided into two parts. a) The first two days and last two days (that commemorate the splitting of the Red sea) are full-fledged holidays. Holiday candles are lit at night, and we recite blessings over the wine and sumptuous holiday meals are enjoyed on both nights and days. Observant and Orthodox Jews don’t go to work, drive, write or switch on or off electric devices.
  • (The “ch” in Hebrew is pronounced like the Scottish in the word “loch.”)
  • To commemorate the unleavened bread that the Israelites ate when they left Egypt, we don’t eat or even retain in our possession any “chametz” from midday of the day before Passover until the conclusion of the holiday. Chametz means leavened grain—any food or drink that contains even a trace of wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt or their derivatives and wasn’t guarded from leavening or fermentation. This includes bread, cake, cookies, cereal, pasta, and most alcoholic beverages. Moreover, almost any processed food or drink can be assumed to be chametz unless certified otherwise.
  • Ridding our homes of chametz is an intensive process. It involves a full-out spring-cleaning search-and-destroy mission during the weeks before Passover, and culminates with a ceremonial search for chametz on the night before Passover, and then a burning of the chametz ceremony on the morning before the holiday.


In many homes, in addition to the ritual foods, dinner usually consists of gefilte fish (a kind of fish pate), matzah ball soup (chicken soup with dumplings), and a brisket with lots of potatoes (because we can’t eat grain and gotta get those carbs in!).

Gefilte Fish

(The red stuff in the middle is horseradish and beets, which makes the fish palatable. And makes our eyes tear.)

Matzah Ball Soup

Four Cups of Wine (Yes—FOUR FULL CUPS!)

Brisket Recipe (OY! Fat Dave has a Jewfro.)


Macaroons (which need no flour) are typical for dessert.

Since as a kid I learned the story of Passover from Cecil B. DeMille, it’s a good thing Mel Brooks wasn’t making movies then!


One last thing that I think is so cool—Obama Has a White House Seder.

Tomorrow, I will write about the Seder and its symbolism and later, about what I have learned about the more hidden, sacred meaning of the festival. Happy Passover!

Written by Chernynkaya

I am an artist and have lived in Los Angeles all of my life, except for a brief hippie period when I lived in SF. I am currently (semi-unwillingly) retired, but have had several careers.

80 Responses so far.

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  1. dildenusa says:

    So this year Passover coincides with Holy Week and just by coincidence we have our favorite hypocrit neo-cons spewing their drivel out on the internet. http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2010/03/31/palin-warns-of-second-holocaust-if-iran-gains-nuclear-weapons/?fbid=YmbdxLjX1Xh


    I’m not fooled by any evangelical neo-con and their “support” of Israel. Their belief in The Rapture and intolerance of ideas outside their “Cult” is insulting to me and should be seen as an insult to every American. Their support of Israel only extends to their belief that the Rapture and the Second Coming can only happen if Israel exists and all the Jews of the world believe that Jesus is the true messiah. Please. This is a 2000 year old myth that even today is being “myth busted” by Christian Theologians who do nothing but study it.

    Huff post refused to post my comment that Norman Podhoretz is the kind of Jew that when the Palin SS comes to round up all the Jews, he is the one who will help the Palin SS by pointing out all the Jews in the neighborhood because he thinks that by helping the Palin SS he will avoid being shipped off to the camps himself.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Dilden-- I was just reading an article by a rabbi:

      “Easter and Passover
      Both celebrate spring and hope, though there are major differences between them also.”


      And believe me, most Jews know full well the goals of the RR! It is despicable that the Jews who partner with these fundies do so knowing their ulterior motives, but think they are outsmarting them. A pox on both their houses!

    • javaz says:

      Palin warns that the consequences of a nuclear Iran would be devastating for Israel.

      “Iran’s leaders have repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel and with nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, the mullahs would be in a position to launch a Second Holocaust,” Palin writes.

      Sister Sarah is despicable and anyone who listens to her and believes her predictions are ignorant fools.

      Thank you, John McCain, FOX, and the GOP for making Sarah Palin relevant in our society when she is nothing more than a money-grubbing, greedy, evil witch hiding behind religion to spew her hate.

      • SueInCa says:

        Just remember she cannot hide from a higher power.

        • javaz says:

          Do you ever wonder if these wacky faux Christians ever think about the here-after and judgment day?

          I would think that they would be concerned about all the falsehoods and hate they preach if they truly believed in heaven and judgment day.

          • bitohistory says:

            j’avaz might like this read from a local political reporter in our weekly:

            “Sarah Palin and the Power of Myth”
            Posted by Jim Nintzel on Mon, Mar 29, 2010 at 8:22 PM

            In the wake of the passage of federal health-care reform, Arizona Sen. John McCain started off last week with a promise to stop working with Democrats for the rest of the year, even if he thought the legislation was the right thing to do.

            Way to put country first, John.

            He ended the week by reuniting with former running mate Sarah Palin, the gal he plucked from the obscurity of Alaska and transformed into a GOP superstar. It was the first time they

            • javaz says:

              John McCain needs to retire, but of course he won’t.

              Sadly, Hayworth is loud mouthed scum and the more evil of the two.

              I just hope we can get a strong Democrat to take on whoever wins the Republican primary.

              Good article, b’ito and thanks for the link.

              The comments are discouraging to say the least but typical for Arizonans.

          • SueInCa says:

            Javaz, no, they just twist the scripture around to fit the mood. They can turn “blessed are the poor in spirit” to “well if you are a spirit you deserve to be poor.” Or better yet, “see the poor have spirit, the don’t need no stinking hand up”

  2. bitohistory says:

    Rabbi Cher, May I have a holy blessing/forgiveness on “thou shall not round my childrens heads” thing during this holy time? I have to shave off my beard an get a short haircut before it all falls out? 😆

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Oh, Bito, 😆 that really made me laugh! Rabbis can’t forgive anyone, but I will gladly bless you as a “civilian!” I love bald guys, including my own personal “Buddha Head”-- my husband! And son too! Damn, I can’t even imagine them with hair. You’ll look adorable! (Unless you have a super-pointy head!) And please, hide that 666 on your scalp.

  3. boomer1949 says:


    Thanks so much for writing this in a voice even I can understand. Your explanations are not only historical, but also descriptive, with dashes of humor. I nominate you for Rabbinical School 😉 😉

    This article Little gets passed over in Passover cleanup was just in the local paper Monday 3/29/2010.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      😆 Thanks, Boomer. To tell the truth, there was a brief time many years ago when that was a real possibility. My closest friend was one of the first female rabbis ordained in the Conservative movement. She was my first teacher of real Judaism and she encouraged me to enter the rabbinate, but my husband at the time wouldn’t hear of it. As I look back, he was right, but for all the wrong reasons.

      During that same period, I used to clean my house like the woman in the article, but actually, it’s just Spring cleaning with a twist. Yep, I even covered all the counter tops with aluminum foil!

      Even after all these years being married to a Chinese guy, when Passover comes around, he asks me (worriedly) “What’s going to happen?”

  4. PatsyT says:

    What a joke !
    Carly Fiorina (Republician running in a primary to run against Barbara Boxer)

    California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina (R) sent a letter to her supporters yesterday in honor of the first night of the Jewish holiday of Passover, which she described as a time where “we break bread and spend time with our families and friends.”

    Add this to the annals of unfortunate metaphors, since Passover is actually a time when most Jews abstain from eating any bread at all.

  5. PatsyT says:

    Cher, you are a Mensch!
    Happy Pesach!
    It is funny how many Yidish phrases we all use

    • Chernynkaya says:

      So are you, Patsy, and a sheyne maidel (pretty woman) too!

      What blows my mind is when Chris Matthews uses Yiddish words-- like chutzpah. And he does often, the putz. 😀

    • Kalima says:

      Funny really Patsy, I understand almost all of it because it is in a German dialect spoken by many of my grandparents generation. They spoke it mainly with each other.

      • Chernynkaya says:

        Kalima, did your grandparents speak Yiddish as well as German?

        • Kalima says:

          No but it’s like Plat Deutsch and I understand most of it. For example “sheyne maidel” comes from the German “schoenes maedchen” sorry no Umlauts.

          • Chernynkaya says:

            Exactly. I am not sure too many Yiddish speakers could easily understand German though. And my grandparents spoke it mainly so we kids couldn’t understand. But we understood just enough to Misunderstand !

            • Kalima says:

              Yes but we understood most of what Oma and Opa said. They used it in arguments. My grandfather loved to tease her and she would end up in tears walking around the orchard. I was the little “peacekeeper.” :)

            • Kalima says:

              There is nothing quite like a wise grandmother. When the time comes I’m sure that you will be a good one too.

              Good night Cher, sweet dreams and take care. See you.

            • Chernynkaya says:

              God, kalima, I know just how you feel! I miss my parents terribly-really terribly-- but my grandmother i miss even more. When I am down, it is she for whom I yearn. I hope I get the chance to be as good a grandma as she was. And soon!

              Anyway, ~sigh~ I guess it’s time to turn in. See you tomorrow, I hope!

            • Kalima says:

              They were my pillars of strength and the older I get, the more I miss their wisdom.

            • Chernynkaya says:

              That is so sweet, K.

  6. KQ says:

    Thanks so much for sharing the holiday with us Cher.

  7. whatsthatsound says:

    Great article, Cher! Brings back to mind The Movie, and these observations:

    -- the burning bush scene. Moses and Aaron see the bush on the mountain, and then Moses goes on some major LOTR type ascent to get it, seems like it takes him hours. The bush is a little bitty thing, in a grotto. How the heck did they see it from so far away?

    -- Did Charleton Heston ever ACT? The only movies I’ve seen him in were The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur and Planet of the Apes, and all he did was talk in that otherworldly voice of his and look sculpted.

    • bitohistory says:

      Funny thing is many people think of Heston and the Ten Commandments movie. When I think of him I think of the stinker nad him running around yelling Soylent Green Is People

    • Chernynkaya says:

      😆 Heston, yeah seriously! That entire cast--which included some fine actors, just stunk up the screen. And Heston was one of the worst! But damn, he did look biblical, in a rather pedestrian way.

      About the burning bush-- BLASPHEMER! 😀 Go figure. I mean, geez, it WAS God after all, being ineffable and stuff. So like Him-- just when you think He’s approachable, He moves His damn Self 500 feet up the mountain!

    • KQ says:

      In “Touch of Evil” he delivered his best performance by far. But then again it was directed by the best American director of all time.

  8. choicelady says:

    So wonderful, Cher! But I really need your help. I understand not eating leavened bread, but where does the intersection of matzoh and NO GRAIN come in? I am severely wheat intolerant and avoid matzoh, gefilte fish, matzoh ball soup, and everything but macaroons, bitter herbs, etc. because -- and here is where I need help -- I was told that it’s all WHEAT. Just unleavened wheat.

    Am I wrong? Have I been avoiding the seders just because I was told wrong?

    Now the wine -- I’m fine with that!

    But I have been invited to varous seders and avoid them like the plague because of my wheat intolerance (which is NOT a hate crime but a physiological reaction!)

    Correct me if I’m wrong and I will run -- no FLEE -- to the closest seder!

    It has, as a Christian, always bothered me no end when Maundy Thursday (last supper) and passover do NOT coincide. I think the Christian calendar should be in sync with the Jewish calendar so that we alway celebrate the last supper on the day of Passover that the last supper WAS. It’s too confusing when they don’t coincide and it is an artificial separation of the “too good for you” Christian attitude.

    So those are my puzzlements -- what about the wheat, and what about the lack of cohesion.

    If you can answer those, I will be a very happy camper. I already got past my refusal to believe Christ went to hell and then rose. A really wonderful minister told me I don’t HAVE to believe it literally. It just means there is always hope. And I’ve been much happier ever since.

    Cher -- I’m looking to YOU now on my redemption on Passover!

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Ask and ye shall recieve, Sister!
      You are right-- almost all matzah is wheat and all the foods during Passover are made with matzah meal instead of flour, but it’s still wheat.

      In Jewish law, only five grains are suitable for making matzo: wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats. The only one of these grains that can be digested by celiacs and gluten intolerant people is oats, and there are quite a few celiacs who cannot digest oats at all. Even those who can can are only able to eat oats if they were produced in such a way that they were not cross-contaminated with wheat.

      To make matzo matters more complicated for gluten-free folks, matzah shmura must also be properly supervised during the manufacturing process. Gluten-free shmura matzo, which some rabbis accept as fulfilling the mitzvah of eating matzo at Passover, is available online from Rabbi Kestenbaum’s Shemura Oat Matzos.




      About the calendar, I think once the world went to the Gregorian calendar, and Jews stayed on the lunar calendar, it messed everything up. To me, it only matters if you have a spiritual practice that believes that, um, heavenly forces are available more during certain times of the year (as some practicing Jews do.) Otherwise, does it really matter? It’s the fellowship and the ritual sacredness that count, not the date, right? Since I don’t believe these are technically historic events, but rather metaphoric ones, I don’t think the exact dates matter-- but that’s just me. :-)

  9. Khirad says:

    My interest was piqued.

    An Iranian Seder in Beverly Hills


    Passover across the world in pictures. (I like the Boombamela one)


    • Chernynkaya says:

      Oh, Khirad, did you just bring back memories--not all pleasant-- of a short stint I did with some Iranian Jewish friends. As you know, they are Sephardic Jews (a misnomer meaning Jews from Spain, but generally meaning any non-Western Jews). I am Ashkenazi (European). The Sepharadim have very different traditions within Jewish Law and they have some wonderful ones, but in general, I am not a big fan of Iranian Jews. (Sorry if anyone here is a Persian Jew!)

      About those photos-- thank you! Earlier I was at the CBS News site and all the photos of Jews they showed were the Ultra Orthodox guys with the side locks and the clothes from 18th century Poland! As if that’s what all Jews looked like! Steamed me!

      • Khirad says:

        Nah, I get what you mean. And besides being Sephardim, they are specifically Persian and Proud (which can come off as chauvinistic) -- it’s what keeps so many of them in Iran still, I think. My inkling on what you might have encountered, and I’m not sure what you meant, was that they could have not only been culturally different, with different laws, but stricter (?). I’m going here from reading and anecdotes here though.

        Mostly, I was just curious for myself. It could have been any other Persian festival in a few regards.

        • Chernynkaya says:

          Not really stricter, but it’s true there is no such thing as an Iranian Jew who is either in a Reform or Conservative congregation-- always Orthodox. And they have an attitude that really gets my goat-- materialistic and superior, which might be because Askanazim always saw them as uncultured.

  10. Kalima says:

    Thank you Cher for another enlightening post. I find it fascinating. Happy Passover.

    My grandmother made the Matzah Ball Soup almost every Sunday starting from chicken bones. The dumplings were always a favourite of mine. If I close my eyes now, I swear I can almost taste it.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Mmmmm! They ARE yummy, Kalima. My son of all people taught me to make the soup from roasted chicken bones and I love it that way now. And thank you for your kind Passover wishes!

  11. SueInCa says:

    Her you go Cher.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      TRADITION! Yay! One of my all time favorite musicals. That’s exactly the kind of village my grandparents came from. I still make that bread too!

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Thanks, BT! As far as the historical exodus, well, I can’t speak to that. It’s not my thing--as far as I’m concerned none of it is historically accurate. Every so often, I’ll watch a program on The History Channel (Hah!) or maybe Discovery about some biblical account or another and it all seems as if the scholars are contorting themselves to make the facts fit the narrative. Or they’ll find some archeological evidence of a new account. It’s interesting but not my focus. Also, as far as I know, there is no historical record of Moses. Even in our tradition, he is buried in an unknown grave--if he ever existed at all.

      That just reminded me-- In college I had a marine biology teacher who was part of a groups trying to prove the flood story and find the ark. Can you imagine? What a fool’s errand.

    • Khirad says:

      I’ve seen stuff to that effect, as well.

  12. kesmarn says:

    Cher, I love it when you write about the Jewish holidays. You have a wonderful knack for combining theology and humor that I think the Deity, who surely has a sense of humor since He created bodily functions like hiccups, must enjoy very much. I know we do!

    I was glad to hear that you were cool with the Seder at the White house. A few years back I participated in a Seder at a Christian church and had the uneasy feeling that we were somehow hijacking an important ritual of Judaism and that this might be considered offensive. In fact, in that context, I still worry, since I didn’t notice that any members of any local Jewish congregations were invited. (Must say I find the Jews for Jesus movement unnerving and I didn’t want to go that route.) I’m sure the organizers had good intentions, but sometimes these things run a little off the rails.

    Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed your article on Passover. Mel Brooks talking back to God is delicious. “Of cawse, I heah ya! A deaf man could heah ya!” “WHAT?” “Nothing…nothing…”

    And then, Kosher Kitty was the icing on the cake…or the macaroon!

    • Khirad says:

      I know we’ve done Jewish stuff at our church, but, well, it was lead by a Jewish member. We’re hardly Christian and do all sorts of World celebrations. I don’t get the authenticity feeling, but I don’t feel like we’re ever exploiting it.

      • kesmarn says:

        I guess in my case, Khirad, it was the guy who led the Seder who kind of gave me the willies. A couple years later he went off in a weird direction and joined one of those Hagee-type congregations. I don’t like the way those folks regard Judaism. They seem to regard Israel and Judaism as a means to their ends…which are somewhat vague, but definitely unpleasant.

        • choicelady says:

          Kes -- you’re not wrong to worry about this guy or feel creeped out. In my 32-page, 4-color booklet on The End Times (given to me by an anti-abortion, homophobic zealot), it specifically says that rapture ready Christians need to be NICE to Jews for seven years to get back the Temple.

          I’m SURE, after 2000 years of persecution, that must make all you who are Jewish feel just a darned sight better, yeah?

          Of course one must never forget that Hagee and his ilk are down on their knees praying you either convert or got to hell. So if you’re Jewish, after the Rapture I’d not be holding my breath for redemption from these guys…

          • Chernynkaya says:

            C’Lady, the Jews only just set foot in Spain again in 1992-- 500 years after we were kicked out. Seven years ain’t gonna cut it! But I never knew about that-- thanks for the heads up. :-)

          • kesmarn says:

            Thanks for the validation, c’lady. I guess it pays to listen to your intuition on occasion. My “Oddball Agenda Radar” was going off that night with that guy in charge!

            Well… I keep promising to leave y’all and watch my 1927 Japanese silent film, but I can’t seem to tear myself away!

            But it is getting late, so I’d better say good night for now. Good night!

        • Khirad says:

          Yup, like co-opting it for that apocalyptic crap. Yeah, I know what you’re talking about. Anyone who has ever seen TBN with all their Israel programs does. That would make my skin crawl.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      You’re so sweet, Kes!

      I have zero problem with other religions celebrating anything they want! Many churches do--after all, it WAS the Last Supper! And the reason they probably didn’t invite any Jews was because of the dietary restrictions at this festival, so I am sure no offense was taken by the locals.

      (I do have a BIG problem with Jews for Jesus, but that’s another story.)

      I am so glad you like the Brooks clips-- he’s a riot! And yeah, A deaf man could hear ya!! was my favorite line too!

  13. Khirad says:

    Oy, you beat me to my seasonal piece. I think you have the right idea in doing it in pieces. I think I must have some questions (like the word seder), but I’ll keep those cryptic. I may have nuthin’.


    Great for the basics, Cher. I’m fuzzy on it all so this clear outline really helps. If only I could keep it as simple! I love to make things difficult for myself! 😆

    Oh yeah, the four cups thing would be my favorite part.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Hi Khirad, thanks. What a bummer that I can’t get the two videos to embed!!!

      Anyway, I had to-- the other stuff is just too much info and the mystical parts don’t fit with the funny stuff--which I couldn’t give up!

      That Colbert bit was good! But the deal is-- dang-- I’ll add this next time-- is Passover is mostly an oral tradition of telling the kids the story. Seders are long and incredibly boring. The kids must be entertained! I have seen much more wacky games played than the one’s Colbert mentioned-- including a celery fight!

      Also, why aren’t you going to post your piece about the season???

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