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The long history of our people is one of contrasts — freedom and slavery, joy and pain, power and helplessness. Passover reflects these contrasts. Tonight as we celebrate our freedom, we remember the slavery of our ancestors and realize that many people are not yet free.
Each generation changes — our ideas, our needs, our dreams, even our celebrations. So has Passover changed over many centuries into our present
holiday. Our nomadic ancestors gathered for a spring celebration when the sheep gave birth to their lambs. Theirs was a celebration of the continuity of life. Later, when our ancestors became farmers, they celebrated the arrival of spring in their own fashion. Eventually these ancient spring festivals merged with the story of the Exodus from Egypt and became a new celebration of life and freedom.
As each generation gathered around the table to retell the old stories, the symbols took on new meanings. New stories of slavery and liberation, oppression and triumph were added, taking their place next to the old. Tonight we add our own special chapter as we recall our people’s past and we dream of the future.
For Jews, our enslavement by the Egyptians is now remote, a symbol of communal remembrance. As we sit here in the comfort of our modern world, we think of the millions who still suffer the brutality of the existence that we escaped thousands of years ago.
Karpas is a vegetable other than bitter herbs on the seder plate, and it represents the coming of spring. It is usually parsley, but celery or cooked potato are sometimes also used. At the beginning of the seder, the karpas is dipped into salt water (Ashkenazi custom), vinegar (Sephardic custom) or charoset (Yemenite custom). The practice symbolizes the tears shed by enslaved Jews in Egypt.
Following a fairly literal approach, our karpas cocktail involves parsley and balsamic vinegar. We combine these with Leopolds's American Small Batch Gin, which has some light flowery flavors that pair well with the subtle vegetal taste of the parsley. We definitely suggest using flat or Italian parsley instead of the curly variety, which we found a bit bitter. The effect of the vinegar is subtle, but it adds a nice complexity to the brighter flavors.
2 oz (60 ml) Leopold’s Gin
2 sprigs Flat or Italian Parsley – leaves only
3 drops Balsamic Vinegar
1) Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake gently to chill the drink and bruise the parsley.
2) Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a chilled cocktail glass.
3) Garnish with a single parsley leaf floating in the drink.
The gentle shaking is the key to this cocktail. You want to roll the drink back and forth in the shaker to release the flavor of the parsley without overly macerating the leaves.
Tell the story of the Exodus, and identify the Pharaohs in your life today.
Blessing over the second cup of wine.
We are descended from slaves who staged the first successful slave rebellion in recorded history. Ever since, our people has kept alive the story of liberation, and the consciousness that cruelty and oppression are not inevitable “facts of life,” but conditions that can be changed.
The oppressive ancient Egyptian regime in which Jews lived as slaves was overthrown. The Passover story reminds us that in every age we must continue the struggle for liberation, which Jews first experienced on the first Passover some 3,200 years ago.
The Haggadah reminds us that the primary obligation of Passover is to experience ourselves as though we personally went out of Egypt. So now, let someone at the table tell the story of our enslavement, of the genocide against the firstborn Hebrew males, of the way Moses was saved and grew up in the palace and then came to identify with his own people the slaves. Let someone tell of how Moses killed an Egyptian policeman who was beating an Israelite slave and then fled to Midian, how Moses heard God’s voice through a fire that was burning inside him and returned to Egypt, how his demand to “let my people go” was met by the Pharaoh with an escalation of oppression of the Israelites, how his own people shunned him as a trouble-maker who was only making things worse, and how God brought forth a set of environmental disasters. Let someone tell of how Moses was able to convince the Israelites and the Pharaoh that these disasters were intentional plagues from God, how the Israelites eventually came to accept that they could use those plagues as cover to leave Egypt, how 80 percent of the slaves couldn’t make that leap and so decided not to leave with Moses, and how joyful a celebration it was for those who did leave by making a huge leap of faith in believing that transformation was really possible. While this story is being told, let all the other people at the table keep their eyes closed and try to imagine that it is you who are going through this experience, you who have the doubts about Moses and the possibility of a radical transformation, and you who finally is able to take that leap of faith. And allow yourself to feel what that must feel like when you can do that in your own life today!
THREE SYMBOLS OF PASSOVER
PESACH (the Bone or Beet): Our Seder plate includes a symbol of the ancient Passover sacrifice, which was brought each year to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Hebrew word for sacrifice is korban, which comes from the root meaning “near.” What could bring you closer to your highest spiritual self?
MATZAH: The Torah tells us that the Israelites had to take the uncooked dough with them, “for they had prepared no provisions for the way.” Symbolically, the matzah reminds us that when the opportunity for liberation comes, we must seize it, even if we do not feel fully prepared — indeed, if we wait until we feel prepared, we may never act at all. If you had to jump into such a struggle tomorrow morning, what would you have to leave behind?
The matzah also stands in contrast to chametz (Hebrew for the expansive yeast that makes bread rise), which symbolizes false pride, absorption in our individual egos, and grandiosity.
MAROR (the Bitter Herbs): The suffering of the Jews in Egypt has been matched by thousands of years in which we were oppressed as a people. Our insistence on telling the story of liberation and proclaiming that the world could be and should be fundamentally different has angered ruling elites. These elites often tried to channel against the Jews the anger that ordinary people were feeling about the oppression in their own lives. But Jews are not the only ones to have suffered oppression and violence. We think of the genocide against native peoples all around the world, including in the United States. We think of the enslavement of Africans, and the oppression of Armenians, homosexuals, women, and many others. Yet, tonight it is appropriate for us to focus also on the suffering of the Jewish people and to affirm our solidarity with victims of anti-Semitism through the ages. Anti-Semitism still persists in our own time in the use of double standards in the judgment of Jews, in acts of violence against Jews, and in refusing to acknowledge the history of Jewish suffering as equal to the suffering of other victims of oppressive social regimes in Christian, Islamic, and some secular societies, as well. Meanwhile, we Jews need to acknowledge the ways that this suffering has at times distorted our consciousness and made it hard to fully grasp the pain others feel. We must evolve a Global Judaism that compassionately embraces the Jewish people and all other peoples.
Blood - The blood shed in the Nazi death camps and in Queer-bashings.
Rejection - The rejection from our society, family, and friends that cause us self harm.
Guilt - The guilt we are told is inherent in our simple existence.
Shame - The shame we are made to feel when we share our lives and our bodies with someone of the same gender as ourselves.
Despair - The despair we feel when we are told that we are evil and monstrous, that AIDS is God's judgment upon us.
Fear - The fear caused by a hostile society that would cast us out if it knew what we are.
Pain - The physical pain of being attacked by homophobes, and the mental pain of being rejected by family and community.
Loneliness - The loneliness of thinking that we are the only one of our kind.
Darkness - The darkness of our closets, and of where many of us are forced to spend our lives: the bars, the parks, the unsafe neighborhoods.
Silence - The hollow silence of when we do not speak out in our own defense, the silence from one generation to another.
We may not have individually felt each plague, but since they afflict our community on a global level, they afflict us as well. Let us not become complacent.
The seder plate holds two types of bitter herbs. Both symbolize the bitterness and harsh conditions the Jews endured as slaves in Ancient Egypt. For maror, the first bitter herb, many people use freshly-grated or whole horseradish root.
Our maror cocktail is basically a “borscht martini.” We didn’t invent the idea, and we’ve heard murmurs about various incarnations of the drink for the past couple of years. Double Cross Vodka promotes a recipe for one. Eastern Standard in Boston had something similar on their menu a while back. Camper English has written about both on his Alcademics blog.
Our version comes to The Sipping Seder for three reasons. This is our favorite cocktail involving horseradish. We absolutely love beets. And, our recipe takes an interesting turn on the concept. We base our version on golden beets and use a red beet garnish so that the drink gradually changes color as you sip. It’s beautiful and a lot of fun to watch.
3 oz (90 ml) Belvedere Vodka
1 Small Golden Beet – raw, peeled
1 Slice Fresh Horseradish – peeled, about the size of a quarter (25 x 25 x 2 mm)
Fresh Red Beet – raw, peeled, for garnish
1) Cut the golden beets and horseradish into small pieces and muddle thoroughly in a mixing glass with half an ounce (15 ml) of the vodka.
2) Add the remaining vodka to the mixing glass and fill 2/3 full of ice. Shake vigorously.
3) Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a chilled cocktail glass.
4) Garnish with a stick of red beet (about 1/8” x 3” or 80 x 5 mm) at the moment of serving.
We suggest slipping the beet garnish into the cocktail as you serve it. The red color will begin to bleed out into the yellow liquid immediately. Leave it to your guest to observe or agitate the process as they see fit.