We are approaching the time of year when families come together around the table to celebrate our freedom and the receiving of the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai. To celebrate this milestone, we are instructed by our rabbis and sages of old to congregate, pray, recline and rejoice. We also set aside a cup of—you guessed it, what else?—wine for Elijah the prophet, to facilitate the coming of the Messiah. We long for all of us to one day gather in Jerusalem and celebrate our faith as a nation.
I always look forward to Passover with my family. Each year, we get together for a typical Seder, complete with a full Seder plate, white tablecloth, fine china and a lavish cuisine filled with brisket and charoset. And every year, my father, knowing how much we children love to spend over three hours eating dinner and talking about serious subjects, makes a concerted effort to draw current events or phenomena into our family discussions regarding the significance of Passover. I think it’s a great way to draw all of us into the discussion and keep it relevant.
Growing up in a Conservative household, we kept kosher and had two sets of silverware. We actually cleaned our house of chametz for Passover. We went to services as a family…not just for the High Holidays. As kids, we went to a Jewish Day School and were immersed in the culture and tradition that surrounds the major holidays. We understood at a young age the significance of our celebrations and gatherings, our reasons for singing and reclining, and even for performing seemingly antiquated rituals. Take the ritual of spilling a drop of wine (or grape juice) from our glasses as representing a drop of blood for each plague God unleashed on the Egyptians during their captivity and enslavement. Of course, as a bartender it’s always tough to see a guest spill any part of a cocktail that you have carefully constructed; however, in this case we are doing it deliberately, to remind us of the terrible suffering that ensued.
Less observant Jews and even non-Jews always ask me, “Why do you observe so closely? Why go through all the trouble of keeping kosher? Why do you celebrate these holidays? Why go to a nearly four hour service in a language not your own?” I always used to answer, “Because my parents said so,” or “Just because,” or even “I’m not really sure,” but now as an adult I know why I spill my merlot ten times. I know why we eat unleavened bread and mix it with bitter herbs and horseradish. I see why the rabbis instructed us to recline and rejoice amidst a story of great suffering and sadness. Out of this suffering and destruction on both sides comes forth the greatest gift God could give us (besides life and wine, of course)—the sacred commandments and laws by which all men and women can lead a good, full and happy life.
So this year, when you’re reclining at the Seder with whomever you are blessed to share it with, remember why we do these things, that we are all part of something greater, that many before us fought with their hearts, minds and bodies so that we may enjoy and celebrate everything we as Jews hold dear. Now, more than ever, we need to support our brothers and sisters in Israel and elsewhere in the Diaspora. We must celebrate Passover, in whatever way we know how, in order to keep their memories alive and to preserve our way of life. And if it takes ten drops of merlot to do that…bring on the wine.
Did I mention we get to drink a mandatory four glasses of wine? How awesome is that?! For your Seder tables, Kedem and Manishewitz aren’t the only kosher wines in the liquor stores. At $14 a bottle, I would guide you towards the Borgo Reale Chianti 2007 or the Dalton Shiraz 2007 at $23. If you don’t want to shop online, I encourage ALL Passover-celebrators to check out this fabulous and unique wine tasting experience tonight. Remember to let the red wine breathe a little in the glasses before drinking.
L’Chaim, and Chag Sameach!