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Nueva Faculty and Staff Members Share Their Passover Stories
Nueva Communications


Passover is a major Jewish holiday that occurs in the spring on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which, this year, falls on Saturday evening, March 27. Passover is one of the three Pilgrimage Festivals of the Jewish calendar and is traditionally celebrated for eight days. Passover marks the exodus of Jewish people from Egyptian slavery. The Passover Seder is one of the most widely observed rituals in Judaism.

Cynthia Kosut, middle school humanities teacher and eighth-grade dean

Passover has always been quite an extraordinary series of events for me—as a child in my parents’ home and as an adult in my own home with my children. Preparations begin weeks beforehand, gathering the ingredients for the meal and for the Seder plate. Coming from a small town meant having to go to great lengths to find matzoh, horseradish, even a shank bone—all exotic and significant parts of the Seder service, conducted around the dining room table. 

I have always loved the Passover service because everything had a meaning, and the underlying theme is freedom and social justice. We gathered appropriate readings from traditional texts, as well as more contemporary material, and read from the works of Elie Weisel as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. Singing “Let My People Go” applied to the Jews from Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, as well as African Americans. Growing up during the era of the Civil Rights Movement in this country brought to life the story of the Exodus of the Jews out of Egypt. As a family, we wrote our own Haggadah, the order of the service for the Seder, to remember injustices past and present. Salt water for tears dipped in parsley, bitter herbs for the bitter memories, and sweet apple and honey for hope. 

 

Mitzi Mock, digital storyteller and videographer

Growing up in a Catholic community, I knew little about Jewish traditions when I arrived at college. During my freshman year, a roommate invited me to celebrate Passover with her family, and I was immediately fascinated by the holiday. The food! The music! The story! At the time, it was a peek into someone else’s traditions. Little did I know that Jewish culture, particularly Passover, would have such a strong presence in my life as an adult. 

It started off small and simple. The colleague who taught me to use seltzer for the fluffiest matzo balls. The old roommate who cooked me sublime brisket and shared her family’s self-described “hippie Haggadah.” The Jewish families who invited me to celebrate Passover with memorable flair: A Jewish-Caribbean Seder! A theatrical telling of the Passover story! But it was meeting my now-husband, who grew up attending an Orthodox synagogue and attending Jewish day school, that changed my relationship to Jewish culture forever.

Passover is now our family tradition—the very first Jewish holiday we celebrated after our son was born. For us, it’s less about matzo or Manischewitz wine. It’s about giving our son a sense of connection to his rich, cultural history and making some family history of our own. 

 

Lee Holtzman, upper school Interdisciplinary Studies of Science teacher and ninth-grade co-dean

My family has done a seder every year that I can remember, although the pandemic actually really opened our eyes to the fact that we could have a seder with all of us even though we were spread out across the U.S., with my brother in Seattle and my best friend in New York. My best friend, Ramya, has been part of the yearly seder since high school, and we joke that she’s a far better Jew than I am—she’s vegetarian, having grown up in a Iyengar Brahmin family, and so she technically keeps better kosher than I do. Plus, she knows all the words to all the songs! 

We are very relaxed about our seders and enjoy all the snacks along the way to dinner. Yearly traditions include my deep pedagogical disappointment in the Four Children (I dislike the categorizations of children as “wicked” or “simple”), my brother doing funny voices for all the songs, my best friend waxing philosophical about the meaning of Passover (she really is the better Jew), my father telling the story of Passover with a lot of colorful commentary. We don’t really have young kids in the family, but the 20- and 30-something kids run around and try to find the afikomen anyway—this year one person in each household hid the afikomen for the other one. It was pretty hilarious!

 

Michelle Greenberg, sixth-grade writing and eighth-grade humanities associate teacher

My father would make a feast for our Passover Seder. It began sometime mid-winter with research for recipes he’d design. He would settle on the 12–15 courses we’d make, and he’d spreadsheet them into a perfectly timed dance around the kitchen. I’d arrive home days before the Seder to help cook. Those hours in the kitchen together always felt more meaningful than reading the Haggadah (the Passover prayer book), which retells the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt. Jewish tradition is that we come together as extended families and friends to retell the story of liberation from bondage. 

Told around a meal, food and drink have symbolic meaning as we read stories and sing songs that have evolved over 2,000 years. My father’s and my celebration of freedom was cooking together. The conversations, memories, creativity, and laughter are the story of my family’s journey. Our first seder always included a large group of friends. I liked the second night most. It’s traditional to do a second seder and again read the story from the Haggadah. My dad, stepmom, and I have a different tradition. We pick a theme of the holiday. While we eat amazing leftovers, we discuss how that theme has touched our lives over the previous year and in what ways we hope to find freedom from what keeps us in emotional or spiritual bondage in the coming year.  



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