People who grew up in the United States often don’t realize it, but Jewish communities around the world tend to celebrate Passover differently.

Growing up in the United States, this author was used to the Ashkenazi tradition, even though her father was Sephardic. In the United States, it was typical to have horse-radish for marror, a sweet dish of apples mixed with nuts and wine for harroset, parsley for Karpas which was served with salt-water, and of course, tons of gifilte fish and matza ball soup, alongside lamb, chicken, and various vegetables.

As the youngest, I would always read out the Four Questions in Hebrew, while every one else was silent. When the four plagues were listed, we dipped our fingers in the cup of wine and emptied a little bit of wine onto our planes. My mother, in order to make things more theatrical, bought a box of plagues which we used to play with. While most of the Seder was in English, since Seders are traditionally read in the vernacular, certain songs like Had Gadya and Deyanu were sung in Hebrew. Naturally, I would always compete with my older brother on who could find the hidden afokomin first.

Yet, when I met my husband, who is half Iraqi and half Moroccan, I discovered a whole different way of doing Pesach. During our first Seder together as a couple, we went to visit the Iraqi side of the family. Now it has become routine, but at first it was a major culture shock. In Iraqi Jewish communities, there is no gifilte fish, no matza ball soup, the marror consists of lettuce, the Karpas was celery leaves that were served with lemon juice, and the harroset was a special kind of thick date paste. Yet, I was even more shocked to discover that instead of serving matza ball soup and gifilte fish, which I considered inseparable from the Seder, people were eating kebabs with rice, something that you would never find at an Ashkenazi American Seder.

Furthermore, no single child read out the Four Questions. Instead, every one read out the Four Questions together. None of the children in my husband’s family hunted for a hidden afokomin either. However, the children in my husband’s family did act the Exodus story out of Egypt. They rehearsed the following skit, which is common in Iraqi Seders: “From where have you come;” “from Egypt,” the child answers; “where are you going,” “to Jerusalem,” the child answers. To make the skit even more theatrical, the children in my husbands’ family would carry brooms with them while acting out this skit, to represent the staffs that the ancient Israelites used while walking. The Seder was recited in a mixture of Iraqi Arabic and Hebrew, with more and more Hebrew creeping into the Seder as the years go by.

Yet, the American and Iraqi traditions are not the only shows in town in regards to this. In Afghanistan and Persia, Jews would literally whip themselves with scallions in order to commemorate the suffering that the Israelite slaves endured in Egypt while singing the song Deyanu. In Poland, Hassidic Jews would reenact the crossing of the Red Sea. In Gibraltar, off the coast of Spain, Jews would literally mix the dust of bricks into their harroset dish. Ethiopian Jews, in commemoration of Pesach, would break all of their old dishes and make new ones, to symbolize a new beginning. The Jews of Casablanca substituted Elijah’s cup for a large ornamented chair. In addition, Egyptian Jews would frequently pass around a matza in a napkin while calling out “this is the bread of affliction.” In sum, each Jewish community across the planet has their own unique way of doing the Passover Seder.

By Rachel Avraham

Send Passover Packages to Needy Israeli Soldiers - Bring Them Joy!

We are honored to thank the young men and women of the IDF who risk their lives every day to protect the freedom of the citizens of Israel.

Join us in sending Passover food packages (and personal notes) to Israeli soldiers and their families

Many soldiers spend the Passover holiday with needy families back home. The soldiers greatly appreciate your love and concern. Bring them Passover joy!