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(2,322 posts)
Tue Mar 19, 2013, 12:06 PM Mar 2013

Invite some Christians to Passover Dinner...It Will Mean a Lot to Them and to You

Having been born Jewish, I had my share of memorable Passover dinners--given my non-believer leanings even back when, they were more family tradition, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for Passover. One of the most memorable I ever had, however, was the one Passover I actually performed--and made the dinner for. It consisted of me and three Catholics at a fold-out table in my tiny little apartment. This is how it happened, and I thought I'd pass on what I learned about doing something like this to those who might be interested.

I had a devout Catholic friend (she later became a nun) who had never been to a Passover dinner. As the week approached she asked me if I would be willing to hold such a dinner for her, her sister and one other Catholic who were interested. "The Last Supper was Passover," she said to me. "So it's it would mean a lot to us to experience Passover." How could I refuse? Knowing that I was going to be entertaining complete novices, however, I made some alterations. And I recommend them to any who are going to be doing the same, whether you are entertaining just Christians as I was, or those of several other faiths.

(1) The Dinner: I modified and streamlined the actual dinner. I'll get to what I recommend later (this was not what I served at my passover dinner with the Catholics outside of chicken breasts--but, rather, having done it, what I'd recommend now). Let's face it gefilte fish lovers, if you weren't raised on it, you're probably going to hate it. It's downright mean to make your guests try a bite for politeness sake. Save your gefilte cravings for the dinner you'll be having with grandma. Likewise, eschew the heavy, Ashkenazic meal and go for lightness. Novices don't know how to prepare themselves for that enormous matzo ball in the soup, followed by a short-rib dinner and several desserts like we do. For your guests sake (and to save yourself time in the kitchen), create a lighter, easier, more interfaith meal/tradition.

(2) The Haggadah: Probably obvious, but have a Haggadah for each guest that is slim and has all parts in English as well as Hebrew. I kept all prayers I could to English (it was more important to me that my guests knew what they were saying and heard themselves saying it), asking them only to say the Hebrew & and English version of the important ones. Like over the wine and matzo. Go through your Haggadah and decide what to keep or skip to shrink it down to about half-an-hour (i.e. are multi-hand-wishing rites needed? More than one cup of wine? Etc.). Again, this is for your sake as well as theirs--don't drown them in too many unfamiliar rituals, and don't burden yourself with having to do too much. Mark up your Haggadah as well, for parts where you'll pause to explain or let them ask questions.

(3) Duties: Divvy up duties before starting. Not just who might help you with pouring wine and serving dinner, but who is the youngest at the table and going to ask the four questions? Who might want to lead the prayer for the Matzo? Who is going to open the door for Elijah?

(4) The story of Passover: One of the most important modifications I made was to the Maggid (the retelling of the passover story) that follows the four questions. I held off on this, going straight from four questions to bitter herbs and charoset, and made the Passover story into a talk that took place over dinner. I did this first, because I didn't want my poor novices fixated on their hunger rather than the service. I recall one more Orthodox Passover I went to where the Maggid was all in Hebrew and went on for some forty minutes. I've never been so bored or hungry, which should not be what guests take away from their Passover experience.

Second, I figured that discussing the Passover story--rather than just telling it--over dinner would be a great time to discuss what Passover would have meant to Jesus and the apostles. For example, Jesus didn't hold up just any bread and say, "This is my body." He held up Passover Matzo, which was made as the Jews raced from slavery to freedom. Matzo is the key symbol of this transitional moment when Jews left behind their wandering nomadic childhood, left behind their time as citizens of another land--and then slaves of the same, and headed toward a future where they would be their own people with laws, priests, leaders and (after 40 years in the desert) a land of their own. Matzo, therefore, is all about a hard but important beginning for a people and religion. It's symbolizes powerful miracles, a covenant with the divine, attaining an identity. This is what Christ says is his body.

Also, though about the whole story from slavery to plagues to parting of the Red Sea and the covenant with god, Passover is named only for that last, most important event. God sparing the first born in houses which marked themselves as belonging to him. In Egyptian tradition, the first born son was the one who made sure food and offerings were provided for his parents once they passed into the afterlife. Killing off this son--especially if he was the only son--would be a devastating show of power, as it not only deprives the Egyptian parents of their child and future, the one who takes over the business, takes care of them, and provides them with grandchildren, but it also removes the promise of immortality. For Jews, as well, the first born son has an important spiritual designation in saying prayers for the parents after they die. Jesus is a "first born" son, and this becomes highly significant at Passover. God is, once again, going to kill a first born in order to make a powerful point.

These, and other elements of what the Passover story would have meant to Jesus and his followers made for a really awesome dinner conversation. It both allowed the Passover story to be told as ritual demanded, and was great at involving the participants as they'd wanted and wished to be involved. It made for a very memorable Passover for everyone involved, and I'll always be glad I did it.

And now onto the most important part...dinner suggestions :

*Appetizers: You want something for people to nibble on when they arrive not only to keep the hunger at bay, but to keep them occupied while you finish up cooking or setting up, and also to get to know each other if they don't already. While they are nibbling is a good time to explain the seder plate, the table arrangements, divvy up duties, etc. Again, I recommend you go light with crudités. Forgo the usual chopped liver (too rich and strange for some) in exchange for something like a vegetable pâté and Matzo crackers (here's my fave: walnut & lentil). Tofu sour cream garnish can be made to top it (or as dip for crudités) by pureeing 12 oz silken tofu, 2 Tbsp umeboshi vinegar, 1 Tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp dry mustard and 1/4 tsp minced garlic in food processor until smooth. Then stir in 1 tsp dried dill.

*Matzo Ball Soup: Traditional, but I recommend you give your guests one or two small matzo balls in a cup serving rather than the typical (at least a my family dinners) huge matzo in a bowl. That big matzo ball can be scary and daunting as well as too filling.

*Dinner: Chicken verde, potato side dish (consider Martha Stewart's potato kugel gratin--looks amazing! At her website's recommendations for Passover) & steamed spring vegetables--Here is my reasoning: Chicken breasts (boned or not, up to you) that can be slipped in the oven to finish cooking to perfection during the service means you get a nice, hot portion for each guest--and don't have to do much cooking. You'll have to find the right recipe and practice, however, to make sure it comes out juicy and yummy. Salsa verde, served on the side to top the chicken, is perfect for passover as it's a blend of parsley (spring herb) and vinegar/capers/anchovy paste (salt), a little mustard (bitter herbs) lemon juice, oil and garlic. Recipe can be varied, of course, to taste, but the bright green parsley sauce is a great compliment to Passover. The potato recipe, likewise, takes a bit of work to prepare but is in the oven for the rest of the time, no need to check on it or fuss over it. Steamed veggies can be made last minute in microwave. Light work for you, a good meal for the guests.

Dessert: Up to you--but don't forget the macaroons--they're one traditional treat that your guests will likely enjoy.

Those are my recommendations. I leave the rest of this chat up to you to give me yours--both on the Passover "service" and dinner suggestions. Enjoy, all.

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(146,218 posts)
2. What a great article you have written here.
Tue Mar 19, 2013, 12:46 PM
Mar 2013

I have had some wonderful experiences attending the passover seder in many different kinds of Jewish homes. Some have been very formal, some very informal, but all enjoyable...

well, except one, where the potential future mother-in-law was not happy with her son's choice at all. We called it quits shortly after this, lol.

Thanks for this.


(6,182 posts)
3. Gefilte fish is not that bad :-)
Tue Mar 19, 2013, 01:13 PM
Mar 2013

No one can deny that it looks gross floating in a jar but it tastes alright. Have you ever tried fried gefilte fish? It's pretty good and it might be more palatable for those who are not used to it.


(2,322 posts)
7. Dude, I'm sorry, but no one I know who was not raised with it likes it...
Tue Mar 19, 2013, 08:03 PM
Mar 2013

...It's an acquired taste and most non-Jews have not acquired it. Yet time and again, at too many Passover dinners, I've seen the non-Jewish guest urged to give it a try by someone just like you saying, "it's not that bad..." Out of politeness, the guest tries it, and after they get a swallow down, look liked they've just ingested something truly noxious. To most of them, it is that bad.

That's not the sort of thing I want some poor guest to remember first and foremost of their Passover experience at my home--that they felt forced to try that horrible gefilte fish--and I'm sure it's not what you want them to remember about Passover at your home either. Which is why I strongly recommend it be kept off the interfaith table--however much those of us raised with it might like it.


(6,182 posts)
10. I never used the "it's not that bad" to make a non-Jew eat it
Wed Mar 20, 2013, 05:03 AM
Mar 2013

Don't be quick to judge.

I am merely stating an opinion on a message board from someone who is a fussy eater.

I think it is widely understood that it is an acquired taste and that it is perfectly fine not to try it. Especially after seeing it in a jar.

Thats my opinion

(2,001 posts)
4. Great idea.
Tue Mar 19, 2013, 02:12 PM
Mar 2013

I have been a guest at the home of our community's Rabbi.--a few years back in another place.
In my community now, this is the third year of a Seder, basically put on by the local synagogue, and held at the local Mosque, with a couple hundred guests from churches synagogues and mosques in the community.


(106,886 posts)
5. My best friend and I have gone to a couple of Christmas midnight masses together over the years.
Tue Mar 19, 2013, 05:21 PM
Mar 2013

She has no religious belief at all, yet she is an artist and empathetic to how we all relate to spirituality and ritual, especially the visual aspects of it all. We had a running line about the mass. She said "I'm not going to sit down, stand up, kneel, stand back up then sit." I'd say, "I know. Just enjoy the show."

And midnight mass is a real show.

Yet it offered a chance to talk about things. A bigger show than either of us. She got that part. We had some good talks about all of it all.

And I knew it was also a statement of sorts for her - appreciating the ritual as an artist, supporting a friend as a friend and not giving a damn about the hoopla, yet being open about her take.


(53,061 posts)
6. at the (liberal) Protestant college that I went to they observed passover dinners
Tue Mar 19, 2013, 06:57 PM
Mar 2013

as a fashion and tried to recreate the experience as part of the Holy Week observance.

This is a great OP.



(23,340 posts)
8. This goyim went to Passover dinners for about ten years straight.
Tue Mar 19, 2013, 09:03 PM
Mar 2013

I actually like gefilte fish.

and horseradish, Jewish hot sauce!

and Henry made the best matzo balls, light as a feather. His secret was to use club soda in making the balls.

and where is the tzimmes? My favorite dish.

The Hagaddah was highly edited by my host, so it was a speedy edition, unless Uncle Arthur was there, and he would read long passages in Hebrew.

Many Christian churches are now doing passover dinners, as the tradition is that the Last Supper was a passover dinner.


(2,322 posts)
9. After ten years I'm not surprised you might like gefilte fish, and I'd happy serve...
Tue Mar 19, 2013, 11:56 PM
Mar 2013

...a veteran Passover goyim like yourself some. But my story is about inviting over novices who've never tasted the stuff. And it really is mean trick to serve it to them.

Good secret for the matzo balls. My brother's secret was to make sure the lid was weighed down and the balls cooked in almost a pressure cooker environment.

And yes, I know that a lot of Christian churches are doing Passover dinners, but I really don't think it's quite the same as being invited to someone's home where questions can be asked, and the conversation can get deep and philosophical, and the meal feels like it's been cooked special for the diners. Where there can be jokes and laughter and just a warm feel to it all. After all, there were only thirteen at the Last Supper--very much an intimate, family dinner.

I feel that if someone of another faith really wants to experience Passover, they should go to someone's home, as the very name of the holiday evokes those who gathered together--families and guests--as the spirit of god passed over the marked houses. Feeling like you're part of the family for that night, a part of something special that's happening in that house, that's Passover.

Fortinbras Armstrong

(4,473 posts)
11. I have been hosting a yearly Seder for nearly 30 years
Wed Mar 20, 2013, 10:08 AM
Mar 2013

Even though I am Catholic. I will say that my mother is a Jew, though she has never not been to a Seder since she was in her teens. (She and I live in different states, so she has never been to one of mine.)

The menu is matzo ball soup (I too like small matzo balls), roast lamb -- I get very nice lamb at a reasonable price from the local halal butcher -- latkes. I make the typical charoset, bitter herbs and so on.

I have an English language Haggadah as a Word document that I can let anyone have (drop me a DUU e-mail, and I will e-mail it to you). The major change I made to it was that I split the Father's lines between Father and the Mother.

Next year in Jerusalem!

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