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Moonwalk's Journal
Moonwalk's Journal
March 19, 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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