Corinne Rusch-Drutz, CEO of the Kensington Health Foundation, shares how she and her family mark the Jewish holiday of Passover. This year, Passover is celebrated from April 5 to 13. Kensington wishes all who celebrate a happy holiday, or Chag Pesach Sameach!
On April 5th I’ll be celebrating the first night of Passover, which commemorates the Israelites’ freedom from slavery in Egypt and the emergence of the Jewish people as a nation. Outside of Israel, the first two nights of this eight-day holiday are spent not at synagogue but at the dinner table, telling stories and drinking wine. Like most great holidays, this one begins with a feast. And if you can believe, it actually takes about as long to eat as it does to make it (well, sort of). That’s because along with supper (called a Seder) comes a running plotline – the story of the Exodus – and the point of the evening is to tell it.
While not quite dinner theatre, it is highly choreographed. Every element represents the flight from Egypt through storytelling, debate, singing and a whole lot of eating! Even the food is symbolic, ingredients like maror (horseradish) are bitter herbs emblematic of tears, charoset is a mixture of apples, nuts and wine representing the mortar between the bricks of the Pyramids, and matzah (cracker-like unleavened bread), baked in haste before the slaves made their hasty departure and eaten exclusively throughout the holiday. Everything from soup to nuts signifies the themes of redemption and freedom. The idea is to not just tell it, but feel it, live it, and taste it in some way.
The story of the Exodus is the Jewish origin story. It’s a mitzvah (good dead) to tell it, even if you don’t know it. The goal is history as lived memory. Enactment through recitation. In my family, all references to the Passover story are fair game for table talk. I’d be lying if I said that debate has never gotten so heated that making an exodus from my own table seemed like a good idea. But that’s part of the point. If celebrating this festival is a constant dialogue between past and present, one that reveals the friction between history and its writers and requires an exchange of views and vantage points, it level sets everyone as both a student and a scholar each with something to contribute.
As any cook will tell you, a recipe is never really the same twice. Even with a solid script, neither is a Seder. That’s the beauty of it. Passover gives us the ingredients to retell our story over and over. In doing so, we reconsider the meaning of freedom and the importance of our beginnings in the context of the present. Not once, but every time we sit down to celebrate.
As dinner comes to an end, there is always room for Matzah Crack, a fabulous chocolate and caramel-covered sweet treat; it isn't a true feast without it.
Here is my recipe for Matzah Crack (the recipe will last for a week in an airtight container, but it's never made it that long in my house):
- 4-5 pieces of plain matzah (not the egg version, the drier the better for this recipe!)
- I cup/2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 1 12 oz bag of semi sweet chocolate chips or same amount of cut up dark chocolate
- Sea salt to taste
- 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts, almonds or pecans (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with heavy duty aluminum foil, making sure the foil goes up and over the edges, and top with a sheet of parchment paper.
- Cover the baking sheet with the matzah, cutting and piecing them together as necessary to fill the entire pan.
- Make the caramel: Combine butter and brown sugar in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the mixture comes to a boil. Do not walk away, answer the phone or check your email as it can boil over very quickly. Keep stirring and if appears to be separating, just keep stirring; it will come together. Once the mixture comes to a boil, continue cooking and stirring for another 3 minutes until foamy and thickened. Add sea salt to give it extra flavour to taste. Immediately pour the caramel over the matzos and, using a spatula, spread into an even layer.
- Put the pan into the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the caramel is crackled and bubbling all over. Remove the pan from the oven and place on wire cooling rack on the counter. Immediately scatter the chocolate chips or pieces evenly over top. Wait a couple minutes for the chocolate to soften, then use an offset spatula to spread the chocolate into an even layer. Sprinkle with the toasted nuts (if desired) and sea salt. Refrigerate until the chocolate is firm, about 45 minutes. Don't leave it in the fridge too much longer, otherwise it will be hard to cut.
- Lift the foil overhang to transfer the matzo crack onto a large cutting board. Using a large sharp knife, cut into 2-inch squares. Store in an airtight container in the fridge and serve cold.