Passover has come to an end with a harsh return to reality for me and the rest of the staff at the JMM. This year the JMM staff was lucky enough to have the first three days and the last two days of the Passover holiday off from work, making it much easier to travel to Seders near and far. On the Monday before Passover, Rachel Kassman, Elena Rosemond-Hoerr, my dog Wednesday, and I drove up to Connecticut to celebrate the first two nights of Passover with the Kassman family. Being so far away from my family in California, I was really excited about the idea of celebrating with Rachel and her family instead of my own. Plus, she eagerly welcomed my giant beast of a dog Wednesday to join on the adventure, so how could I say no? I was also excited that Elena would be joining us because this was her first Seder experience.
On Monday morning we ventured off in Rachel’s two door car lovingly referred to as “The Jellybean,” and drove the 5-6 hour drive to her family’s home in Connecticut. After a great lunch at a pizza place near Rachel’s alma mater, the University of Delaware, and after spending way too much time in New Jersey we finally made it to the Kassman family’s home. What initially struck me about the Kassman family was how warm, welcoming, and family oriented they all were. Rachel’s parents live in a house right next to where her father grew up and where Rachel’s grandmother still lives. Her Great Uncle Moishe lives on the other side of her grandmother’s house. Between the three properties there is a lot of open fields and land, so Wednesday loved romping around the property.
Soon after we arrived on Monday we made our way over to Rachel’s grandmother’s house where the Seders were hosted both nights. We joined Rachel’s cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends, about 25 people in all. Similar to my family the Seder has a leader, but each member took turns reading from the Haggadah. The Kassman Haggadah was interesting in that it was created by about five different families, but the Kassman family was not one of them. I will have to ask Rachel the details of how her family ended up adopting this particular Haggadah.
I love experiencing other people’s customs and traditions, and these two nights at the Kassman’s were no exception. What I most appreciated about the Kassman Seder was the integration of food into the ceremony. What stuck out the most was this egg soup that was served on both nights. Rather than just eating an egg with some saltwater, which is what my family traditionally does, the Kassman family serves this dish as a soup with chopped up eggs and saltwater. Luckily for me, the Kassmans also serve matzah ball soup, which is my absolute favorite.
Part of our mission while in Connecticut was to document the Seders for our upcoming exhibition on “Chosen Food.” While participating in the Seder Elena was able to photograph the major events of the evening. On the second night it worked out that Elena, Rachel, and I ended up being in the “kids” group and therefore we were tasked with searching for the afikomen, a piece of matzah that is considered dessert and hidden at the beginning of the Seder. I don’t think we would have cared much about finding the afikomen except for the fact that we were not allowed to eat the real dessert, delicious homemade macaroons, until the afikomen was found. Rachel’s brother, Joe, hid the afikomen a little too well and it took us far too long to find it. After about 30 minutes (which seemed like forever) I found the afikomen. My prize? Dessert and 53 cents.
I really had a wonderful time celebrating Passover in Connecticut with Elena, Rachel, and her friends and family. I felt so welcomed and loved and it was great to experience how other Jews carry out the Passover tradition. Next year if I make it back to California to celebrate the Seders with my own family I will be taking a few of the Kassman family traditions with me.
A blog post by Community Outreach Coordinator Rachael Binning.