A Dahan Family Tradition
Each Passover season, as we sit down at the table to retell the story of our exodus from Egypt, families bring their own sets of traditions, stories and memories to the seder table. Some are bound by traditions passed from generation to generation; others by new ideas developed to engage their youngsters in their Jewish heritage.
As the Dahan family of Pikesville gets together on April 18 (the first night of Passover), four generations will “come together as a family to enjoy good food and celebrate the legacy of our people,” says Nick Dahan. Yet, at the heart of their story are their own experiences that in some ways parallel the themes of Passover — exodus and heritage.
At the table that evening will be those that share their own tales of exodus — of leaving one land for another so that they could be Jews.
It begins with Aharon Dahan, the patriarch of the family, who can date his family background to the Spanish Inquisition, when the family was forced to leave their home. They made their way to North Africa, in what is now Libya, living peaceably with the Arabs. Around 200 years ago they left once again, this time for what was then Palestine, settling in Tiberius, near the Sea of Galilee.
At the same time, as a young girl Mira Dahan fled Egypt in a matter of days with her family in 1962. Her father had been arrested at night, interrogated by the Egyptian police and then blacklisted as a spy for Israel. Like in the biblical story, they had to leave in a hurry. Unable to sell their properties, they turned over the keys to their home and their family factory and left for France with 27 suitcases filled only with items they could pack — clothes, sheets, pots and pans.
In 1988, Slava Katz, son-in-law of Nick and Mira Dahan, came to the United States when the former Soviet Union opened its doors. Like the Dahans, his family faced adversity prior to reaching this country.
In 1979, the Katz’s applied to leave the former Soviet Union. When they were denied visas, they lost their jobs and had a difficult time getting new ones, recalls Katz. When they finally were approved to leave, they left Kiev, going to Moscow to Vienna to Italy and finally to the United States, leaving most of their belongings behind.
In a touch of serendipity, Mira Dahan can recall taking her own daughters, Lilly, Rachel and Erin, in their strollers to the Freedom Sunday March in Washington, D.C. in 1987 to let Soviet Jews go. Rachel would later marry Katz.
As this family retells the story of exodus, as commanded in the Torah, “You shall tell the Pesach story to your children in the days to come” (Exodus 13:8), it becomes apparent that this passing along of Jewish history to younger generations is what motivates Aharon Dahan. His generosity helped establish Beth Tfiloh’s high school in hopes of passing on Jewish knowledge to future generations.
As the family reads about the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea, the plagues, Aharon Dahan, who fought in what one could call modern-day miracles — the Israeli War of Independence and the Sinai Campaign in 1956 — says about Israel, “In 100 years, generations won’t believe we could stand against 100 million. You have to believe in what our history tells us.”
“History reinforces the commonality of beliefs,” adds Nick Dahan.
At the table, set beautifully with a matzoh plate inscribed with family names in Hebrew, and with two kippot made by Muslim women (their sons wear them to school) from Turkmenistan and brought back by Erin Dahan after 2-1/2 years in the Peace Corp there, the family, who will arrive from Los Angeles to Boston, will gather to read the haggadah.
Taking advantage of the many customs, they will eat a meal that includes an appetizer plate that combines Jewish customs.
There’s the traditional hard-boiled egg, Israeli salads and Egyptian charoset that looks like mortar, both from the Sephardic culinary customs, and gefilte fish in a nod to the Ashkenazic tradition.
Toward the end of the seder, Elijah will show up, dressed in sheets, lights dimmed. He will drink the wine from his cup and then exit through the door. He may scare a few children, but he will
“Surrounded by grandparents, looking at the next generation, I feel I did something right,” says Mira Dahan.
“The most important thing is to ensure that history is continued,” says Aharon Dahan. “Dor l’dor — pass it from one generation to the next.”
Nona Lily’s Egyptian Charoset* (Pareve)
4 1/3 cups dates, chopped
2 ¼ cups dark California raisins, chopped
3 yellow golden apples (big ones)
Sugar, same amount as grated golden apples
1 1/2 lemons
½ cup almonds (lightly roasted and finely diced)
½ cup hazelnuts (lightly roasted and finely diced)
½ cup peanuts (lightly roasted and finely diced)**
½ cup walnuts (finely diced)
1. During preparation, soak raisins in water.
2. Grate apples and if they yield 3 or 4 cups, mix in the same amount of sugar. Pour in the juice from the
1 ½ lemons. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
3. Drain the raisins, saving the water. Add the chopped raisins to the mixture. Add the chopped dates. Mix and simmer an additional 15 minutes, while stirring.
4. Add the almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts and walnuts and stir. If charoset is too thick, add in the water from the raisins and stir as needed.
* Recipe converted from grams to cups.
** Because this is a Sephardic Passover recipe, peanuts are allowed in the Sephardic tradition.
Safta Rachel’s Israeli Eeje (Meat)
(Passover Meat Kugel)*
2 large onions, diced
1 lb ground beef
1 cup water
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
4 beaten eggs
1 tsp Passover baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1. In a large bowl, soak the matzohs for one hour in a little water, after they have been broken in small pieces. Meanwhile, prepare the filling
2. In a skillet, brown onions, ground beef, water, salt and pepper. Cook on a low heat until all the water is gone.
3. Put the soaked matzoh in a large colander. With your hands, squeeze out as much water as you can, making a thick batter as you squeeze. Put the matzoh back into the bowl. Add eggs, salt, pepper and Passover baking powder. Mix well with the matzohs.
4. In a 9x12 inch greased baking pan, spread half the batter. Spread the meat mixture on top. Cover with the other half of the batter. Bake for one hour in a preheated 350-degree oven.
* This recipe was a favorite of the late Rachel Dahan, wife of Aharon Dahan, and is served every year.
The Roots Of A Root
Alan H. Feiler
So what’s the scoop on horseradish? Jews tend to think of this bitter, pungent, oddly-named plant root — which we call chrain — as one of our own, a staple of the Passover seder experience. But over the past three millennia, horseradish has been used in myriad cultures in multiple capacities, as an aphrodisiac, a rheumatism treatment, an alcoholic beverage and a flavoring for beef, chicken and seafood.
According to horseradish.org , the history of horseradish — a perennial plant of the Brassicaceae family — is “intricate and mysterious.” The Egyptians — you know, the bad guys in the Pesach story — knew all about the medicinal and gastrointestinal benefits of horseradish, going back to 1500 B.C.E. Meanwhile, the early Greeks used the sinus-clearing stuff as a rub for lower back ailments, as well as a substance to stimulate sexual desires.
The Roman statesman Cato discussed horseradish in his agricultural treatises, and the Roman author/naturalist Pliny The Elder recommended the plant for its medicinal qualities in his epic “Natural History.”
During the Middle Ages, the plant’s roots and leaves were used as medicine, while horseradish was employed as a condiment on meats in Germany, Scandinavia and Britain. (Germans still drink horseradish schnapps and add horseradish to beer.)
Consumption of horseradish was pervasive in Europe during the Renaissance. The root — known as “redcole”or “stingnose” — was grown at British inns and coach stations, to make cordials for weary, downtrodden travelers.
Horseradish was brought to the United States and Canada during the Colonial Era. In the New World, horseradish syrup was used as an expectorant cough medicine, as well as a remedy and elixir for everything from rheumatism to tuberculosis. Cultivation of horseradish for commercial purposes in the U.S. began in the mid-1850s, at immigrants’ horseradish farms in the Midwest. By 1860, it was bottled and sold, one of the first convenience foods.
A thriving horseradish industry developed on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River by the turn of the 20th century. In the South, horseradish was rubbed on foreheads to cure headaches). After World War II, farmers in northern California’s Tulelake region began cultivating the root.
Approximately 6 million gallons of cultivated horseradish are produced annually in the United States today. (Besides Jews on Passover, the best-known consumer of horseradish, arguably, is Dagwood Bumstead, who ate the stuff regularly in the popular “Blondie” comic strip. In one strip, Dagwood bellows, “My kingdom for some horseradish!”)
While the plant is grown in many regions throughout the world, Collinsville, Ill., calls itself the “Horseradish Capital of the World” and holds an annual International Horseradish Festival. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s Tulkoff’s Food Products Inc. is the nation’s largest manufacturer of prepared horseradish products, including white horseradish, red horseradish, Tiger Sauce and horseradish mustard.
Although horseradish is widely associated with Passover, it is also traditionally used at Easter dinner tables in Eastern and Central Europe. Of course, cooking beet horseradish is most commonly served with gefilte fish at seder tables in Ashkenazic communities, as one of the five maror (bitter herbs) Jews are told to taste to recall the bitterness of slavery and affliction in Egypt.
Cover As Art
It is a matzoh cover, but it is also a museum piece.
In beautiful satin and lace, this round matzoh cover complete with early 19th-century embroidery and even a wine stain or two graces the display case of the Goldsmith Museum of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.
Dr. Susan Vick, the museum’s curator, gently opens the matzoh cover to show where the three matzot would be placed.
Made with natural dyes, the matzoh cover is a gift of Friends of Phyllis Brill and Aaron Snyder in honor of their wedding.
The front of the matzoh cover has flowers and a crown embroidered on it. It also has embroidered the words “L’Shana Ha’ba’ah b’Yerushalyim” (Next Year in Jerusalem).
Interestingly, each pocket for a piece of matzoh has the words Cohen, Levi and Yisrael.
On the back of the matzoh cover are the initials “E.R.” Dr. Vick surmises that these could be the initials of the artist who crafted the matzoh cover.
— Phil Jacobs
On The First Day of Passover…
Passover begins for me sometime around Purim, when I go to my local grocery store and see that there are already aisles set up for the holiday that marks our freedom from Egypt.
I used to take note that the day after Halloween, the stores were starting to decorate themselves for Christmas.
And I wondered if something along these lines could ever happen in my world. Welcome to Passover 2011.
Soon I expect to go to the beach and see, next door to the Christmas in July shop, a Passover in Tamuz shop, many months before we think about the 14th of Nissan.
I’m thinking that in such a shop one could purchase matzoh meal and matzoh farfel from the previous year that would probably still be OK to eat. Seder plates could adorn the summer, and I might even be able to purchase one that had the words Ocean City on it. Not to mention the Passover beach coloring book for the kids, and in the ocean itself, all the saltwater I could possibly dip my karpas in.
So let’s get started here.
For me, Passover starts with the first time my wife and I validate the existence of the Passover products aisle at the grocery stores. The stress picks up because we begin usually with purchases of spices. Of course, we have tons of spices at home, but we can’t use the salt and cinnamon and sugar, because it doesn’t have the most valuable letter of the Passover consumer’s alphabet on it. We’re talking the letter “P.”
No “P, ” no Passover. You can buy all the vanilla syrup you want, but it’s got to have that “P” going, or it’s not getting near my recipe.
And chocolate chips. Oy. At my house, we are kosher-for-Passover chocolate chip hoarders. Do you think that anyone worried about this when they were leaving Egypt and being chased by Pharaoh? “Honey, what do you mean you forgot to bring the chocolate chips? Go back to the house and get them.”
So, to avoid sticker shock, and believe me there is plenty of it, because for some reason, while the bread wasn’t leavened, the prices of these products sure were.
We have a refrigerator in our basement we use solely for Passover. That begins to fill up with perishables, while the non-perishables are stored in bags in an upstairs room.
Meanwhile, in no particular order that I can remember, the carpet cleaners steam clean our carpet. We make at least 10 trips to the local “they have everything cheap” store for pans.
Somewhere in all of this, my wife hauls out all of her mother’s Passover recipes, passed down through the generations. We sit and go back and forth, arguing sometimes over the menus. Did I mention that we have invited people to the seders and then to other meals during the week?
It’s during the meal planning when the feeling begins to appear in the pit of my stomach. You ever see those National Geographic photos of the boa constrictor that ate some poor animal whole? That’s how my stomach feels by the third day of Passover.
But we’re not even at day one yet.
Along the way, I sit down with a new haggadah, because my custom is to introduce at least one new haggadah each year to the family. Did I forget to tell you that our first seder is fleishig (meat), while our second seder is vegetarian?
Is Xanax kosher for Passover?
OK, by now you get the picture.
Let’s do the checklist:
Clean the cars.
Buy the wine.
Clean the house.
Buy the food.
Buy more wine.
Buy the paper goods
Study a new haggadah.
Buy even more wine.
Get that afikomen present for a 14-month-old baby boy who is going to be asleep probably before we start the seder.
Explain to those guests coming to the second seder that we’ll be starting about an hour later than the first seder.
Buy more wine.
Make sure you have all of the seder plate symbols.
OK, so that’s the first day.
By the time the chametz has been hunted down and burned. ...
By the time the guests have arrived and we’re ready to go. ...
I feel like I’ve already run across the desert, crossed a splitting sea and become on a first-name basis with the cashiers at the grocery store. There’s always that one thing I forgot to buy. At this point, I’m wondering about freedom.
The first seder on Monday, April 18, will be wonderful. Candlelighting is at 7:29 p.m. We’ll welcome our guests and we’ll talk about what is the Mitzrayim (Egypt) in our lives? What is stopping us from moving ahead in our lives?
We’ll talk, we’ll sing, we’ll ask questions and we’ll know that with a large majority of Jews in Baltimore and all over the world, we are fortunate enough to live lives as free men and women.
But I can tell you that by midnight the first night, matzoh, better known as the “Bread of Affliction,” will already be forming its rock-like presence in my stomach.
Welcome back, stomach presence.
By Tuesday night, the rock will feel like a boulder, even though the vegetarian seder food helps with a little redemption, if you know what I mean.
By Wednesday afternoon, I don’t want to look at food. We do get invited to delicious meals, but by Wednesday night, I look at myself in the mirror. I miss my yoga class and the JCC treadmill by now. My belt needs expansion. I feel like I’ve got a basketball harnessed to my stomach.
By Shabbat, we enter into another serious eating day, and I don’t know where the food is going to go at this point. I’ve run out of intestinal compartments. The holiday’s last days then start the final countdown to the tradition we’ve kept for years. On the last lunch of the last day of Passover, my family joins with the Avram and Joan Kristal-Weiss family for a final lunch of Passover lasagna.
For many years, I then bring in the lasagna leftovers to the Jewish Times offices. This year that will be on April 27. And, in like 15 minutes, the food disappears. It’s gone, all gone.
But there’s one thing I forgot to say, before we put all the Passover items away for another year, we head over for the greatest custom of all, either to the doughnut store or the pizza shop.
Because despite lack of room in my digestive system, I do leave a little vacancy to step back into reality.
Back to yoga and the treadmill.
The one leftover of Passover — the credit card bill that will come in May.
The best part of it all, family, friends and the one constant that Passover brings to all of us, is that feeling of being together, that freedom of being Jewish.
My parents weren’t terribly religious people. They
didn’t know from Shavuot or building a sukkah.
But a Passover seder we had.
And it’s in the collective memory of the special importance that many of our families place on Passover that we continue on.
My grandson will be sitting in my lap for at least part of the service.
One day he’ll read the Four Questions.
And that for me is the greatest result of our surviving Mitzrayim.
It is my hope that we all overcome whatever holds us back from moving forward. May this be the Passover that sets us all free.
Now pass the Rolaids.
“The ‘Un’ Haggadah: How to keep the conversation and wine flowing at your seder” by Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg is available for free at jewishtimes.com . On the home page, click on the link on the right, just above the “news” section.
The 148-page publication, made possible through the generosity of the Dahan and Weiner families, was originally published in 2006. The Baltimore Jewish Times thanks Rabbi Wohlberg for making this available to the community.
Why is this plate different from all other plates?
Each of the six items on the Passover seder plate plays a critical role in retelling the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt.
Baytzah — There are two interpretations of the symbolism of the hard-boiled egg. One view is that it is an ancient fertility symbol. As hard-boiled eggs were traditionally the food of mourners, it is also viewed as a symbol of the destruction of the two Temples.
Chazeret — Freshly grated horseradish reflects the bitter affliction of slavery.
Charoset — Made from apples, nuts, wine, and cinnamon, the pasty mixture symbolizes the mortar Jews used while laying bricks during their servitude.
Karpas — Typically parsley is dipped into saltwater. Dipping is the sign of freedom, while the saltwater recalls the tears shed during Jews’ enslavement.
Maror — The bitter herbs symbolize the bitterness of slavery that the Jewish people endured in ancient Egypt.
Zeroa — The shank bone represents the 10th plague in Egypt, when all firstborn Egyptians were killed, as well as the sacrificial lamb that was killed and eaten during the days when the Temple stood.
— Laurie Legum
The new 20-something government food inspector had to prove his mettle. The good news is that his hubris did not kill him. The bad news is that he would never again look at horseradish in the same way.
After just replacing his recently retired 70-year-old colleague, he wanted to show how serious he was about the job. So, despite the repeated warnings of the senior management of Baltimore’s famed Tulkoff’s Food Products, he went to work.
“He was going to be very careful on his inspections this first time,” recalls Lee Rome, the company’s retired CEO. “So he climbs up there, opens the cover and sticks his head in a vat that had about 15 tons of horseradish. He didn’t come out.”
A few minutes later — after having been dragged down from the platform and revived with onsite emergency equipment — 911 emergency responders arrived. The inspector survived his rookie mistake, which he no doubt never repeated.
“That,” says Rome, “is the power of horseradish.”
Tulkoff’s horseradish — as with so much else for so many families here — is synonymous with Baltimore Passovers. Indeed, in the past few weeks leading up to Monday’s heralded start of the Festival of Freedom, countless Baltimoreans have been talking about family customs and preparing new ones as they join gatherings ranging from a handful at a kitchen table to dozens in a downstairs basement, to even more in a rented tent.
And at each gathering, the menu will invariably include a few family gastronomic specialties — say, Aunt Sandy’s tsimmes, Bubbie’s knaidlachen or Mrs. B’s mother’s sponge cake.
Not everyone will witness the evening’s end, younger kids (and, truth be told, some older adults) will fall to the combination of the late hour, heavy meal and comfortable couches.
The youngest participants will have new afikomen prizes, and nearly all of adult age may be a little sluggish from the food, but hopefully feeling good about the new memory. Throughout, the personal Passover legends of Baltimore will thrive yet again.
Some, for example, recall the 1970s and ’80s when the Knish Shop on Reisterstown Road was the only place around to order large quantities of pre-made Passover food. In fact, the popular eatery filled more than 500 Passover orders, meaning its food fed many thousands of seder-goers.
Nearly all of those items were picked up in the few days before the holiday. That made for quite a scene as people lined up under a tent — starting at 6 a.m. — to get their order from the backs of two 48-foot refrigerated trucks parked in the back.
“That first year we did Pesach food we had people come in the store and they had to wait in line for two hours,” says Ken Baum, the Knish Shop’s original owner. “I said, ‘Uh-uh, no more’ and we created a system out back.”
To say filling the orders was difficult is an understatement. “One year I was up 54 hours without sleep preparing,” he recalls. “My wife, Anita, came in and grabbed me by the ear and told me, ‘You’re coming home.’ ”
His daughter, Gerri Baum, remembers the buildup well.
“There was a chalkboard on the wall, behind the deli counter, where after Rosh Hashanah my dad would begin a countdown of how many days were left till Pesach,” she says.
Her favorite memory: “We had a rack of eggs in front with a sign that said Pesadich. People would ask what made them kosher for Pesach and my dad would say, ‘The chickens were fed matzoh.’ ”
The decades before that, too, are filled with Baltimore Passover lore. Gil Sandler, the historian laureate of Jewish and general Baltimore, has book loads of memories — literally, as among his books are “Jewish Baltimore: A Family Album” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000) and the soon-to-be published “Home Front Baltimore: An Album of Memories of World War II.”
He reports that the delicatessens and restaurants of Lombard Street’s famous Corned Beef Row all had kosher-for-Passover food. Indeed, Passover was no impediment to meeting and eating at Shulman’s Romanian, New York Dairy and Sussman and Lev.
By the time those delicatessens either moved or closed down, Joe Kaufman’s law firm in downtown Baltimore stepped in to fill the void. He set up kosher-for-Passover tables for the entire holiday — except Shabbat and Sundays, of course — in his conference rooms.
Many memories from those years, however, are more than alive today.
Each year for Passover, Dr. Elliot Weiner takes out a now-laminated article from the April 8, 1949, issue of the Baltimore Jewish Times titled “Wrathless Grapes.” It is a tale that his late father, a loyalist of the Workmen’s Circle, would read at the seder.
It is a short story of a Jewish man in a non-Jewish town who is asked by the police to come identify a drunkard who claims to know the Jews. Eventually, the Jewish man realizes this is Elijah the Prophet, the one who is to announce the arrival of the Messiah and who has that mysterious untouched wine cup in the center of the seder plate.
Unlike in past years, Elijah is drunk. Why? He is drinking from his cup because the State of Israel has just finished its Independence War.
As Dr. Weiner says, “I started reading it with my kids at the seder when they were little and now it’s for the grandchildren. Everybody gets a kick out of it; the kids get so wrapped up in it.”
For his daughter, Julie Karpa, the tie to family and Jewish history is overwhelming.
“I feel a connection to my Grandpa Phil when my Dad reads it,” she says. “I also feel a connection to all of the generations of Jews before me represented in the story. Every year, I look around our table and see how fortunate I am. I watch my girls listening to their grandpa telling them the same story I heard my grandpa tell and I get tears in my eyes. It means the world to me to be able to pass on holiday family traditions.”