Having been a docent since the Skirball opened in 1996, I have had numerous opportunities to talk about the many objects in the core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America. One of my personal favorites is the seder plate shown above, on display in the Holidays Gallery. Made in Vienna in 1814, this beautiful silver plate has three tiers for matzah and seven screw-on cast figures who hold the ceremonial Passover foods. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the figures are different sizes and are wearing clothing from different eras. The reason for this is unknown. Continue reading
The Jewish holiday of Passover is not celebrated in temple, it is celebrated at home. On the first (and often the second) night of Passover, families and friends gather for a ritualized meal or “seder” during which they drink wine, sing songs, and tell the Exodus story—with the goal of reminding everyone at the table that freedom is a gift to be cherished.
Every family’s seder is different, from the Haggadah they choose to read from to the seder plate on which they present the holiday’s symbolic foods. To celebrate this uniqueness, a few members of the Skirball staff share the story behind their seder plates, starting with mine!
I have always liked the bright and cheery design of my mother’s seder plate, and assumed for all these years that she had gotten it as a newlywed when she and my father were married. I discovered this year that she actually purchased it herself when we moved from New York to California when I was a child.
Until we moved, my mother never needed her own seder plate. In New York she attended first her grandmother’s, then her aunt’s seder—large family affairs conducted mostly in Hebrew that continue to this day. When we moved to California, in search of warm weather and business opportunities, we were forced to leave that family tradition behind. I know the move was bittersweet for my mother, as she was very close to her family, but I think this plate represents her hopefulness about starting a new tradition with her children. I have to say, she has done an excellent job, because Passover at my mother’s house is something we look forward to every year.
“Our seder plate has great personal meaning since it was made by friends, Leslie Gattmann and Eugene Frank, who operated a ceramic Judaica business for many years. Each piece was lovingly handmade and hand-painted. We use it every year at our family seder, which includes many great traditions from beating each other with green onions during the “dayenu” song (a Persian custom that we simply had to adopt) to raucous searches for the afikomen (dessert matzoh) by the youngest guests, who are now grown men.
During this season of Passover, the Skirball Cultural Center presents the commissioned work Exodus Steps. It welcomes families of all beliefs and heritages to take part in dramatizing the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.
Passover has assumed the symbolic meaning of human freedom in general and of the universal hope for the end of all oppression. The act of recalling and retelling a people’s journey from enslavement to freedom is meaningful. When we retrace the steps (and even the missteps) of those who struggled for justice and equality before us, we are reminded that we, too, were once slaves. We come to experience liberation as if we ourselves were breaking from oppression.
When we walk in the path of our forebears who sought a promised land—whether in ancient history or modern-day America—we understand that we remain ever in pursuit of freedom.
This is the first in what we hope will be a regular series of sketches by artist Cary Meshul, Skirball Art Director. This holiday week, his illustrated musings—or “Skribbles”—focus on Passover, his favorite holiday.
Tradition! Passover is my favorite Jewish holiday. I love setting the Seder table with my mother’s china, grandmother’s candlesticks, great grandfather’s kiddush cup, and my new Miriam cup, a cherished gift from the Skirball volunteers corps.
Each year at our Seder, my family re-tells the story of our ancestor’s liberation from slavery to freedom and its relevance in today’s world. In addition to the youngest grandchild chanting the four questions, one of my daughters, who has engagingly led our Seder for many years, composes a fifth question that is sent in advance to all those attending. Everyone is encouraged to prepare an answer in whatever style is comfortable—in song or poetry, humorously or seriously—which then becomes the occasion for lots and lots of animated conversation. It is satisfying to celebrate with family and friends. Together with children and grandchildren, we prepare from memory familiar Passover family recipes and look for creative new ones to grace our Seder table.
But first we conduct two searches: first, for chametz (leavened foods), which we always find and make sure to remove from the house for Passover; and second, for a really good, new, balanced, fruit-forward, satisfying, full-bodied or light, bright, kosher-for-Passover wine. And yes, there are really good kosher-for Passover-wines. My husband and I have been blind-tasting wines with a group of friends monthly for the past forty years, and we think we can make some educated recommendations.