International Customs

PASSOVER AROUND THE WORLD

Throughout the 2000 years of exile, the Jewish nation has dwelled in almost every corner of the world. England, Syria, Russia or Shanghai, no matter the country, Passover has been a time of sacredness to all Jews. Whether from an Ashkenazi or a Sephardi background, the matzah, the maror and the text of the Haggadah unify the Jewish nation. But distance between communities has spiced the flavor of every Seder. While njop.org has presented basic guidelines, below are some unique customs from communities around the world:

Charoset: A tasty food that represents the mortar the Jewish slaves used to build Pharaoh’s cities, the recipe varies between communities. Most Ashkenazic communities make their charoset based on walnuts, apples and wine. The Persian community mixes spices with such fruits and nuts as bananas, oranges, pistachios, pomegranates and dates. Another Sephardic charoset recipe is made by boiling dates into a thick liquid, straining it and adding chopped walnuts. Venetian Jews blend chestnut paste and apricots.

Gebrachts: In Yiddish, the word gebruchts means broken and refers to foods prepared by cooking or baking matzah or matzah meal with liquids. This stringency, adhered to by most Chasidic communities, as well as many non-Chasidic Ashkenazim, is based upon the fear that raw flour may still be found in the cooked matzah and, when mixed with a liquid, will become chametz. For those who choose to not eat gebrachts matzah balls and matzah brei, favorites throughout the Ashkenazi world, are off the menu.

Yachatz (The Breaking of the Middle Matzah): In some Sephardi communities, the Seder leader attempts to break the middle matzah into the shape of letters. Syrians break the matzah in the shape of the Hebrew letters dalet and vav. Maghreban break it to form the 2 components of the Hebrew letter heh. (Note: hiding and stealing the afikoman is an Ashkenazi, not a Sephardi tradition

Re-enacting the Exodus: A pervasive custom throughout the Sephardi communities is to dramatize the Exodus. Generally this takes place immediately following Yachatz, the breaking of the middle matzah, or after Ha Lachma Anya, the first paragraph of the Maggid section.
The basic script for this dramatization is as follows:

Person holding the afikoman:”Their remaining possessions tied up in their bags on their shoulders and the children of Israel did as Moses commanded.”

Other Seder Participants: “From where are you coming?”

Afikoman holder: “From Egypt.”

Participants: “Where are you going to?”

Afikoman holder: “To Jerusalem.”

Participants: “What are your supplies?”

Afikoman holder: “Matzah and Maror.”

This ceremony varies not only as to when it is said, but who says it (sometimes only the leader, sometimes one child gets up and knocks on door before the dialogue begins, and sometimes each participant of the Seder holds the afikoman in turn), and how the afikoman is wrapped and held (in a napkin or a bag, held on the right shoulder or thrown over the shoulder).

Re-enacting the Exodus–a second version: In the Yemenite community, the Seder leader rises, throws the afikoman bag over his shoulder like a knapsack and circles the table while leaning on a cane. As he walks about the room, the leader tells the other participants about his experiences and the miracles he witnessed as he came from Egypt.

Dayenu and Scallions: In Afghani, Persian, and other Sephardi homes, the singing of Dayenu is accompanied by the beating of scallions — Using bunches of scallions or leeks, Seder participants beat each other lightly on the back and shoulders to symbolize the taskmasters whip.

The End of Passover: The last day of Passover is the day on which G-d parted the Reed Sea. Many communities commemorate this great event by gathering together at midnight and reciting the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15).

This is a brief survey of some of the varying traditions within the Jewish community. If you feel NJOP has left off a valuable custom from your community, please email us at sr@njop.org