Monthly Archives: April 2022


Getting ready for Passover is a series of steps. There are, of course, several lists of Pesach preps online because the Internet loves lists. This is my latest attempt to cull them and then share them with you. I stress the rules – there are a lot of rules on Passover. I describe them here to help you decide what you might do for the holiday. There’s no judgment. There is no Passover Police.

  1. Cleaning. In traditional homes, this means an aggressive, violent war fought against chametz using steel wool, blowtorches, boiling water, chemical solvents, and vacuum cleaners. It also requires severely beating rugs and pillows and cushions, etc. This is all done to make certain that there are no leavened products or crumbs stuck in the couch, on the counters, in the bedrooms, and so forth. No corner of the house is exempt. Good luck. And no, the Stern house is not assaulted with severe and backbreaking cleaning before Passover.
  • Shopping. It’s all about the “Kosher for Passover” labels. You cannot use open products in a kosher for Passover home. Everything from sponges to cleansers to detergent to dish soap to bar soap to spices… In other words, anything potentially “contaminated” by hametz cannot be used during the holiday. Milk and eggs should be bought before the holiday and don’t need certification. Yogurt, cream cheese, etc. do require certification. It’s a Herculean task, and the expense is no light load!

Speaking of spending, I always suggest going to Whole Foods (my favorite market), and spending a small fortune on a few ‘out there’ matzos, made from different kosher for Passover grains that I don’t recognize. We always buy a box of shmurah Matzo too, which costs a fortune because it’s a handmade, artisanal product. As near as I can tell, it looks like matzo did 2000 years ago. It also tastes like it was baked 2000 years ago… Apparently, the shmurah matzo business is a mess due to Ukraine and some other factors I don’t understand. Kind of like the rise and fall of the stock market.

  • Haggadah. The right Haggadah is important. If you don’t like it, you feel like your seder is being held hostage by a book. Well, don’t let your celebration get bogged down by readings and songs you don’t know or don’t like. There are so many options now, at least 60 on Amazon! Call me if you need a hand. I can’t give a blanket opinion without knowing who’s coming to dinner…
  • Cooking. Cooking a beautiful Passover meal is a big part of the holiday. Don’t forget, we are to sit – no, loll around the table as if we were Roman aristocracy. That’s why we recline when we drink the wine – we are lords and ladies who are not in a hurry to finish to get back to work. We are free men and women and children; no one is telling us what to do.

As the head chef for Passover, I like to serve traditional dishes; for us that includes matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, chopped liver, brisket, apple matzo kugel, and tzimmes. I also add a few new things every year. I find that is a great source of ideas, as is

  • Prepping yourself. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the meal and the seating and the family issues that sometimes arise. And while that’s all real, so too is the underlying reason for us all to gather. We are retelling an ancient story of journeying from one place to another, from one state of being to another. We move from the constricting limits of enslavement and oppression to the vast openness of freedom. We were once slaves – but no longer. However, there are still people in our world who cannot make the same claim, and their pain must lessen our loud shouts of joy. Solomon Burke sings, “None of us are free/When one of is chained/Then none of us are free.”

He’s right, of course. And how can we avoid thinking of the refugees in the world now, people struggling to find a safe place for themselves and their children and their parents? The HIAS Passover supplement includes these words: “Throughout our history, violence, and persecution have driven the Jewish people to wander in search of a safe place to call home. We are a refugee people. At the Passover Seder, we gather to retell the story of our original wandering and the freedom we found. But we do not just retell the story. We are commanded to imagine ourselves as though we, personally, went forth from Egypt – to imagine the experience of being victimized because of who we are, of being enslaved, and of being free. As we step into this historical experience, we cannot help but draw to mind the 65 million displaced people and refugees around the world today fleeing violence and persecution, searching for protection. Like our ancestors, today’s refugees experience displacement, uncertainty, lack of resources, and the complete disruption of their lives.”

And of course: Ukraine. Our hearts break over this and not to mention it at our seder tables is unthinkable. Click on this link for a beautiful prayer that will enhance your Passover.

How can we not include some of this in our seder?

  • Enjoy. Feast for our freedom! Celebrate our liberation! And then commit to doing something to make a difference for those who know what we knew about loss and fear and rejection. Where some say no, we must say yes. Where some close the door, we must open it. We can’t change the world or make significant policy decisions. But we can – we must – do the work of social justice. Because if we don’t, who will? Because if we don’t, we’re headed right to Egypt again.

Shabbat Shalom


On Not Staying the Course

“Stay the course.” It’s a formidable command supposedly given by the captain from the bridge of a ship in a storm. In recent decades, it has been used to describe a political strategy described by William Saffire as persisting in an action or policy or remaining with a plan despite criticism or setbacks.

A part of Jewish life is all about staying the course. In the opening verses of Perkei Avot (The Ethics of Our Ancestors), it advises us to “build a fence around the Torah.” Hold tight, the text tells us. Make sure the lines are clearly demarcated. Or, as Tevye says in Fiddler, “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on a roof!” If it was good enough for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it’s good enough for me.

Except it’s not good enough. Leaning back into the past for balance and precedent is not a winning gambit. Instead, it’s a slow fade to mediocracy and obsolescence. Stay the course is doubling down on the status quo. Staying the course does not follow a most fundamental part of life itself: evolution.

I think that’s why fundamentalists despise the science of evolution so much. It’s not really about the way evolution challenges the inerrancy of the Bible. It’s the notion that the process of change is built into the very fabric of the Universe. Change is guaranteed.

Trying to stop evolution is ultimately impossible. Trying to stop evolution creates revolution. As Jeff Goldblum says, “Nature finds a way.”

The catchphrase, “going back to normal,” is au courant. It is also misleading. There is no such thing as going back. There is no future in staying the course unless you’re a purveyor of the past. I know that nostalgia sells. But it’s all inert; it’s symbolic, a reminder of what once was. And reminders can be invaluable.

Jewish tradition is built on our past, honoring it, taking the most valuable lessons we have learned over the millennia, and propagating them. But we don’t survive through memory. We thrive when we acknowledge what we want to be and where we want to go. We take the path through the template of our past and then emerge in a new place, a place we can’t know until we’ve arrived… and then get ready to jump again.

There is no staying the course. It’s like building a sandcastle at low tide. You finish, and it’s beautiful, and you’re so proud. And then the waves start to come in. And when you’re a little kid, you believe – you really do! If you keep bailing the moat, building higher walls, your creation will be saved. Which is impossible.

So you learn how that works, and maybe you build it up the beach. Using the same substance you’ve always used. It’s not the same sandcastle. It’s a new one. And it will last… until, because of wind or rain or a mean kid knocking it over, it’s gone. All castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually. And then it’s time for a new castle.

Ultimately, we know that our lives ARE as shaky as a fiddler on a roof. That’s not a negative statement; it’s just the way it is. Everything will follow the arrow of time. There’s only one direction, and it’s forward.

We are not who we were 25 years ago. It’s helpful to know the norms and expectations of the past. But it would be utterly contraindicated to seek the shelter of the past. We are living at a pivotal moment, one in which we are mandated to lean forward, uncomfortably forward. Sometimes we will lose our footing. We can – we must – embrace the past while we simultaneously evolve. That’s a tricky dance. But we can do it, not by staying the course but rather by daring to use our creativity and intuition. Tevye was right: it’s a new world. Every day.

Shabbat Shalom,