Why is this Night Different From All Other Nights?

Passover begins at sundown, Friday March 30, by the secular calendar for 2018 CE.

Long before Dr. Atkin’s carb-free regimen, observant Jews have abstained from eating leavened bread in order to keep the feast called Passover—only matzo, which contains no yeast.

At the Pesach Seder, three matzo have a place of honor on the table, regally, and somewhat cryptically, kept in a linen bag. The Seder climaxes with the eating of a broken piece of matzo, called the afikomen”.

 

There is mystique, mystery, possibly misunderstanding, lots of discussion and scholarly argument about the meanings and origin of the afikomen tradition.

Some traditions encourage hiding and ransoming the broken piece, rewarding the children who find it.

In some parts of the world, a bit of the afikomen is preserved, kept as a talisman against (you guessed it) the evil eye, even tossed into the sea to calm the waves before ocean-travel.

Let’s start with the obvious: the word itself.

Like many other words in our vocabulary—let’s say, “Sephora”—it may “sound” like Hebrew. In context, we may think it’s Hebrew—sounds good, as in,  “Please allow me to introduce Miss Sephora Bindefeld of Great Neck, New York.”

But unlike “Sephora”, which is a completely made-up word (kudos to those clever marketing people!), afikomen is a Greek word.

Depending upon who you ask, this Greek word means literally “nothing”, or “what comes after”, or something else entirely. For the record, Christian scholars who study Greek give the word a specifically Messianic interpretation.

Most people would translate “afikomen” as “dessert”, because this is how it’s used at the Seder table: “Bring out the (flourless) dessert!”. 

(For all the moms and other Passover bakers out there, check out these flour-free, fruit-filled, mouth-watering Passover-perfect dessert recipes from epicurious.com. 

A more complete reference is the law of Passover: “Ein maftirin ahar he-pesah afikomen”, usually translated as “One may not eat dessert after the Passover offering.”

Another reading is more to the effect of “Do not go out after eating the Paschal lamb.”

Okay, wait a minute.

You may be thinking to yourself, Hey, I’ve been to a lot of Seders, and we’ve never eaten lamb, although Moses makes reference to the traditional sacrificial lamb whose blood was used to mark the doorways, protecting the families within.

You know the story by now.

But lamb was edited out of the Seder menu after the destruction of the Temple.

Now matzo stands in its place, since without the Temple, proper sacrifice could not be offered.

Some scholars draw on the interpretation of Rav, who wrote that the phrase means that after the Passover meal, one should not wander from group to group.

Rashi interpreted this to mean that we are commanded not to take our utensils from the table and go off for a nosh, elsewhere.

Oy, the opinions.

There are more esoteric interpretations, too.

Shemuel and R. Yochanan, for instance, describe the word as meaning “mushrooms for me and pigeons for Abba” (?), dates, “parched ears” (which we’re thinking is like toasted wheat and barley…), and nuts. Finger-foods? Snacks? You decide.

In modern times, this familiar Talmudic passage has also been interpreted as a reference to a slightly different Greek word, “epikomazein”, transposed into Hebrew as “epikoman”. This may refer to the fact that the Hellenic Greeks were terrific partiers, and frequently stopped by the homes of friends after dinner for a few goblets of the grape, maybe some ouzo, some dancing, a few laughs.

There’s a sharp division between the Hellenic world and the Hebrew world.

Passover is not the time, the Talmud tells us, for getting rowdy.  Although Passover is absolutely a time of joy, the holiday keeps its solemnity. It is a time to connect with the Almighty—a different sort of celebration.

Okay, right now I happen to be swooning over the recipe for Chocolate Caramel Crackers made with matzo on www.smittenkitchen.com

It’s frum-yum, but indeed, the last taste in our grateful mouths at the end of the Seder is the taste of matzo—an “olive-sized” bite, as the Talmud tells us.

Not dessert in the conventional sense. It indeed is sweet, not literally but symbolically, and, it’s a mitzvah—a commandment.

I’m still thinking about those mushrooms for me…. and pigeons for Abba.

Or, maybe….just perhaps start a new tradition in your family with afikomen gifts.

Gift ideas for afikomen

Nothing too expensive, well best we don’t decide for you what expensive is, but a small token of a gift.

Perhaps a hamsa necklace from Alef Bet Jewelry, a cute cell phone case with a Jewish Star, or maybe a box of chocolate matzah?  Something little, something the kids will remember you by.

L’chaim ! Next year in Jerusalem!

What does your family do for the afikomen?  

Afikoment Gifts on Passover

 

My mom tells of growing up in Denver in the 1950’s and receiving a quarter from many uncles for finding the Afikomen.  I remember my Uncle Irving passing out $2 bills to all the cousins.  Now, those bills were an oddity, and so special that we wouldn’t even spend them.  I actually still have a few tucked away in my jewelry box.  As kids we couldn’t sit still until the middle piece of matza was broken, folded into a napkin, and hidden away.  Whoever found it would then hold it for ransom until they received a gift.  Yes, one person found the Afikomen, but in order to prevent hard feelings, the matzah was broken up and passed around so that all the kids received gifts.

There are stories and legends intertwined in history about finding the Afikomen.   Doing research for this blog post we found that the Afikomen has taken on special meanings throughout history as.  This symbolic middle piece of matzah used to be saved as protection against the evil eye and to ensure longevity.  Back in the Middle Ages, Jews would carry it in a little pouch with them from Passover to Passover, hoping for good luck.  Did you know that if you kept the Afikomen for 7 years, you could then throw it into a river to stop a flood?  The stories go on an on.

Afikomen might sound like this crazy made-up word, but it is a word.  Pronounced Ah-fee-ko-men, it is actually a Greek word meaning dessert.   Read more about it in this past post.

Let’s fast forward from the 1950s and 1970s to 2017, and admit that kids are still fascinated with the Afikomen ritual and holding it ransom until they receive something in exchange.  The thing is, when you gift something to a kid, they remember it.  That is what Jewish family celebrations are all about– creating memories and rituals.  From the food we eat to the prayers we chant, every child remembers the holidays.  Having them leave with a small keepsake just preserves these memories.

afikomen-gifts

Here are two wonderful choices to gift the children at Passover Seder.  A sterling silver Jewish star pendant or a Hebrew chai charm are both meaningful moments of the holiday.

 

 

Buy Me Something Nice for Passover!!

Passover Memories…

Years ago, along with my siblings and cousins I was awarded 25 cents from the male members of my family.    It didn’t matter if we found the Afikomen first, we all got the same reward.  What happened to all those quarters over the years?    I lost them, and I know I didn’t invest the money.  jewish star necklace

Jumping ahead a few decades,  I am now of the opinion that we should give our children and grandchildren Afikomen gifts that are longer lasting and more thoughtful than money; pieces that you can touch, feel, wear.   In the future, that gift will certainly be linked to fond, even funny Passover memories.  passover magnet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We here at Alef Bet by Paula feel that a you can continue creating Passover memories by gifting great, unusual, or even small gifts at the Seder.  So, why not start the tradition this 2016 Passover?  Here are some suggestions that will make you an “Afikomen” Star?

 

matza ball shirt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let us know what you got as a kid in the comment section below.

Passover Gifts

All these posts on Pinterest about gifts for the holiday Passover can make you a little crazy.  But then again, it is about time the secular market saw the need for Passover gifts. 

What once started out as the afikomen gift idea seems to be “everywhere,” even at Target there is a Seder plate and cups (ugly, but it does say Pesach on it!).  From aprons to iphone covers, to

Plagues for Passover
Plagues for Passover

matzah “gingerbread” houses from Epicurous, Passover seems to be a money-making holiday!   There are even ideas out there on how to make gift-plague-bags for the holiday!

While you are at it, why not buy some afikomen gifts from Alef Bet!