By Robert Gluck/JNS.org
For those who feel that Passover cooking can be as restrictive as their ancestors’ enslavement in Egypt, pastry chef and author Paula Shoyer says her new book “has arrived to set you free.”
A former practicing attorney, Shoyer has appeared on the Food Network and Martha Stewart Living Radio and works as a consultant to kosher bakeries. Her latest undertaking is The New Passover Menu, a book released on Feb. 3.
“Jews who host the holiday often feel that preparing the house and food for Passover makes them feel a little too much like the Israelite slaves,” Shoyer writes in the book’s introduction.
The recipes offered in the book, Shoyer hopes, will change that feeling. Bread, rice, corn, oats, rye, spelt, barley, legumes, and pasta all fall under the category of chametz—foods that are forbidden on Passover. But rather than dwelling on prohibited items, Shoyer suggests focusing on what you can eat on Passover.
Known for her desserts, Shoyer’s book includes triple-chocolate biscotti, pistachio and strawberry roll, and meringue fruit tarts. The New Passover Menu also features an updated Ashkenazic seder menu (with items like fresh salmon gefilte fish loaf with arugula; brisket osso buco; and asparagus, zucchini, and leek kugel), an international seder menu (including Middle Eastern charoset, whole chicken with dried fruit stuffing, and Moroccan spiced short ribs), a Shabbat menu, a Yom Tov menu, a French dairy menu, and more desserts.
Shoyer has traveled globally and spent significant time in Switzerland and Paris, where she graduated from the Ritz Escoffier pastry program in 1996. Fittingly, her book has an international flair.
“In my travels I would meet people who told me they loved my desserts, but that I should write a food cookbook,” Shoyer told JNS.org. “Everywhere I went, people asked me about savory food, but specifically Passover foods. They mentioned how hard it is, the food is terrible, the desserts are terrible. They made it sound like it was such a misery to cook for Passover. For me it is not. I realized I needed to write a cookbook and focus on what you can eat, instead of what you cannot eat.”
Shoyer teaches classes on French pastry-making and Jewish cooking in the Washington, DC, area, and holds demonstrations around the world. Her goal is to make traditional Jewish desserts more contemporary, more interesting, and healthier. Many of her desserts are dairy-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, and vegan.
On March 25 at New York City’s 92nd Street Y, Shoyer will give a presentation on her updates to traditional dishes, contemporary Passover recipes, and her personal journey as part of the Y’s Kitchen Arts and Letters series. Referencing Shoyer’s previous books – 2010’s The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy and 2013’s The Holiday Kosher Baker: Traditional & Contemporary Holiday Desserts – Christine Chen, the 92nd Street Y’s director of adult programs, said Shoyer “literally wrote the book on kosher baking.”
The Y is looking forward to hearing “some tales from [Shoyer’s] unusual career journey and even some tidbits from her experience competing on the Food Network’s ‘Sweet Genius’ [program],” Chen told JNS.org.
Shoyer is planning to write more books, including one on Shabbat cooking and another on desserts, and she also intends to introduce a new frozen Jewish dessert. But for now, her focus is on The New Passover Menu, with three book events coming up in Chicago in March on top of the 92nd Street Y program. Recently, when visiting Israel to attend a family bar mitzvah, Shoyer held what she called a “food tour” that kicked off at U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro’s residence in Herzliya Pituach. Eighty attended the event, at which Shoyer demonstrated desserts from her three books.
In Israel, Shoyer said she was also researching a forthcoming article about the best bakeries in the Jewish state. Asked to divulge a few of those bakeries, she told JNS.org that her top three are the Pe’er bakery and Ness Patisserie in Jerusalem, as well as Tel Aviv’s Careme.
Besides offering contemporary recipes, Shoyer’s book includes personal anecdotes such as one titled “Italian Vegetarian Menu,” which is dedicated to her father, Reuben Marcus, who served in the U.S. Army in Italy during World War II.
“In 1945, just prior to Passover, the Rochester Jewish Welfare Board shipped a massive amount of Passover essentials—matzah, wine, gefilte fish—to the base where he was stationed in northern Italy,” Shoyer writes. “My father and his Jewish buddies decided to organize two seders, but they needed more supplies, and most importantly, a large enough venue to host them. The Jewish chaplain convinced the quartermaster to supply the required items. Searching the area, they found an old abandoned farm building. They cleaned it out and convened a seder for three to four hundred Jewish soldiers. My father says this story proves that with a little bit of dedication and moxie, you can turn nothing into something, and that it is truly possible to hold a Passover seder anywhere.” n
WHAT’S HAPPENING FOR PASSOVER
TUESDAY, MARCH 24
East Longmeadow – “Babyccino,” Young Jewish Families classes for moms and babies ages 0-2; learn about Passover, and create holiday projects, 10-11 a.m., East Longmeadow Public Library, RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Worcester – Interfaith Passover Model Seder, with traditional holiday meal, Noon – 2:30 p.m., at Worcester Senior Center, 128 Providence St., RSVP: (508) 799-1232. FREE but reservation is required.
SUNDAY, MARCH 29
Great Barrington – Yachad Passover for school-aged children and families, 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., (families with children under 5 are welcome for singing and pre-Passover snack at 11:45 a.m.), Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, 270 State Road, email@example.com.
FRIDAY, APRIL 3
Holyoke – First Night Seder at Rodphey Sholom, including a complete holiday dinner. 1800 Northampton St., call (413) 534-5262 for details and reservations.
Longmeadow – First night Seder at LYA, 8 p.m., 1148 Converse St., RSVP by March 27: 413-567-8665 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. $15/adults; $7.50/children; $45/family max.
Worcester – YAD First Night Seder, at the home of Billie and Cory Kenyon. RSVP to email@example.com.
SATURDAY, APRIL 4
Holyoke – Second Night Seder at Rodphey Sholom, including a complete holiday dinner. 1800 Northampton St., call (413) 534-5262 for details and reservations.
Longmeadow – Second night Seder at LYA, 8 p.m., 1148 Converse St., RSVP by March 27: 413-567-8665 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. $15/adults; $7.50/children; $45/ family max.
Northampton – Second Night Passover Community Seder, services led by Rabbi Justin David and catering by Meital, 7:30-9 p.m., Congregation B’nai Israel, 253 Prospect St., Register by March 27: (413) 584-3593.
Pittsfield – Second Night Passover Seder Service and Dinner, 5:30-9:30 p.m., Temple Anshe Amunim, 26 Broad St., RSVP by March 28: (413) 442-5910. Open to the community; $36/adult members; $42/adult non-members; $10/children 10-18; children under 10/FREE.
Westfield – Interactive Passover Seder on second night, 3 p.m., Congregation Ahavas Achim, at Second Congregational Church, next to Westfield State U., RSVP by April 2: (413) 575-8465. $18/adults; $12/teens; $8/children 5-12; Under 5-FREE; $25/non-members.
Worcester – Interactive Community Seder, with soup, dinner, Kiddush, dessert, songs and more, 6:30-9:30 p.m., Congregation Beth Israel, 15 Jamesway Drive, RSVP by March 30: (508) 756-6204. $36/adults; $18/children 6 and older and college students; 5 and younger/FREE.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 8
Worcester – YAD JewMass Chocolate Seder, 6-7 p.m., UMass Medical School, Lake Avenue, email@example.com.
‘Mosaic Haggadah’ rethinks the Passover seder through a thematic approach
By Jacob Kamaras/JNS.org
How is this year’s Passover seder different from all other seders? More often than not, the answer might be, “Nothing’s different at all.” David Silberman’s Haggadah offers not one, but six possible solutions for seder participants who are starving to mix things up.
As his children grew older and intellectual discussions became possible, Silberman—a dentist by practice who also teaches a weekly Talmud class at his local congregation, United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston (UOS)—says he was “tired of looking at the various analytical or exegetical explanations that varied from paragraph to paragraph within the Haggadah.” Rather than continuing to slog through the same routine each year, Silberman produced the most proactive solution possible: he compiled his own Haggadah.
Published last year, The Mosaic Haggadah identifies six color-coded themes central to the Passover story—freedom, contemporary (the Haggadah as a modern story), family and community, gratitude, redemption, and Israel—and intersperses essays on those subjects throughout the traditional text, allowing users to follow one theme/color throughout the night.
“Since the [Haggadah] text itself is a disparate collection of various excerpts, overall messages and topics are blurred,” states the introduction to Silberman’s Haggadah. “As a result, a seder participant could easily lose sight of the forest for the trees. … It is the purpose of this Haggadah to identify these themes and present them with an emphasis on one theme per reading of the text. In this manner, the topic at hand can be discussed and analyzed within the framework of the traditional seder and hopefully remembered and internalized.”
The essays include previously published writings (or speeches and quotes) by names as well-known as David Ben-Gurion, Elie Wiesel, Maimonides, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Rabbi David Wolpe, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Winston Churchill, Bob Dylan, Abraham Lincoln, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and Natan Sharansky. Other essays in The Mosaic Haggadah come from more moderately known or lesser-known scholars, Silberman himself, media outlets, and anonymous sources.
Eight years ago, Silberman decided to incorporate contemporary sources and voices into his Passover seder.
“My family and guests received it enthusiastically, so I knew that I had found something different, which allowed everyone to participate in lengthy conversations that went above and beyond the text itself and contributed some depth and meaning to that night,” Silberman tells JNS.org.
Thus, the idea for The Mosaic Haggadah was born. Silberman says some of the themes he chose—such as freedom and redemption—are “rather evident in the text of the Haggadah itself.” Since the Hallel prayer, a liturgical expression of gratitude to God, is included in the Haggadah, gratitude found its way into Silberman’s six themes. Israel, the author notes, is mentioned in the Haggadah and represents “one of the endpoints of the journey of leaving Egypt.”
“It seemed to me that the idea of coming from a foreign land to Israel is an extremely contemporary story that we see every day of our lives, to this very day,” he says.
Other themes in The Mosaic Haggadah, such as “family and community,” require slightly more interpretation.
“The seder has always been a family affair, and the rules of the Passover experience involve that for generations, a family and pre-arranged groups have embraced the Passover seder as one of the most celebrated annual events,” Silberman says.
The “contemporary” theme, he says, was inspired by A Night to Remember: The Haggadah of Contemporary Voices, a 2007 Haggadah written by Mishael Zion and Noam Zion.
“In a certain way, all of us are experiencing or have witnessed gratitude and redemption in our time,” says Silberman. “We’ve made changes for ourselves, our communities have changed… and I wanted to emphasize that much of what happened to the Jews as they left Mizraim (Egypt), and has been celebrated on the Passover holiday year after year, is a relevant theme.”
How did a dentist come to write a Haggadah? Silberman recalls that when he was 16, his father would bring him—or “perhaps drag me”—to Talmud classes led by Rabbi David Novak in Oklahoma City. Eventually, Silberman fully embraced Talmud study and generally gravitated toward an analytical approach to texts. For the last nine years, Silberman has been leading a Talmud study group on Shabbat for both men and women at Houston’s UOS synagogue.
Silberman’s affinity for textual analysis, then, resulted in his desire to create a more meaningful seder experience.
“As my children grew, I adapted the [Haggadah] text and approach to be appropriate for their age… This continued as an intellectual study of the Haggadah itself, which is not very long, so it’s a very embraceable unit of subject matter,” he says.
Silberman recommends that each family or group “conduct a seder that’s appropriate for the guests that they have.” He says that “Mosaic Haggadah” users can read as much of the traditional Haggadah text as they’d like in Hebrew or English, choose a theme, and then see how the theme goes for them throughout the night.
“If you have very young children, admittedly this Haggadah may not be for them… If the people are the type who are willing to engage in intellectual discussions, then the text of the Haggadah becomes almost secondary to the themes that are presented in this ‘Mosaic Haggadah,’” he says.
Silberman further suggests that users “read the different essays out loud, compelling everybody to pay attention to the reader, and then to discuss [the essay] as they may wish, and then move to the next passage in the Haggadah, eventually arriving at another essay relevant to that chosen theme.”
The author himself has already used all six themes in his book for the seder, and has moved on to new ones such as miracles, which might be among the themes if there is a second edition of The Mosaic Haggadah.
“Everyone has a miracle story,” Silberman says. “That theme generated by far the greatest levels of participation and conversation than any other theme [I’ve used at a seder].”
Indeed, Silberman encourages seder participants to look for their own themes. He says, “They may identify themes I have yet to find that are no less meaningful for themselves and their collective group.”
Ultimately, Silberman hopes The Mosaic Haggadah is an easy-to-use book that makes the seder ritual more meaningful, memorable, and modern.
“Passover may have occurred some thousands of years ago, but in a way, Passover occurs or can occur every day,” he says.