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Passover ‘showstopper:’ Israeli library buys book collection with 1500s haggadah

Pages from the 1500s Passover haggadah that was recently sold to the National Library of Israel. Credit: Sotheby’s.

On the right, a man sits and prays holding a liturgical book. On the left, a rabbi is seen explaining the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt to a child. These images were printed on the pages of a Passover haggadah in the city of Prague in 1556.

This nearly 500-year-old haggadah, one of only two remaining copies, is part of the Valmadonna Trust Library collection that was recently sold to the National Library of Israel, with the help of philanthropy from the Haim and Hana Salomon Fund.

“The haggadah is the most widely published book in Jewish history,” said Sharon Mintz, senior consultant for Judaica at the Sotheby’s auction house, which arranged the sale to the Israeli library.

Mintz told JNS.org that more than 3,000 editions of the haggadah have been printed during the last several centuries—more than the Bible.

In particular, the Valmadonna collection’s 1556 Haggadah is a rare, luxury edition with Yiddish interpolations that “constitute the earliest examples of such texts,” said Marc Michael Epstein, the Professor of Religion and Visual Culture and the Mattie M. Paschall (1899) & Norman Davis Chair at Vassar College in New York.

Just a few decades after Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press around 1440, printing spread to the Jewish world, beginning in Rome and then moving throughout Italy and the Iberian Peninsula.

“The cradle of Hebrew printing is, of course, Venice. But the printing of Jewish books north of the Alps began in Prague in 1512 in the circle of Gershom ben Solomon Kohen and his brother Gronem,” said Epstein.

“Due to the humanistic patronage of the Holy Roman Emperor and a general climate of relative tolerance and free trade, Prague in the 16th century was a place of vibrant of Jewish communal and cultural life, and thus—along with Venice—a crucial center of the newly developed art and craft of Hebrew printing,” he said. “Jewish printing spread from Prague throughout Western as well as Eastern Europe, the next great centers being in the Polish communities such as Lublin.”

By 1526, the family of Gershom ben Solomon Kohen, which also went by the name Katz and built an important and influential Jewish printing house, produced a printed, illustrated haggadah that has become known as the Prague Haggadah, and is the earliest complete illustrated haggadah in existence.

In 1556, the Katz family printed the Haggadah whose copy is in the Valmadonna collection. This haggadah utilizes some of the same illustrations from the 1526 haggadah, as well as several original illustrations. For example, one illustration features a depiction of Moses.

“[Moses] appears in the 1526 edition, but in the 1556 edition he has horns. Michelangelo’s ‘Moses’ in Rome was completed in 1516. The famous horns on that statue seem to be Michelangelo’s response to the challenge of attempting to represent in sculptural form the light that streamed from Moses’s face from the time he descended from Mount Sinai [in Exodus 34:30]. The word ‘streamed’ and the word ‘horn’ both have the Hebrew root K-R-N, and thus the sculptural challenge converged with a display of grammatical punning,” Epstein explained.

“Michelangelo’s ‘Moses’ had conquered the aesthetic world of that time. Everyone who was anyone knew of it. So…the inclusion of horns in the 1556 image of Moses seems to indicate that fashionable Jews wanted to be in on the ‘new’ way of depicting him, however ‘un-Jewish’ this seemed. The message here is that ‘Jews are modern and fashionable, and aware of currents in the art world,’” the scholar added.

The Valmadonna collection as a whole was a “showstopper” when it was displayed at Sotheby’s before the sale to Israel, attracting more than 3,000 visitors a day, said Mintz.

“People were lining up for hours outside the door,” and “you could see all the spectrums of the Jewish people,” she said.

The collection was founded by Jack Lunzer, whom Mintz described as a “passionate lover of Hebrew books and Jewish culture” who collected books for more than six decades and assembled the “largest private collection of Hebrew books in the world…one of the most significant collections.”

Aside from its acquisition of the Valmadonna collection, Israel’s national library is home to the world’s largest collection of haggadahs, including the haggadah from 1482, which was printed just 10 years before Jews were expelled from Spain. Additionally, the library houses a haggadah made by the communist movement in Ukraine during the 1930s—an alternative haggadah that was used to undermine Jewish religious practice, for example, by equating hametz with capitalism.

Israel’s national library is currently waiting for the arrival of the Valmadonna collection, which it plans to catalogue and unveil to public in a special event. The collection will also be displayed in the library’s new building, which is set to open in 2020.


4 cups, 5 stars:
Sophisticated kosher wine increasingly popular at Passover seders

By Deborah Fineblum/JNS.org

Israelis attend the annual wine festival held at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90.

Even the most finicky wine snob won’t be able to “pass over” the new generation of kosher wines. Increasingly, the current mindset is that since Jews are commanded to drink four cups of wine at the Passover seder, they might as well drink high-quality wine in the process.

The last decade has witnessed a veritable explosion of high-quality kosher wines, a far cry from the heavy, sweet and vaguely medicinal wines that graced the seder tables of yesteryear.

“These days there are so many different kosher wines out there that even Trader Joe’s sells them, and you know what? They’re not bad,” says Arlene Mathes-Scharf of the website kashrut.com.

Indeed, industry insiders report that for more than a decade, the variety and quality of kosher wine has been on the rise, matching customers’ tastes and demands.

“Today’s Jewish consumer is more sophisticated and discerning, and not satisfied with sacramental wine,” says Jay Buchsbaum, a vice president at the New Jersey-based Royal Wine Corporation. “They have more disposable income and they’re willing to spend a little more for a good wine. They’re not willing to settle.”

In addition to kosher wine industry giants such as Carmel from Israel, Baron Herzog from California and Bartenura from Italy, many smaller European boutique wineries are securing kosher certification for a segment of their wines.

“They like that there’s a ready market for better kosher wine today,” Buchsbaum says. “They know that the moment the grapes are crushed, the wine has already been bought.”

The demand for kosher wine also makes a steep climb around the time of Passover, the widely celebrated Jewish holiday that often attracts a mix of family members and friends with varying needs at the same seder table. In such scenarios, even those who don’t keep kosher laws might purchase kosher wines. “It’s safer that way,” says Buchsbaum.

It’s no wonder, then, that 40 percent of all kosher wine is sold in the months leading up to Passover.

“If you estimate that a seder has 18 adults who each drink four cups, that adds up. There’s a lot of wine coming in the door,” says Israeli wine blogger and columnist David Rhodes, who runs the “Drink Israel” Facebook page.

When they’re combing the supermarket shelves this time of year, many consumers reach for wines from Israel, which exports some 1.5 million bottles to the U.S. each year.

“Not only is Israel the place that the story of Passover is about—wine is mentioned over 70 times in the Torah—but buying Israeli is a chance to support Israel and Israelis,” says Rhodes, who adds that vineyards are an efficient way to use the Jewish state’s land since grapes are both a low-water and high-profit crop.

“You can get upscale French and Italian kosher wines along with California ones, but the hottest trend is the Israeli wines,” says Royal Wine’s Buchsbaum.

What may be the ultimate affirmation for the growing field of top-flight kosher wine is the following sentiment that Buchsbaum says he has heard hundreds of times from consumers: “I’m not really kosher, but I had to bring something nice to a seder once and I’ve been drinking that wine ever since.”

“Look at it this way,” Buchsbaum says. “The largest-selling Moscato (an Italian sparkling wine) in the world is a kosher wine by Bartenura that sells 5 million bottles annually. Most of those customers aren’t even Jewish. They just like the wine.”




Holyoke – Springfield JCC Family Passover Celebration @ Children’s Museum at Holyoke; activities include make your own matzah in a matzah factory, a Passover themed scavenger hunt in the curby climber, a puppet show with Anna Sobel, recycle project, Passover-themed family photo booth, story corner, and balloon animal, noon-3 p.m., 444 Dwight St., contact: Rabbi James Greeen, (413) 739-4715.   *All activities included with the regular price of admission to the Children’s Museum Sponsored by the Springfield JCC, Children’s Museum at Holyoke, PJ Library of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass., and Jewish Community of Amherst.

Springfield – Springfield JCC Pre-Passover Pasta Dinner to raise money for Team Springfield/JCC Maccabi Games & ArtsFest; with unlimited pasta, garlic bread, salad, dessert, drinks $10 donation per person; contact: Tony Sendra, (413) 739-4715, ext. 320.



Worcester – YAD First Night Passover Seder, potluck agt the home of Rebecca and Mike (if you have any favorite traditions, let them know), Bring non-dairy side dishes or dessert; For more information, contact mhall@jfcm.org.



Florence – 2nd Night Community Passover Seder, a participatory and creative seder led by Richard Harris, 6:30-9 p.m., Beit Ahavah, 130 Pine St.., Register: info@beitahavah.org.

Longmeadow – Congregation B’nai Torah Second Night Community Seder, 8:15 p.m., 2 Eunice Drive, RSVP: (413) 567-0036. $18/person; $54 max per family.

Northampton – Congregation B’nai Israel Community Seder, led by Rabbi Justin David, 6:30 p.m., 253 Prospect St., RSVP: (413) 584-3593, ext. 202.

Pittsfield – Second Night Seder at Temple Anshe Amunim, led by Rabbi Josh Breindel, 5:30 – 9 p.m., 26 Broad St., with fill seder meal (a vegetarian option will be offered); Reservations by April 7: (413) 442-5910 or templeoffice@ansheamunim.org.

Westborough – Congregation B’nai Shalom family-friendly Second Night Community Seder, led by Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz and Rabbi Joe Eiduson, featuring a projected “Visual Hagaddah,” 5:45 – 8 p.m., 117 East Main St., (508) 366-7179.



Westfield – Congregation Ahavas Achim interactive Passover Seder led by Rabbi Efraim Eisen on the third night of Passover with Westfield State University students (and open to the general community), 6 p.m., at Scanlon Banquet Hall at WSU, Westfield. $21.50/members; $26.50/nonmembers. RSVP by April 7: (413) 575-8465. Open to the community.



Macaron or Macaroon?
Two Kosher for Passover Treats

By Stacey Dresner

For some time I have wondered why those colorful little confections popping up in food and lifestyle magazines were called “macaroons.” You know, those fancy, brightly-hued little sandwich cookies, filled with a layer of cream?

Aren’t macaroons those little cookies covered in coconut that are sold in tin cans during Passover? I thought to myself.

So when I went online recently and looked up “macaroon vs. macaron” – lo and behold! I learned that they are two different versions of the same cookie which originated in the 9th century.

The name comes from the Italian word maccarone which means “paste” for the almond paste that is a main ingredient.

Macarons, also known as “French macaroons, are the light meringue cookies colored with food dye and filled with flavored crème. Macaroons, popular in the United States and United Kingdom, are often made with dessicated coconut.

What do they have in common? They are both kosher for Passover!

Here are recipes for both – a macaron filled with chocolate cream and the easiest macaroon recipe you will ever find.




1 1/3 cups almond flour/finely ground almonds
2 cups Passover powdered sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder (I only use Valrhona)
2 tablespoons coffee or espresso powder
1/2 cup egg whites, at room temperature


Chocolate Ganache (dairy) OR Chocolate Mousse with Extra Virgin Olive Oil (parve) – See recipes below.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Stack another baking sheet under the lined one for more insulation (this keeps the bottom of the macarons from over browning).

Fit the pastry bag with a 1/2 inch plain tip. Preheat oven to 325.

Sift the almond flour with the powdered sugar, cocoa powder and espresso powder through a fine mesh sifter and set aside.

Whip the egg whites until they are firm but still glossy. Do not overwhip.

Fold the dry ingredients gently into the whites in three additions. Transfer the batter to a pastry bag. “Glue” the parchment paper down on each corner with a small amount of batter. This will prevent the parchment paper from blowing onto the macarons and sticking to them.

Trace 1 1/2 inch circles spaced 2 inches apart onto the parchment paper. Turn the parchment over so you can see the circles. This way the cookies will not pick up the ink or pencil.

Pipe the batter into the circles. The batter should not be too stiff nor should it be too runny. It should softly hold a shape.

Before baking the macarons, rap the baking sheets sharply against the counter. This will remove the air from the cookies and keep them from puffing up too much.

Place the macarons into the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the macarons are firm to the touch.

Remove the bottom baking sheet; place the sheet with the macarons on a cooling rack. When the macarons are cool enough to handle, transfer them to the cooling rack.

Match up the cooled cookies according to size. Spread a small amount of filling on one of the macarons and sandwich the other on top. Store the macarons, wrapped tightly, in the freezer. Place the filled sandwich cookies in the refrigerator for several hours to setup the filling.
Notes: Yields 24 macarons


Chocolate Ganache (Dairy Preparation)


6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, chopped (During Passover I use Schmerlings 72% bittersweet chocolate and during the rest of the year, I use Callebaut 70%)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons butter


Place the chopped chocolate in a small mixing bowl. Heat the cream over medium heat until it is barely simmering. Pour the cream over the chocolate and allow it to sit for 5 minutes.

Stir together until the mixture is smooth, add the butter and stir into the mixture. Cover the ganache on the surface with plastic wrap and allow it to thicken as it cools at room temperature.

To fill the macarons, scoop a small amount of ganache and spread it over one macaron on the flat side and sandwich together.


Chocolate Mousse with Extra Virgin Olive Oil (parve)


7 ounces bittersweet chocolate (must be at least 70%)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 eggs separated
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup brewed coffee
1 vanilla bean, scraped
Sea salt (garnish)


Melt the chocolate and cool to room temperature. Add the olive oil and set aside. Combine the yolks and powdered sugar and whisk until foamy, add the chocolate mixture. Beat the whites to a stiff peak, fold the whites into the chocolate. Shmear some of the mousse on one of the macarons and sandwich together with another. Place the filled sandwich cookies in the refrigerator for several hours to set up the filling.


Incredibly Easy Macaroons


2 cups packaged, shredded coconut
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
3 large egg whites
garnish: chopped dried fruit, chocolate chips, crystallized ginger, whole almonds, etc.


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. In a bowl, toss the coconut, sugar and salt together. Add the egg whites and mix the ingredients until a uniform “dough” has formed. Take heaping teaspoons of dough and shape them into about 20 balls. Place the balls on the cookie sheet a piece of put a garnish on top of each ball. Bake for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool on the sheet for 5 minutes, then remove to a cake rack to cool completely. Makes about 20

If you like firmer macaroons, mix 1/4 cup matzo cake meal into the dough.

To make them chocolate-covered: melt some semisweet chocolate with vegetable shortening (about one tablespoon for every 6 ounces of chocolate). Use this as a dip to cover the baked macaroons.

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