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Brad Friedman - Friedman Family Passover

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Story originally published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Saturday, March 20, 1999.

By Patricia Rice Post-Dispatch Religion Writer

* Preparing special Seder foods and retelling the Exodus story are among the holiday traditions shared by Jewish families.

Just after sundown on March 31, the Friedman family will gather to rejoice that they share the Jewish faith.

"We love our faith, its rituals," said Bobbie Friedman Glaser of Creve Coeur as she prepared food for the 26 family members who will dine with her on the first two nights of Passover.

As they do at every Seder --the Passover meal - her family members will retell the biblical story in the book of Exodus.

HarveyAndBobbieInPost.jpg (27759 bytes)
Bobbie Glaser and her brother, Harvey Friedman, prepare matzo
balls for family gatherins on Passover. The family is making more
than 300 matzo balls to feed more than two dozen people, including
their mother as well as their children and grandchildren.
(Note from Brad: Methinks the Post overdid it with "300 matzo balls"!)

They will tell how God sent 10 plagues to encourage the Egyptian Pharaoh to free the Jews from slavery. They will eat ritual foods to remind them of how the Jews ate in haste, spread lamb's blood on their door posts and escaped slavery by following Moses through a dry path in the Red Sea.

Members of the Friedman family, including children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, will arrive from Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington and Naples, Fla. The first night they will eat at Harvey and Lydia Friedman's house; they are Glaser's brother and sister-in-law. The next night Glaser will welcome them. Gefilte, a chopped fish-and-matzo patty or ball, will be on both menus.

"We are very blessed that our grown children always want to come home," Glaser said. "Even when they were at college and had lots of friends' invitations, they came home. We make it fun, not punishment."

Preparation is key to the Seder meal.

As part of her family's Passover preparation, Glaser, her brother, their mother and her brother's wife spent eight hours last week preparing the traditional gefilte fish. They chopped and simmered 27 pounds of fish - a mix of buffalo and carp - and made broth out of its bones. The four got together again Wednesday to roll 300 matzo balls for matzo ball soup.

Friends with whom Glaser exercises at the Jewish Community Center gym tease her that she is the last of her generation to make gefilte fish from scratch. They buy prepared gefilte fish in jars.

"They say I am nuts," said Glaser, 62. "Ours is prettier, tastes better. Today when we are all so busy, what could be more fun than spending a whole day with your family talking, laughing ... getting a warm and fuzzy feeling.

"Cooking everything for Passover is like making chicken soup. It is a way of saying, 'I love you.'"

Her mother, Eva Friedman, 82, saw that they closely followed the recipe, which Eva Friedman's mother, Sarah Lamem, got from a fellow Russian immigrant around 1915. Last week, Friedman picked the fish bones over and over to find tiny morsels her children had missed. For hours, Glaser ground up small batches of fish in her food processor.

Harvey Friedman - the family's gourmet cook - and his wife, Lydia, checked the temperature of the three pots of simmering fish on their brand-new stove. They made fish stock from the bones and later added raw eggs, onions and seasonings. Finally they added crushed, unleavened matzo to absorb the fish broth and froze it.

Even though most of the area's 60,000 Jews "fish" for their gefilte in glass jars, they make other preparations. Housecleaning and preparing a fresh way to retell the Exodus tale will engage many this week.

Passover is the favorite Jewish holiday here, according to a study of the local Jewish community by Brandeis University sociologist Gary Tobin. According to his 1995 study for the Jewish Federation, about 68 percent of Jews in this region always attend a Passover Seder.

Of the 5.6 million Jews in the United States, two out of three do not identify themselves as Jews, according to a 1990 Council of Jewish Federations population study. In contrast, 87 percent of St. Louis Jews told Tobin that their Jewish identity is important to them.

Passover and other home rituals are strong here, but attendance falls below the national average. While 11 percent of U.S. Jews attend synagogue weekly, in St. Louis 9 percent attend weekly.

Fewer Jews will sit around Seder tables each year because Jews in America are not having enough children to replace themselves. The average American Jewish woman is having 1.4 children, according to the Council of Jewish Federations. The replacement level is 2.1. Jews also are losing numbers by marrying non-Jews. Before 1965, only 10 percent of Jews who married had mates who were not of their faith. Since 1985, 52 percent of Jews who married had non-Jewish spouses. Today, 54 percent of children of Jews are being reared as non-Jews, the council study showed.

Glaser said one of her sons was engaged to a woman who was not Jewish.

"He said he would not marry her unless she became Jewish," she said.

It is not that so many Jews have joined other faiths, but rather they have no faith, said one rabbi who has Christian grandchildren who pray daily.

Over the next 10 days, virtually all observant Jewish households will clean house before Passover. Jewish directives order them to remove all unleavened bread. Many observe a rite of setting out about 10 crumbs of leavened bread. They use a white feather to brush the crumbs into a paper bag, which they burn.

Others will prepare special effects or special texts for the telling of the Exodus tale. Families will surf the Internet looking for a new Exodus text, called a Haggadah. Children might make puppets to tell Moses' story. Others will shop at local religious stores for handsomely illustrated texts that tell the story.

Children might use sheets to dress in Biblical garb to depict the Jews' escape from Egypt and the subsequent 40 years of wandering in the desert, said Joan Wolchansky, a planner at Our Jewish Home, an outreach parent education program at the Jewish Community Center.

Some families make a project of collecting a box of things that illustrate the 10 plagues. Red food dye serves as the plague of blood. Toy frogs might dance across the table to show the plague of frogs. The other plagues, including lice, wild animals, bubonic plague, boils, hail, locusts and the death of the firstborn male, also inspire children's creativity.

Parents and children may haunt sticker stores for funny bug stickers. Halloweenlike masks of monsters with boils can add humor to the night.

"I like kids' sunglasses for showing the plague of darkness," Wolchansky said.

Last week at Temple Israel, Rabbi Steven Mills suggested that parents relate the ancient plagues to modern ills. He suggested that family leaders ask guests to name 10 modern plagues, such as AIDS and pollution. Families might ask each guest to prepare a song, poem or personal thoughts about each part of the Seder, he said.

This year, it might be easier than ever for children to understand the Exodus story because it is a hit at the movies.

"It think the popularity of (DreamWorks SKG) 'The Prince of Egypt' will make it a lot easier for children to visualize the story," said Marci Mayer Eisen, of Our Jewish Home.

Her children sing the movie's songs. To keep the cartoon movie fresh there is an 88-page family Haggadah "The Prince of Egypt" ($12.99) with Hebrew lettering and 100 cartoon illustrations.

This year, she guesses that all those songs around the table may not be just traditional Jewish songs.

Copyright 1999, St. Louis Post-Dispatch


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