The Museum of

       Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays




Breaking the Passover bread in an East Side Hebrew Home.
From the  New York Daily Tribune, dated Mar 18, 1906.


"The Hebrew Passover"

Peculiar Observances Which Mark Celebration of This Ancient Festival

From the New York Daily Tribune, dated Mar 18, 1906.

Passover, the feast of unleavened bread, is one of the most important Jewish festivals of the whole year, and is looked forward to for months by the Jewish population of New York. It falls this year upon April 10, and will be observed more extensively than ever before by the nearly 700,000 Jews in this city.

For a few weeks previous to Passover, the pushcart men of the ghetto make a harvest. In the streets of the lower East Side, their carts, which line the curbs, make the thoroughfares almost impassable.

Table ornaments, crockery, laces, ribbons, pictures, lamps, baskets, oilcloth, clothing, groceries, meats, and in fact, almost all the needs of the East Sider are supplied from the pushcart. Many in this season buy entire new outfits of clothing in order that everything they have on their bodies be absolutely clean, and it is the ambition of every Jewish housewife to have as many new furnishings in her home on this occasion as her purse can buy.

Houses are swept and scrubbed from top to bottom, every sign of dirt is removed, and new furniture and cooking utensils are brought to replace anything of the kind that shows signs of being unsanitary. For those who are too poor to buy new plates, there is the law of "kashering." A hole is dug in the ground, a stone or large piece of solid metal, which has been brought to a white heat, is placed within, and those things which are to be "kashered" are placed on top. Boiling water is then poured over this, and the things are not removed until all steam has disappeared. After being rinsed they are dried and put away ready to use.

One quaint and interesting custom which is observed by strictly orthodox families is "B'dikas Chumetz," searching for leaven, which begins twenty-four hours before the Passover. Then in the strictest silence the whole house is thoroughly searched, every closet and corner is looked into to see that no "chumetz" or leaven is left in the building; for every orthodox Jew deems it his solemn duty to see that everything containing leaven is removed from the house. The head of the house, with a large wooden spoon and a feather in one hand and a wax taper in the other, followed by the rest of the family, searches the house thoroughly from top to bottom. If any crumbs of leaven should be found they are brushed into the spoon with the feather, then the feather is placed on top and the two tied together with the string. On the following morning the whole thing is burned, the house is declared clean, and preparations are immediately begun for the great feast on the following day.

There is also something peculiar, though brief, ceremony attending every meal that is eaten in the course of the Passover festival. The first meal at the "Seder" table is eaten on the first night of "Pesach," when a solemn ceremony takes place at the breaking of the bread. At the head of the table, on a plate called the "Seder" dish, are placed three unbroken "matzoth," separated by napkins, and representing the three divisions of Israel, Cohen (the priest), Levi (the Levite) and Israel (the Israelite). Among the wealthy families the "Seder" dish is of gold and silver. All the dishes served at the meal are significant of some symbol of the Passover. One is made of a paste composed of grated apples, almonds, honey and cinnamon moistened with raisin wine, and is intended to remind the people of the Egyptian lime and mortar. A small lamb bone and an egg baked in ashes represent the "festive sacrifice" offered in Jerusalem. "Kiddush," or the benediction over the wine, takes place at the end of the meal, after which a spray of parsley is dipped into salt water or vinegar, and every one at the table takes a small portion of it. It is supposed to remind them of the bitter life of slavery to the Egyptians. After the meal is finished, the head of the family reads in a monotone a part of the history of "Pesach" from the "Hagadah," or prayer book, and then chants the following benediction:

Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God,
King of the universe,
Who has sanctified us with Thy commandments
and commanded us to eat unleavened bread.

During the entire meal the door is left ajar so that Elijah, the prophet, may visit them during their service, and an extra seat at the table and a cup of wine are set for him. The door is also left open as an invitation to the Christian to come in and see that no blood is used in the observance of the Passover, and the disprove the old superstition that the Hebrews murdered Christian children as sacrifices for their feast.

Only unleavened bread, or "matzoth," is allowed to be eaten in Passover week, and every family lays in a supply. Over 1,250,000 pounds of "matzoh," or 31,250,000 cakes, are consumed in New York City by its Hebrew population every Passover. The orthodox and foreign Jews will have nothing but hand-made "matzoh," but the American and Reformed Jews use those made by machinery.  next ►►

Copyright 2007-9. Museum of Family History. All rights reserved. Image Use Policy