We asked current JHSUM board members to share some of their favorite memories of Passover. Here is what they had to say.
Rabbi Avram Ettedgui
Here is what I remember of a Pesach of more than 60 years ago: I was studying at the Ohr Joseph Yeshiva in Paris when I was asked to serve as a mashgiah (supervisor of Kashrut) for a huge Seder that was to take place in a hotel in Paris.
The year was 1956. The Suez Canal War and the Hungarian Revolution were underway. Many Jews had left the chaotic war zones of Egypt and Hungary.
To accommodate these two groups of refugees, the Jewish community of Paris organized a Seder. Egyptian Jews were mostly Sefaradim, while Hungarian Jews were Ashkenazim. But I don’t believe that the participants cared much about which traditions to follow. The main thing was to enjoy a Kosher for Pesah dinner in a beautiful place, with hundreds of individuals. The leaders were rabbis from the Consistoire and we students were in charge of making sure that everything that came out of the kitchen was Kosher.
It was inspiring to see young Jews from two distinct communities finding a common language in a shared Seder. For the Egyptian Jews it was a real Yetziat Mizraim, Exodus from Egypt. It was also so for the young Hungarian Jews who left an oppressive country in time to celebrate Pesah in a free world.
My father, Sam Greenberg, and mother, Sally Dolinsky Greenberg, immigrated from Russia, met in St. Paul, married there in 1932, and then immediately relocated to Minot, North Dakota.
That year, my father and his brother Louis established Greenberg’s Men and Boys, a clothing store in downtown Minot. In addition to his well-known and successful Minot business, my father was a true cowboy — hat, boots, horse and all.
My father was the longtime president of the Minot synagogue, a mixed Orthodox and Conservative congregation serving approximately 25 Jewish families. The congregation provided three separate seating sections in the sanctuary: one for men only, one for women only, and one mixed.
I have very fond memories of Pesach preparations in Minot, where I lived until I was 13. The matzo, meat and other groceries came to a Jewish grocer by train. To get kosher dairy products, my father and I took our stainless steel milk pail and cans to the farm of one of his customers, who would milk the cows by hand. We’d strain the milk and it would end up as marvelous butter, cheese and fresh milk to drink!
Passover has always been my family’s most important holiday. Both my mother’s and father’s sides gathered, using our fine china and best behaviors to participate in the Seder.
Mom’s family was from Duluth and Dad’s from Minneapolis. I grew up in Eau Claire and Ashland, Wisconsin, as well as in Minneapolis and Duluth over the years. Mom’s brothers were in Duluth, while Dad’s sisters were in Minneapolis and Chicago. But Passover brought us all together to tell the story, sing songs, eat and drink, celebrate and enjoy!
As an adult, I wanted to carry on these traditions. I started to host Seders for dozens, filling my home with relatives, friends and anyone needing a place. The doors were always open for someone welcome new friends, as tradition teaches.
One Passover stands out in my memory: the Passover Family Reunion, at the Sheraton Park Place Hotel in St. Louis Park in 1994. My cousin Shayne Brody Karasov lead work to kasher the hotel kitchen. I created invitations, sweatshirts, and banners. The event brought over 100 people together — family from Texas, New York, Colorado, Indiana and New Jersey to celebrate with their upper Midwest Jewish relatives. Dr. Bob Karasov led a meaningful and interactive Seder. We even had Channel 5 come out to do a segment on our event.
A few years ago, my wife Dorothy and I met Martha who came from a small town in Mexico. She became our holiday server and helper.
Martha asked if she might observe the Seder. Of course, we were delighted! As I was helping clean up, Martha told me that she was raised by her grandparents, and that her grandmother used to light two candles every Friday night. But she never told young Martha why.
This reminded me of a Road Scholar trip to southwestern United States where we learned about Conversos, Jews who converted to Catholicism in the 14th and 15th centuries during the Spanish Inquisition. Many Converso families later settled in South America, Mexico and the American Southwest. Conversos often married each other, maintained their secret rituals, and passed this heritage down to their descendents.
I asked Martha if she remembered any other unusual customs. She told me that her grandfather, who never worked Friday afternoons or Saturdays, would go into the hills with other men for about an hour after dinner, taking a book with him. When she asked about it, she was told it was his private business.
The family raised corn on their farm as well as chickens, cows and pigs, which her grandfather slaughtered. Martha recalled that they sold the pigs, keeping the chicken and beef to eat. She never thought anything of it as their neighbors also didn’t eat pork. I asked how her grandfather slaughtered the animals, and she described a “good, curved knife.” Recounting further memories, she noted that some of the neighbors were buried in a separate part of the cemetery.
Over time, Martha shared other bits of information: Her grandmother had blue eyes and her grandfather had grey eyes, in contrast to all the brown-eyed neighbors. Every spring, they would gather with relatives in Guadalajara; during these trips they ate a bread that looked like pita. Her grandfather also made special crackers in the spring, the name of which she has since forgotten. Finally, Martha shared with me that neither of her grandparents ever went to church.
Martha continues to be part of our family celebrations and I have no doubt that she comes from Jewish roots.
Minot town council pictured in front of Greenberg’s clothing store. Sam Greenberg and Louis Greenberg are sitting in front, left corner wearing white shoes. Middle of photo with dark rimmed glasses is Isadore (Ike) Diamond, a Jew, chair of city council at that time.
Photo courtesy of UMJA
Myrna Orensten’s family seder, circa 1950s. From left to right:
Harriet, Elaine & Rochelle Woldorsky and seated is Keva Orenstein.
Photo courtesy of Myrna Orensten
From left clockwise: Sharron Gordon Steinfeldt, Arlene Bomberg Appelbaum, Janice Gordon Alch, Nate Tankenoff, Tony Smith, Sander Smith, Sam Smith, Lorraine Smith, Harry Smith, Jennie Smith, at the head of the table, my father, Harry Gordon, my mother, Audrey Gordon, Allan Bomberg and Alyce Laurie Bomberg, Ceil Smith, Eleanore Smith Laurie, Mary Smith, Howard Smith and Frank Bomberg.