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Add beauty, whimsy to Passover table

Seder plates, kiddish cups and Elijah cups are among the Passover wares at Congregation Anshei Israel’s gift shop. (Korean Charnofsky Cohen)

Passover surrounds us with beauty. The spiritual concepts of struggle, freedom and renewal are timeless and universal. Our wishes for freedom include all people and not just Jews. Our family traditions keep the spirit alive and connect us to all the generations that have come before us. The cleaning of the home and the use of decorative seder plates, linens and other ritual items further enhances the beauty of the celebration. But, perhaps the most beautiful of all is passing these ideas and traditions on to our children and grandchildren.

“As a mother, I try to see the holidays through the eyes of my 3-year-old daughter, Tzipporah,” says Nichole Chorny, cantorial soloist for Congregation Anshei Israel. “Every year is different for her and I try to bring to her the joys of being Jewish.”

Chorny believes it is important to make Passover, and Judaism in general, interactive to make it come alive for children. Tzipporah enjoys family celebrations. She loves eating matzah, singing “Dayenu” and learning about the 10 plagues and other parts of the seder through toys and finger puppets. To engage K-8 students at Anshei Israel’s religious school, Chorny uses songs and hand motions. She also teaches a Passover workshop for families with children in the religious school.

Pitchers and bowls that can be used for the Pesach hand-washing ritual known as “urchatz,” at Congregation Anshei Israel’s gift shop (Korene Charnofsky Cohen)
Pitchers and bowls that can be used for the Pesach hand-washing ritual known as “urchatz,” at Congregation Anshei Israel’s gift shop (Korene Charnofsky Cohen)

At home she carries on Passover traditions such as cleaning the house so it seems pristine and new, and reserving her wedding dishes for Passover. Chorny also likes creating new traditions. The second-night seder is reserved for immediate family and is celebrated with everyone wearing pajamas. She says this creates a fun setting and emphasizes the tradition of reclining while eating.

Creating new Passover traditions can include considering different haggadahs. There are many traditional haggadahs that families have used from generation to generation, but new versions are available. Some have incredible artwork and some are geared toward helping children take part in and enjoy the seder.

Tucsonan Nanci Freedberg is the author of the Promise Haggadah, which she created in 2002 and developed into a business that sold more than 200,000 copies. The family-friendly, personalized haggadahs have been used extensively for religious school fundraisers.

“Passover is a truly beautiful holiday that brings together family and friends, Jewish and non-Jewish,” says Freedberg. “The Promise Haggadah strives to make Passover relevant to people’s lives, touching their hearts through tradition and making sure everyone gets involved with the seder.” Passover incorporates all the senses, says Freedberg, from seeing the symbols of Passover and the seder table to hearing the songs, traditional stories and children asking the four questions, and tasting all the items on the seder plate. Feeling the warmth of being with family and friends also helps to understand the blessings of freedom. Freedberg and her husband, Eric, hope that their two children, Jason (19), and Rachel (16), will one day tell their children the story of the Promise Haggadah along with the Passover stories, and that they will always enjoy the beauty of the holiday.

Freedberg, who owns a realty company, has sold the Promise Haggadah business, but the haggadah is still available at www.personalizedhaggadah.com.

The home is an important part of Passover. There are many ways to beautify your seder table and enhance the spirit of the holiday. A tour through the gift shop at Congregation Anshei Israel reveals everything from the traditional to the whimsical. Phyllis Becker, chairman of the gift shop for 35 years, has been following the trends.

“There are more things for children these days,” says Becker. “Years ago there was no such thing as a haggadah for children.” Becker and her co-chair, Anne Landesco, go to a gift show in New York to search for what’s new in Judaica.

“When I buy for the gift shop, I don’t just buy for my taste. I select a variety covering traditional, contemporary and whimsical,” Becker says. “We try to educate as well as decorate.”

“We try to connect to identity and history to enhance Jewish life,” says Landesco, who has worked in the gift shop for three years.

There are many items to explore at this and other synagogue gift shops in Tucson. Seder plates come in a large variety. If you are concerned about damaging the artwork of the seder plate, there are plastic inserts to contain each item placed on the seder plate. Serving plates, Elijah cups and matzah holders also can double as works of art. Aprons, potholders and tablecloths decorated for Passover will brighten up your kitchen. Items for children include games, puzzles and books. Becker says that items depicting the 10 plagues, especially frogs, are popular. For a little whimsy, check out the “Ten Plagues Nail Decals.” Also available for Passover are cookbooks, CDs and DVDs designed to educate and help you celebrate. One of the newer traditions, Becker adds, is the Miriam’s Cup, honoring the prophetess Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron.

At Anshei Israel’s gift shop you also will find fair-trade items from countries including Guatemala, South Africa and Malaysia, which help provide a fair price for works created by women who are trying to support their families. “Through buying these fair-trade products, we can beautify our homes and help people who might not otherwise survive,” says Becker. “And that also represents the beauty of Passover.”

For synagogue gift shop hours, call Congregation Anshei Israel at 745-5550, Congregation Bet Shalom at 577-1171, Congregation Chofetz Chayim at 747-7780, Congregation Or Chadash at 512-8500 and Temple Emanu-El at 327-4501.

Korene Charnofsky Cohen is a freelance writer in Tucson.