April 21, 2014 | By Dori Saltzman | 4 Comments
Tauck passenger Marcy Silverman makes fried matazh for me the first morning of Passover aboard ms Inspire.
Try explaining a Seder plate to someone who barely understands what Passover is. Not an easy task but one I found myself undertaking on a recent river cruise aboard Tauck’s newest boat, ms Inspire.
The second-to-last night of my Dutch Waterways cruise was the first night of Passover, my favorite Jewish holiday. I’ve only missed Passover with my family one other time in my 41 years, back in 2004 when I was backpacking around New Zealand. Then I went to a Seder at a synagogue; I was one of maybe 100 tourists there. This time there would be no synagogue to turn to.
I packed matzah and a Haggadah, the special text that tells the story of Egyptian slavery and subsequent exodus of the Jewish people that all Jews use before and after dinner on the first two nights of Passover. The Haggadah outlines the elements of the Seder, which is essentially a ritual Passover meal.
My first day onboard, the maître d invited passengers to speak with him about their dietary requirements. I asked him if any other passengers had inquired about having a Seder onboard. He looked at me blankly.
“The special dinner for Passover,” I added, hoping that would help. He still didn’t quite get it, but one of our tour directors was there and he immediately understood what I was talking about.
“Not yet,” he told me, adding he thought there were probably a lot of Jewish people onboard and he’d see if he could find anyone interested in joining me. Maybe an hour later, he approached me in the lounge and said he had a couple for me to meet.
Marcy and Jeff Silverman, travel agents from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, were very interested, though they made it clear they were hoping for a shortened Seder — some can take up to an hour or more before you get to eat. My Haggadah has a shortened version so no problem there.
Over the course of the next week, I met several other Jewish passengers, though none were interested until I met Helen and Harvey Hacker. I mentioned the Seder to Helen, and she told me she knew Harvey would want to join in.
Our little group was up to four and it was time to approach someone on the crew about setting up the Seder. An important element of the Seder is the Seder plate on which ritual items are placed to represent various elements of the story. These include, among others: a roasted egg, lamb shank bone, horseradish, green herb, and charoset (a sweet paste made of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon).
Two days before the first night of Passover, I approached Marina, the boat’s hotel director to ask about setting up a small table at the back of the dining room for a Seder.
Once again I got that blank look. “The special meal for Passover?”
Oh, yes, of course. No problem, easily done, she said.
“Can you also make me a special plate if I tell you what to put on it?” I asked. I had decided to keep it as simple as possible, with:
- A roasted egg; I explained that to make it, you hard boil an egg, then roast it.
- A roasted beet. A beet is the vegetarian alternative to a shank bone since it represents the same blood color. It’s also much easier to ask for than a meatless lamb shank bone!
- A small mixture of chopped apples and nuts. I figured that was easier than finding a charoset recipe.
- A bowl of salt water (needed to dip the parsley in)
“No problem,” Marina told me with a smile.
Next, I asked Yener, one of the tour directors, if he could make copies of pages from my Haggadah so everyone could follow along. Another warm smile and I soon had four sets of pages to distribute. We were set.
On the first night of Passover, at 6:20 p.m., Marcy, Jeff, Harvey and I sat down at a table for six at the back of the main dining room. I had a box of matzah. The maître d brought out our Seder plate and a large bowl of salt water. A waiter filled our wine glasses.
We took turns reading from the Haggadah in soft voices so as not to disturb anyone dining nearby. We said the prayer over the wine and sipped from our glasses, we took a drop of wine out for each of the 10 plagues, we dipped our parsley in salt water and combined horseradish with charoset. I even chanted the first two questions of the Four Questions, which are always asked by the youngest person at the table.
I wasn’t with my family, we weren’t drinking Manischewitz and no one spilled wine. But it felt like home.