Carb fests and brei brunches for Pesach


Some local congregations have old, newer and brand new traditions to bring the community together at Pesach. Of course there were many synagogue-sponsored second seders. But the fun actually began before the first seder at some congregations.

This Pesach there were some unique issues since erev Pesach fell on Saturday evening.

“On Shabbat we are supposed to have a meal with two loaves of bread,” Rabbi Hyim Shafner said. “However we were not supposed to eat chametz after 10:45 on Saturday morning.”

Normally eating chametz up until that time wouldn’t have presented a problem, said Shafner since the house could be cleaned after eating the chametz.

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“But on Shabbat we are not allowed to run the vacuum or do additional cleaning,” Shafner said.

So Bais Abraham Congregation sponsored a Friday night Shabbat dinner and a lox and bagel brunch on Saturday morning to make everyone’s life a little easier.

“That way no one had to worry about doing additional cleaning, we just got the synagogue a little dirty,” Shafner said. “And it really did create a wonderful sense of community as we went into the holiday.”

The thought of doing additional cooking and cleaning and a last chance to have extra carbohydrates before the holiday were the impetus of a new tradition at Congregation Shaare Emeth. Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) member Soozi Waxman originated the idea and planned the “Before Getting into the Matzah Habit, Let’s Eat Pasta” Shabbat dinner.

“It was about having pasta before matzah,” WRJ president Marsha Schankman said. “Women liked the idea of not having to worry about additional cooking right before the seders or messing up their own kitchens. It was also a nice way to bring the community together.”

This year Shaare Emeth sponsored their second annual matzah brei brunch on Sunday.

“Last year we had it for the first time,” marketing and membership director Vera Emmons said. “The staff cooked breakfast and then we had a study session. Everyone loved it so we decided to expand it this year and added a children’s program.”

United Hebrew Congregation’s matzah fry on the first day of Passover has been a tradition for well over 20 years said administrator Robert Gummers.

“We have a Passover service and then breakfast,” Gummers said. “I remember doing it when we were still located on Skinker.”

Member Martha Ginsburg has been cooking the breakfast for over nine years. She started when the late Janet Alper Perlstein was in charge of the event.

“Janet was the queen of the kitchen,” Ginsburg said. “She kept the recipes in her head and in her pocket. She would give each group a task and then when they were finished she would tell them the next thing to do.”

Perlstein was the overseer of the whole operation, said Ginsburg. She made sure the consistency was correct, checked for taste, the right amount of oil in the pans and supervised the big skillet.

“Janet’s daughter Ellen Horwitz and her husband and children who lived in Columbia would always come in for the holiday and help her cook,” Ginsburg said. “We all got to know them. It was a real family and community affair.”

Ginsburg took over as head chef after Perlstein passed away using the same recipes for the farfel pancakes and matzah brei. Her mother-in-law, the late Elene Ginsburg joined in the fun along with Ginsburg’s own young children.

“When the kids were young we had them do things like mixing the cinnamon and sugar, putting the salt and pepper shakers on the table and helping to break up the matzah,” Ginsburg said. “We kept them very busy. My daughters Hilary and Natalie helped out again this year.”

Hilary just completed her junior year at Bates College and was excited to be home for the holiday and help out at the matzah fry.

“I remember when I was little, we put jelly in the serving dishes and were allowed to do the small things like pouring water,” Hilary said. “As we got older we were allowed to stand at the stove and help out with cooking.”

“I really am happy to continue this tradition for our congregation,” Ginsburg said. “It is a wonderful program members and non-members look forward to every year.”

With the end of the holiday close at end, many minds are already thinking about carbohydrates again. Two congregations have a solution for those cravings.

Congregation Shaare Emeth young adult group, SEYA, is planning a chametz fest on Saturday April 26 at 7 p.m. with a dessert, drink and game night for adults only. Participants are encouraged to bring their favorite board game and brush up on their trivia for door prizes. For more information call 314-569-0010.

United Hebrew is having a “Chametz Feast and Jam Fest,” Saturday evening, April 26 at 7 p.m. The new event is the brainchild of Cantor Ronald Eichaker and will showcase musicians and singers at an open mike evening. The evening will be filled with music from pop to oldies, religious, classical and folk. Participants can choose to be part of the audience or join in as a performer. There will be pizza, lasagna and pasta with sides.

The program is $5 per person and reservations are due by April 25. For more information call 314-469-0700.