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The Annotated Seder Plate: Insights, Tidbits, and Fun Facts

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Since escaping Egypt, the Jewish people have celebrated Passover by telling the story of the Exodus. Over time, the story became more formal and elaborate—the word seder means “order”—as customs developed and coalesced. Around the turn of the previous millennium, a selection of scriptural verses, a Mishnaic-era exegesis, and a guide to the laws and customs of the Seder night were compiled into a single text, and the Haggadah was born. The oldest physical fragments of a Haggadah (literally “to tell”), found in the Cairo Genizah, date back to roughly this time. Since then, the text has gone on to inspire an astonishing array of versions, commentaries, and companion works—more than any other book in the Jewish library excluding the Bible. According to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, since the fifteenth century there have been more than 2,700 editions!


On all other nights we eat leavened and unleavened breadtonight, only Matzah. The puffed-up and inflated character of bread, the Chassidic masters tell us, represents arrogance and ego, the inclination to evil itself. “Master of the Universe,” the Talmudic sage Rabbi Alexandri used to pray, “our will is to perform Your will, yet what prevents us? The yeast in the dough . . .” (Talmud Bavli, 17a). Strange, then, that we are so committed to eradicating chameitz on Pesach, but tolerate it the rest of the year.

The ego is an unavoidable part of the human condition, but it doesn’t need to be its organizing principle. For eight days, we surrender to a higher consciousness, an exercise in extremes meant to reorient our lives toward a higher purpose. Not just the base of the Seder plate, the matzah is the basis of the entire year.  


The Kiddush cup is only the first of four drunk at the Seder. According to the Jerusalem Talmud, these cups of wine correspond to four promises G-d made to the Jewish people: “I will take you out . . . I will save you . . . I will redeem you . . .” and finally, “I will take you to Me as a people.”

The Israelites were rushed out of Egypt in a daze. Degraded by years of oppression, it would take time for them to process the remarkable relationship G-d had just initiated with them. All four “expressions of redemption” reflect this dynamic: G-d is the active agent, while we are passively acted upon. The last one, however, puts the ball in our court: Whether we are truly worthy of being called a “G-dly people” depends on us.


The roasted chicken shankbone, or neck bone, in Chabad custom, represents the paschal offering.

In Temple times, each paschal lamb was brought by, and then subsequently distributed among, a mini-collective, like a large family or a few neighbors. While all other sacrifices are either individual or communal, the paschal offering was somewhere in between, or both at once. 

Passover reminds us that we have both individual and communal identities. At times, these identities can clash, and we are called upon to rise above our narrow personal preferences on behalf of a greater whole. But the inverse is also true: no community is ever too big or important to let the needs of an individual member go unnoticed.


Like the roasted zroa, the cooked egg (roasted or boiled) on the Seder plate symbolizes one of the sacrifices brought in the Temple: the Chagigah, a “festive” offering that ensured there would be plenty to eat on the holiday. In many communities, the egg is peeled and eaten around halfway through the Seder, just before the main meal.

The egg is a symbol of latent birth. It is both fully formed, and not quite there, the birth only complete after the hatching. The Rebbes of Izhbitz explain that Pesach signifies only the beginning of a process that was fully realized with the giving of the Torah on the holiday of Shavuot. Even now, we recognize that the Exodus story remains incomplete until the future, ultimate redemption.


From Morocco to Russia to the Italian Piedmont, there have been more takes on charoset than on any other Seder-plate fixture. Chabad’s minimalist version blends apple or pear together with walnuts and wine, although some texts recommend adding cinnamon and ginger, and the Arizal, that great mystic of Safed, was said to use seven kinds of fruit and three spices.

The name of the dish comes from the Hebrew for clay, cheres, since its paste-like texture is meant to recall the mud and mortar that the enslaved Israelites worked with in Egypt. Maimonides makes this clear with the recipe included in his twelfth-century magnum opus, Mishneh Torah: “How is it made? Take dates, dried figs, or raisins and the like, crush them, add vinegar, and mix them in with spices, just as clay is mixed into straw.”


Bitter herbs, intended to recall the sharp sting of slavery, are eaten twice during the Seder: First alone and then inside Hillel’s famous matzah sandwich. Both times, however, the discomfort caused by the maror is tempered by lightly dipping the horseradish or romaine lettuce into the sweet charoset relish. 

One might wonder: If tonight is all about celebrating the sweet taste of freedom, why are we eating maror at all? In truth, says Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter of Ger, the bitter and the sweet often come together. In Egypt, the depths of our suffering prompted G-d’s miraculous intervention, and as we look back, we see how the slavery itself was just a step on the long road to true national liberation—this was G-d’s plan all along. So too, at the Seder, we wrap the bitterness of exile together with the bread of freedom. Suffering has a way of clarifying things, of ultimately leaving us stronger and more determined. 


The Mishnah lists five different vegetables that may be used to fulfill the obligation of eating bitter herbs at the Seder. There is some disagreement regarding their modern-day counterparts, but tradition holds that one, called tamcha, is horseradish; and another, olashin, endives. The most common is chazeret, romaine lettuce. 

According to the Talmud, chazeret is the preferred bitter herb, because, when left unharvested, the sweet leaves of the lettuce turn bitter and unpleasant, much like the Israelites’ experience in Egypt. In colder climates, however, such lettuce can be hard to come by in the spring. So for many Jews in Northern and Eastern Europe, horseradish became the herb of choice, and the custom stuck. In Chabad, the lettuce and the horseradish are used together for both the Maror and Korach stages of the Seder, and are therefore placed on both spots of the Seder plate. 


Several reasons have been suggested for the odd custom of dipping karpastraditionally onion, potato, or parsley—in saltwater on the Seder night. The classic explanation, however, is just that: it’s odd. It is the first thing we do at the Seder that is conspicuously different from a regular Friday night meal: We make Kiddush, wash our hands, but then, instead of eating bread, we veer left, and dip an onion in salt water. This ploy is specifically intended to catch the attention of the younger Seder-participant, “to intrigue the children,” as it says in the halachic literature. 

In our day, efforts to attract the next generation to the Seder continue. There are Passover-themed hand puppets, Martha Stewart-endorsed DIY Ten Plagues kits, and extravagant afikoman prizes. No matter how sophisticated or simple, the object remains the same: to make the Exodus story relevant and engaging to even the littlest among us. It’s the job of every parent and Seder-leader to include everyone at the table—especially those who might one day be leading a Seder of their own.

Parting Words

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In the Spring of 1977, I was working on my PhD in English literature, at the State University of New York at Buffalo when I decided to take a semester off to live and study in Crown Heights, Brooklyn at the Chabad Lubavitch world center. I was a spiritual seeker, and the Chabad rabbis in Buffalo had begun to connect me to Judaism. I wanted to try living it fully immersed—to test out its truth.

My mother met this announcement with deep concern and chagrin. I risked, she warned, being swallowed up in a backward community that had room for women only in the kitchen. I would be throwing away my academic career.

She was the youngest of eight children of devout Orthodox parents, Shmuel and Freida Katzin, who emigrated to Chicago at the turn-of-the-century from a small town near Kovno, Lithuania. She told me that at her father’s funeral in Chicago, in the late 1930s, he was praised as one of “the last of the real talmidei hachamim [Torah scholars].” Alas, that was not something he was able to pass down to his Americanizing children in a time of assimilation and economic stress. “He couldn’t fight America,” she said. 

After two months of my living in Crown Heights, my mother bravely ventured to Brooklyn from Chicago to see what had become of her daughter. I sensed her discomfort at seeing masses of black hatted, long-bearded Chasidim and bewigged women. But she was a composed, polite and gracious woman. She began to enjoy meeting my friends, and the Lubavitch families to whom we were invited for the Shabbat meals. They did not at all fit her fearful stereotypes.

On Friday night, we stood in the women’s section of the large, crowded central Chabad synagogue, known as “770.” When the Rebbe appeared, making the long walk from his office to his place near the Holy Ark, she turned to me and said, “What a beautiful and dignified man!” 

On Sunday afternoon, before her departure, I said to her: “Let’s go stand in the little alcove near the front door of 770. The Rebbe goes out of his office there to pray Mincha, the afternoon prayer, every day with the yeshiva students across the hall. People who are traveling come to get his blessings.” She agreed.

There were about a dozen people gathered in the small space. I positioned her in front of me for a better view. The Rebbe came out, passing closely by our small knot of people, on his way. The short prayers ended. I glimpsed him again close by, returning to his office. I saw his head turn towards our group and softly say something, which I didn’t understand, then continue on, and disappear.

My mother turned around towards me, and as she did, I saw tears streaming down her face. 

“What’s wrong?” I asked, quite concerned. My mother, who raised my brother and myself alone after my father died in 1959, was not a person who cried easily and especially in public. 

But now the tears were quietly flowing down her reddened face.   

“Are you okay?” I asked again.


“Why are you crying?”

“I don’t know… He turned to me and said, ‘Fohrt Gezunterheit.’ That’s what my father used to say to me when I would go on a trip. It means ‘Travel safely—go in good health’ in Yiddish.”

She daubed her tears with a tissue. It was time to go to the airport.

Long after, when we discussed that moment, she said to me, “I don’t know why I was crying. He touched something deep in my soul.”

After her visit, she decided that she wanted to keep kosher and Shabbat, as she had in her parents’ home. And she did.

My mother came to Brooklyn terrified that I was throwing my life away. But the memory of a simple Yiddish phrase that her father would say to her when she traveled, spoken quietly by a man whose face and being embodied the world of Torah of her father, reconnected her to her father, to Torah, and to her deepest soul.

Susan Handelman is Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, Israel. She is the author of many books and articles including The Slayers of Moses: The Emergence of Rabbinic Interpretation in Modern Literary Theory, and Fragments of Redemption: Jewish Thought and Literary Theory in Scholem, Benjamin and Levinas.

Sons And Daughters At The Seder Table

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It was unseasonably cold on the first night of Passover back in 1979. Snow had fallen the day before and melted into slush puddles that made walking unpleasant. The evening prayers had ended, and everyone was hurrying home to finally begin the Seder. 

Not the Rebbe. Before returning to his home to make the Seder with his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Moussia, the Rebbe took an hour-long detour, visiting several large Seders in Chabad yeshivah dormitories. Among them was one for young women celebrating what may have been their first Seder ever, and another for children and teenagers from Iran: several weeks earlier, after the Islamic Revolution, more than a thousand Jewish girls and boys had been airlifted out of the country at the Rebbe’s behest—a stunning rescue operation conducted by the late Rabbi Jacob J. Hecht—and settled into homes in the community.

I was part of a small entourage that accompanied the Rebbe on those Seder-night rounds. I observed the Rebbe as he walked through the snowy streets, cold slush penetrating his shoes. The joy he took in visiting the students at their Seder tables, it seemed, eclipsed any discomfort he may have felt. To the Rebbe, Zman Cheirutenu, the Festival of Our Freedom, was a time flush with the power to make us—individuals and the Jewish collective—soar to a higher realm. 

As far as the Rebbe was concerned, the matzah, maror, and four cups of wine were more than symbols of an ancient story. They were the very means by which we connect—to G-d, but also to each other. Earlier that day, the Rebbe had asked Rabbi Hecht, who had organized the Seder for the young Iranian escapees, for some of the maror that they would be eating. He wanted to partake of their bitter herbs, to feel their suffering.


Each year, during the weeks leading up to the Passover holiday, the Rebbe wrote a public letter, addressed “To the Sons and Daughters of Our People Israel, Everywhere.” In these letters, the Rebbe wrote often, with great pathos, about the “fifth child,” the one who does not show up to the Seder table. Who would look out for those children, adrift in a world far from the family? 

Even before the advent of Chabad Houses, the Rebbe’s efforts to find these “sons and daughters” who had fallen off the radar are the stuff of legends. In the 1970s, Chabad Houses began sprouting up; the table extensions came out and the guests came in. 

Around the same time, young Jews in search of meaning began making their way to Chabad’s adult men’s and women’s yeshivahs, among them young Jews who returned disenchanted from ashrams in India, spent by the countercultural movement, and Russian Jews who made it out of the Soviet Union for their first taste of freedom. 

That night in 1979 was truly different from all others. The Rebbe visited the boys’ yeshivah, the women’s yeshivah, the Seder for Russian Jews, and the Seders of the recently arrived Iranians. At each place, he patiently took the time to note details, to see that everyone had what they needed. At each, he spoke to the students for a few minutes, and blessed them. 

The Rebbe and Rebbetzin did not have children of their own. As I observed the Rebbe on that Seder night, I saw the love of a parent who longs for his children, and I understood. These were the Rebbe’s sons and daughters, and he, like a father, beamed with joy to finally see them at his Seder table.

JewQ International Championship Puts Jewish Learning Onstage

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Shifra Reuben wasn’t always this excited about Jewish learning. But that changed when she joined 1,000 others from 25 countries at the Ckids Shabbaton.

The 12-year-old middle schooler lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her brother and her parents, who immigrated to the United States from India, members of the Bene Israel Indian Jewish community. When Chabad opened in the Tri-Valley area, led by Rabbi Raleigh and Fruma Resnick, it didn’t take long for the Reubens to recognize the value it could bring to their family.

“We realized Chabad is a good place to learn about Judaism and maintain our Jewish identity and get involved in the community,” said Ron Reuben, Shifra’s father. “Our daughter has a peer group that’s Jewish; she’s getting into the Jewish roots earlier rather than later in life.”

Credit Sholem Srugo, Yossi Jerufi – Merkos 302

The Resnicks soon opened a branch of CKids, the international Chabad children’s network directed by Merkos 302. They launched JewQ, which challenges Jewish children to study and be tested on Jewish knowledge over the span of four months each year. And Shifra joined.

Shifra won the silver medal and an invitation to join the live game show in Stamford, CT, where two teams of high-scoring finalists competed in a Jewish knowledge showdown in front of a live audience. But first she got to enjoy a weekend with 1000 finalists, family members and friends celebrating Shabbat together in a spirit of Jewish unity and pride.

The JewQ Championship Stage – Credit Sholem Srugo, Yossi Jerufi – Merkos 302

Tali Naor is another finalist who joined the weekend, accompanied by her mom, Olga Bakayeva, and her little sister Liri. “Tali is a voracious reader; she got the book and got to work studying; she did quite a lot independently,” said Bakayeva. Tali’s hard work paid off, as she won bronze in the competition and was invited to join the weekend as well. 

“I’m constantly trying to get more for my children; that they should have the skills they have to explore more of their Judaism,” said Bakayeva. “And I’m glad we joined the Shabbaton; the kids had a great time.”

As for Shifra Reuben, the Shabbaton was a watershed moment for her connection to and enthusiasm for Judaism. And now, says her dad, “my wife and I were discussing that it may be time to send Shifra to a Jewish summer camp.”

Credit Sholem Srugo, Yossi Jerufi – Merkos 302
Credit Sholem Srugo, Yossi Jerufi – Merkos 302
Credit Sholem Srugo, Yossi Jerufi – Merkos 302
Credit Sholem Srugo, Yossi Jerufi – Merkos 302

Serving G-d and Country: Senator Joe Lieberman

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Senator Joe Lieberman, who died March 27, 2024 at the age of 82, was the most prominent Torah-observant politician. He kept Shabbat throughout his storied career, which included four terms as a United States Senator and nomination as the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2002. 

In his book The Gift of Rest, published in 2012 (one of many he authored), Lieberman recounted Shabbat experiences with political colleagues such as Bill Clinton, Al and Tipper Gore, John McCain, Colin Powell, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, and others, and showed how observance of Shabbat enriched his personal life and enhanced his career.

Mourned by Chabad community leaders around the country, Joseph Lieberman first met the Rebbe in the 1960s as a student at Yale. “The senator was a close friend and had a long, warm relationship with Chabad over many years,” said Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and Machne Israel. 

L-R: Rabbi Yisroel Deren, Regional Director of Chabad Lubavitch of Western and Southern New England; Rabbi Berel Lazar, Chief Rabbi of Russia and Regional Director of Chabad in Russia; Senator Joe Lieberman; and philanthropist Mr. George Rohr

The senator was eulogized by colleagues who filled the Congregation Agudath Sholom Synagogue in Stamford, Connecticut. Many compared him to the biblical Joseph who sought to elevate the world. At his funeral this past Friday, his daughter said “You followed in the way of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, constantly on a mission in this world ‘to repair the world through the Almighty’s sovereignty.’” 

In 1988, Lieberman ran for the United States Senate against three-term incumbent Lowell Weicker. “It was doubtful, at the time, that he would win—he was up against an incumbent senator,” recalled Rabbi Krinsky. The first International Kinus Hashluchim took place several days before the November 8, 1988 election. “Lieberman came to the International Conference of Chabad Emissaries, the shluchim gave him a blessing—and he won.” 

Senators Rudy Boschwitz and Joe Lieberman converse at Chabad Lubavitch of Minnesota’s 40th anniversary dinner

As he rose through the ranks in his political career, Lieberman stayed in close contact with the Derens and was delighted to find them waiting to greet him when he got to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. “But they went one better,” he told “They printed a sefer [book] that had Mincha and Maariv and Bentching [Grace After Meals] in it, and on the front it had, ‘Democratic National Convention, 2000, nominating our own Senator Joe Lieberman.’”

Two years after that 2000 presidential bid, Lieberman again demonstrated the value he placed on his Judaism and his friendship with the Chabad-Lubavitch community. The occasion was the 40th anniversary celebration of Chabad-Lubavitch of Minnesota. At the celebratory gala dinner, Republican Senator Rudy Boschwitz was honored for his decades of friendship and support for Chabad. Keynoting the event was one of the country’s most prominent Democrats: Joe Lieberman. 

At opposite ends of the political spectrum, the two senators shared a love and reverence for Rebbe—whose hundredth year was also celebrated at the dinner, named “Celebration 100/40.” “The Lubavitcher Rebbe was the most eminent Jewish leader of our time,” Lieberman said, as he shared personal anecdotes of his experiences with the Rebbe.

Sen. Joe Lieberman at Chabad of Greater Boynton Beach in 2006 as Beit Blumi student presents Tzedakah Pushka

Rabbi Moshe Feller, Director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Minnesota described the unusual event. “A world-famous Democrat presenting a prominent Republican with an award for his support of Lubavitch is a sight you don’t see everyday. It tells the world a great deal about their extraordinary love and dedication to Yiddishkeit.”

Visiting Chabad of Greater Boynton Beach in 2006, Lieberman spoke to the community, and then visited the center’s preschool, Beit Blumi. “As if he had not another worry in the world, after addressing the community and taking many questions, he proceeded to the preschool where he sat in ‘circle time’ with the students and staff,” recalled Rabbi Sholom Ciment of Chabad Lubavitch of Greater Boynton Beach. 

Joseph Lieberman is survived by his wife, children and grandchildren. He will be remembered for the stellar example he set serving G-d and country. 

“He was a mensch,” said Rabbi Krinsky.

Rachel’s Cookies: The Treats that Defeated Terrorists

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When terrorists stormed into Rachel Edri’s home in Ofakim, Israel on October 7, taking her and her husband hostage and barricading themselves in her home, she stayed calm. She offered them snacks, including her home-baked cookies. She chatted with them, offering to bandage an injury for one. Eventually, counter-terrorist forces arrived and ended the Edris’ long ordeal.

As the war with Hamas continues, Jewish people are preparing to mark the festival of Purim, which celebrates our nation’s salvation from a plot of extermination. On Purim, we eat hamantashen, triangular cookies that recall the downfall of the wicked Haman and G-d’s salvation of the Jewish People. 

This Purim, there’s another cookie we can add to the menu: the cookies that Rachel Edri used to thwart the evil plans of those terrorists on that dark day.  

Rachel recently shared her recipe, which we are including here (amounts have been translated from metric to imperial).

2 c. flour

½ c. brown sugar

1 Tbsp sugar

1 Tbsp baking powder

2 eggs

⅔ c. softened butter (substitute margarine for the butter for a pareve option).

8 oz chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F

Combine ingredients in a large bowl. Form the cookie dough into small balls about 1” in diameter and flatten slightly. Place cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, leaving 1” of space between cookies. Bake for 14 minutes and allow to cool.

Chabad-Lubavitch Partners With JFNA

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JFNA and local Federations have worked together with Chabad-Lubavitch for many years on a wide variety of projects. Most recently, JFNA and Chabad have partnered in providing emergency assistance to the Jews affected by the conflict in Ukraine. Now they are expanding that cooperation to the present crisis in Israel.

“Jewish Federations of North America are dedicated to the welfare of Jews around the world, and Chabad is a vital partner in that work,” said Eric Fingerhut, President and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. Chabad’s partnership in this campaign is meaningful and logical, he noted, as it enhances JFNA’s fundraising efforts and allocations to those in need.

“I am looking forward to seeing how Chabad can use its vast network–not only in raising funds but also in the allocation on the ground in Israel,” said J. David Heller. Heller is the immediate past board chair of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and campaign chair for the Emergency Campaign for Israel. 

Heller is the chair of the second phase in the JFNA’s Ukraine relief effort. “I saw the work Chabad is doing on the ground in Ukraine. I was in Israel as well, where I met orphans taken by Chabad from harm’s way in Ukraine to freedom in Israel. Watching that, and watching how Chabad worked together with the JFNA through that crisis, it only made sense to me that Chabad should be part of this effort as well.”

Rabbi David Eliezrie, who has spearheaded the Chabad partnership with JFNA, said, “Chabad has the boots on the ground, disbursing resources to the survivors. This includes medical care, and trauma treatment; addressing the needs of the broader society in Israel and the hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes, and eventually, the efforts to rebuild that which was destroyed by terrorists.”

“Throughout the US, Chabad and local Federations have partnered in many projects,” Eliezrie noted. “And we’re honored to work together with JFNA on a global level.”

Chabad’s relationship with the Federation has a long history. Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of Chabad’s educational and social services, recalled the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s endorsement 43 years ago, of a UJA/Federation joint campaign. “In view of the growing needs of our brethren, both here and overseas, in particular in the area of Jewish education, I earnestly trust that everyone who is approached for a contribution to this campaign will respond warmly and generously,”  the Rebbe had said.

Now again, said Rabbi Krinsky, Chabad will partner with the Federation “to ameliorate the suffering from the savage attack and ongoing war in our homeland.”