I grew up in Manhattan in a predominately Jewish neighborhood and attended a school were most of the students were Jewish. I am not sure when I first realized that this was not the case for the rest of the country, or even the state. I do remember in 10th grade one of my history teachers, Mr. Gatch, told of a time he subbed for a 7th grade history class. Midway through the lesson he realized that the class believed the majority of U.S. citizens were Jewish. So after taking a poll of the class where students said they believed the U.S. was 90 to 95 percent Jewish he told them about the town in Ohio where he grew up.
He told them about the one Jewish family in the whole town. "Imagine what it would be like to be the only Jewish family in your town. Imagine how you would feel if you and your brother were the only Jewish children in your school". Mr Gatch just stood there for a minute to allow the students to try to picture what he said, try to place themselves in the shoes of Mr Gatch's classmate. Then one boy in the back raised his hand and asked, "Mr Gatch, what was it like for you being the only Jewish family in your town?" My whole class laughed at the inability for this student to even comprehend that their teachers were mostly not Jewish. Our laughter was stronger because of our faint chagrin that we only recently (some while Mr Gatch told his story) learned otherwise ourselves.
Now 24 years later I am living in Burlington, Vermont. My children do not go to a school that is predominately Jewish. This time of year it feels like every adult who talks to them asks what the Easter bunny is going to bring them. They never get asked what gift they received for the Afikomen or how their seder was. Everyone here seems to assume children are part of the predominant culture, waiting expectantly for the Easter Bunny.
This is the first year since Sebastian was born that I have not hosted a seder this week. We are going to wait to have a belated seder with family in New York the last week of April. Vermont seems to have an independent streak when it comes to school holidays, so our April break does not coincide with Passover and Easter as it does in most states. Last year we took Sebastian out of school for the week of Passover so we could celebrate with my family. However it felt like we came home just in time for April vacation. This year we will wait to have our seder, we could have celebrated with local friends, but my boys like this opportunity to celebrate with my family. I think they like feeling like one of many Jews at the Passover table, or maybe I am just projecting.
It feels really weird not to be marking this week, not to have gathered with either family or friends to read through the Haggadah I have written. It feels strange that I have not slaved in the kitchen for 2 weeks to prepare for our seder. I will still make my family crazy with the smells of brisket braised for hours only to be sliced and placed in the freezer for the future, just not yet.
In the midst of this weirdness I read an article about the White House Seder. I love the story of the start of the new tradition, a box of matzo and a bottle of Manishevitz after a long day. The Jews at the seder unable to answer all the questions asked by those new to the holiday celebration. I have to admit I also love the idea of gefilte fish being served on white house china. My non Jewish husband has embraced all other Jewish foods but draws the line at gefilte fish. I wonder what the Obama's think of it. This gathering really sounds like the best Passover seders have to offer.
So perhaps in recognition of what most other Jews (and the Obamas) are doing this week, I made Kosher for Passover brownies. My boys are all ecstatic to have brownies. These brownies don't taste of struggle or matzo, instead they are rich and chocolatey. The first year I made them one of the children at my seder, who is not Jewish and did not comprehend the matzo slight of hand that makes it possible to be so creative at Passover, asked me to teach her mother how to make brownies. Somehow I have lost my original recipe and had to play around and create my own. I was not happy with my first attempt, so I adjusted the recipe and made another half batch. Everyone agrees that the second batch is much better. However I am not worried that the first batch will go uneaten, it just needs to wait its turn.
These brownies can be made pareve (can be eaten with a dairy or meat meal) by using Kosher for Passover margarine, and of course you can use Kosher for Passover chocolate as well. My family celebrates Passover more as a way to connect with our ancestors and the rituals and celebrations they engaged in, so I use Callebaut chocolate and butter.
6 ozs bittersweet chocolate (Kosher for Passover if you want, I use Callebaut)
3/4 (1 1/2 sticks) cup butter (if you wish to make this pareve use Kosher for Passover margarine)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp chocolate extract
3/4 cups matzo cake meal
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 325°. Grease a 9" by 13" pyrex pan with butter or margarine and set aside.
Melt butter (or margarine) and chocolate in a heavy pot over very low heat (if you want you can use a double boiler but the butter or margarine will protect the chocolate from the heat). Once the chocolate is all melted and smooth turn off the heat and add the sugar. Stir until well blended. Add the eggs, salt, vanilla optional chocolate extract. Stir in matzo cake meal and nuts if using. Allow to rest for 5 minutes to let the matzo meal soak up some of the batter before spreading in the prepared pan.
Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick or cake tester comes out with little or no batter on it.