PAUL BENJAMIN: Writer, Editor, Supermodel

Next Year in Uzbekistan!

Hello, friends and a happy Passover/Easter/Pagan Spring to you all. How does one celebrate Passover in Uzbekistan? Well, this is my first one so I can’t be sure how it’s been done in previous years. However, I can tell you that we certainly had a great first one!
A group of the Jews and tangental Jews (those who aren’t so religious or married into the Tribe or just spent many years assigned to Israel) from the American Embassy got together at the home of our Deputy Chief of Mission (2nd in command to the Ambassador) for the Seder dinner. For those who don’t know much about Judaism, you may have heard of the Last Supper. That little dinner soiree of Jesus and his pals (and Judas) (and Mel Brooks as the waiter if you worship History of the World Part 1 like I do) was a Seder: the Passover religious service/dinner party. Essentially, we Jews get together to retell the story of how our ancestors escaped from Egypt thanks to Moses and his sea-parting super powers, during which tale we drink a lot of wine and then eat stuff on weird crackers.
I was going to post a pic of the group, then I remembered that we’re not supposed to do that without everyone’s permission due to security policies. You’ll just have to content yourselves with a pic of me and my lovely bride.
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Our delicious dinner spread included a Seder plate for each person rather than one big one at the center. The Seder plate has a variety of items that represent elements of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. You’ve got the green vegetable (usually celery or lettuce) to represent Spring (I have no idea what they do in the Southern hemisphere where this holiday is celebrated when it’s not Spring) while the salt water you dip it in represents the tears our ancestors cried as slaves. The bitter herb (horseradish) is for the bitterness of slavery while the egg is both a symbol of mourning from long ago and a symbol of rebirth.
Then there’s the mixture of apples, wine and nuts that stands in for the mortar used to build the pyramids and the matzoh. The matzoh isn’t just a big flat cracker, it’s a reminder of the fact that when our ancestors fled, they didn’t have time to let the bread rise. If you look at the pic to the right, you’ll see the homemade matzoh from the DCM’s cook. It’s the best matzoh I’ve ever had! If you’re keeping Passover and avoiding leavened break this week, I highly recommend finding a recipe online and making your own. Yum!
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I don’t have a photo of the matzoh ball soup or the gifelte fish, but I have to say that homemade gifelte fish is another tasty treat. Eating the stuff out of the jar is something that if you do it, it’s grudgingly and only once a year. At least, that’s my experience. The fish our host’s cook made has been a delectable addition to the list of leftovers this year.
Below are the main courses. There’s chicken with tzimmes (a mixture of sweet potatoes and dried fruits roasted with the meat), roasted lamb (not pictured), potatoes, spinach pie, and apple-matzoh kugel.
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Mmmmm… homemade matzoh….
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For dessert, we had Lisa’s Passover Pecan Bars, which are exactly what they sound like only made with matzoh meal instead pastry crust. She also make the flourless chocolate cake dubbed “Jace’s Cake” many years ago when it became the favorite of one of our friends in Los Angeles with whom we regularly shared Seder.
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And finally, one of our friends from the embassy make Chocolate Crispy Cookies! You may recognize these as the crispy-on-the-outside/gooey-on-the-inside cookies available at Central Market stores all over Texas. Lisa searched for this recipe for years before finally stumbling across an excellent one in the New York Times Jewish Cookbook. Our friend’s came out perfectly!
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As always, the Seder ended with the traditional prayer that next year we Jews might all be gathered together in the holy land, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
Only we know how long our tour will be, so for us, it’s “Next year in Uzbekistan!”

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