The smell of your mother’s chicken soup on the stove, the brisket in the oven and the sinus-clearing fresh horseradish on your plate. Canned macaroons and brightly colored jellied fruit slices along side your aunt’s puffy sponge cake with fresh berries. Your five-year-old cousin asking restlessly, “Can we eat yet?” while the teenage you chafed grumpily at still sitting at the children’s table, your father’s voice, leading, rising above the rest….The tastes, smells and memories of Passover are some that we hold dearest, whether from years long past or memories we are making for ourselves in our lives now.

At a large community seder or a gathering in a college dorm room, an elaborately set table or a blanket out in the backyard…what matters most is not the where or how, but that we sit down together, share some food and remember both the Passover story and our own stories during this holiday of freedom and renewal.

Enjoy these Passover memories from a few Washingtonians…

Paula Shoyer
Pastry chef and author, The Kosher Baker

My Passover dessert table may now be full of key lime pie, lemon layer cake and French macaroons, but growing up in Long Island, the only Passover desserts I ate were from the Maneschewitz cake mixes. My mother didn’t bake all year, so it was hard to complain when she finally baked something. For once, my house smelled like Grandma’s. Grandma made such a delicious Passover sponge cake that she made it all year ‘round and no one knew that it contained matzah cake meal. Eating Grandma’s Passover desserts gave me hope that there were better desserts out there, and she inspired my baking career. When I was in pastry school in Paris she said, “You have to go to school to learn how to bake a cake!? You just bake a cake.” I wished she had seen the publication of my cookbook, The Kosher Baker, dedicated to her.

Nick Wiseman
Owner, DGS Delicatessen

My family is fourth generation Washingtonians. We’ve stuck around the city for a long time and there’s a lot of us here – a big family of Washington Jews. We gather together twice a year to kibbutz: Christmas at Old Europe and Passover at Sixth & I. Almost a hundred of us pour into Sixth & I on the second night of Passover for a spirited Seder celebration. The slivovitz gets opened, conversation thrives and our Jewish traditions keep us in touch. These gatherings have kept our family strong and vibrant. This is what our Judaism means to me – a tradition of familial gatherings that I look forward to for years to come.

Aviva Kempner
Filmmaker, Yoo Hoo Mrs. Goldberg and the Life and Times of Hank Greenberg

In 1950 I moved with my parents from Europe to Detroit where my Aunt Hannah and Uncle Po lived with their three children. While growing up in the Motor City, my brother Jonathan and I had Passover dinners with this wonderful family. We had lively seders with plenty of political discussions and joking at the table. My aunt was a great cook. As she made hard matzah balls, that became the family “brand.”

As adults my brother and I wound up moving to Washington, DC. We were lucky enough to find ourselves once again in the same city with two of our Detroit cousins, and these spirited Pesach dinners continued with the next generation of children. When my mother and stepfather also moved to Maryland, they attended representing the older generation. Cousins Sarah and Rena still alternate hosting Passover dinner every year, and their brother Josh comes in from Michigan to attend. We all bring dishes to the dinner. I bring my mother’s compote made with dried fruit cooked over the stove with her secret ingredient of red wine.

We also do the rest of the major Jewish holidays with our Detroit-DC cousins. My brother and sister-in-law Lise host Rosh Hashanah dinner with mother’s recipe of delicious brisket. And I hold the break-the-fast gathering. Cousin Sarah offers an annual Hanukah party with young children, including her grandson Zack.

For over 60 years we have keep our family Passover tradition alive, celebrating with our extended family and even using the old haggadahs with marked notes made decades ago in Detroit. Delicious meals, heavy political discussions and loads of jokes abound. Tradition continues just like the old country.

Beyhan Cagri Trock
Author, The Ottoman Turk and the Pretty Jewish Girl—Real Turkish Cooking

Our Turkish Sephardic Seder was orthodox in a completely unorthodox way. My father, a mustachioed Muslim Turk, would don a yarmulke while his brothers-in-law read the prayers from tattered haggadahs in a combination of four languages: Hebrew, Ladino, Turkish and English. The family of perhaps 25 would sit at a very long series of table – the elders at the head and the youngest at the end. As year’s passed, my sister Çaya and I often grumbled that we didn’t seem to be “moving up” at the table, either because guests including rabbis and visitors from Turkey got preferential seating or because we were still “girls” (as in, not married yet). Marriage is a serious status boost in Sephardic culture. It got my younger cousin Suzy a prime spot near the head of the table while she was still in her late teens.

The Seder took two to three hours, and about a half hour before the end, foods which had been prepared ahead of time were drizzled with chicken or meat broth and placed in the oven to warm. Immediately after the last prayer, the women (and only women), quickly made their way to the kitchen to plate the assorted cuajados and fritadas to serve to the elders, men and children.

While the women were bringing out the food, the children played the traditional “egg game” where each person chooses an egg and raps it sharply onto another person’s egg to see which one breaks. The last un-cracked egg wins.

Time to eat. First came the soup (my Tant Mati’s specialty), followed by fish, the albondigas (patties with vegetables and beef), the fritada made of spinach and cheese, and finally the main course, a very tender roast or brisket. (Yes, in our orthodox family, we often ate meat and cheese together in the same meal. Sephardic Jews in Turkey, greatly influenced by Ottoman cuisine where meat and yogurt often appear on the same plate, tend to be less strict about this rule.) The meat was accompanied by a crisp salad and peas in a dill and tomato sauce. Dessert was burmuelos (matzo fritters sprinkled with sugar) and Gato de Pesah (Passover Cake). Notice that “gato” is the Ladino spelling for the French “gateau.”

I recently prepared the entire Passover meal for the very first time. Though my parents and elders were sorely missed, I was comforted by the familiar aromas and flavors. It felt good to continue the traditions which were so important to them. Still, it’s bittersweet to finally be at the head of the table; the elders I had so eagerly wanted to impress with my presence are no longer there. It occurs to me that they realized the same thing when they first made it to the head of the table. Of course they did.