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Posts Tagged ‘Passover during the Civil War’

Eileen’s seder table. Passover 2012 (5772). Ocean Grove, New Jersey

J.A. Joel, Jewish soldier in the Union Army. 1862. Author of the Civil War seder article described below. (photo: Jewish Virtual Library)

During Reverend Stokes’ time, a Passover seder in the Grove would have been highly unlikely.  But these days, given the changing demographics in what used to be a one-size-fits-all religious environment, seders in the Grove do occur. The seder is a festive celebration devoted to family, traditional foods and retelling  the story of Exodus. A guide book called  the Hagaddah is used during the seder.

Although Passover is a happy holiday, the recitation of this phase of Jewish history is a solemn obligation and a touchstone for Jewish identity. Most American Jews celebrate a seder at Passover. But seders are held all over the world, and, although the framework is the same for each seder, there are many variations of  the rituals, depending on regional and cultural differences. It is surprising where seders have occurred in the past. We know, for example, that secret Passover celebrations were held “underground” during the Inquisition, in Spain and Portugal.

Image courtesy of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA. Two marines and a soldier attend a seder in 1944. In front of them are Australian matzohs. They are probably in the Pacific.

In America, there are reports of seders being held by soldiers during the  Revolutionary and Civil Wars.  There were matzoh factories in unlikely places such as Montana and the Dakotas.

In 1862, an account by  soldier,  J. A. Joel of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Regiment,  of a seder celebrated by Union soldiers in Fayette, West Virginia, was published in The Jewish Messenger.  Joel and 20 other Jewish soldiers were granted leave to observe Passover.  They received matzoh shipped from Cincinnati.

Said Joel, “We sent parties to forage for Passover food while a group stayed to build a log hut for the services. We obtained two kegs of cider (Ed. note: wine was unavailable), a lamb, several chickens and some eggs. We could not obtain horseradish or parsley, but instead we found a weed whose bitterness, I apprehend, exceeded anything our forefathers ‘enjoyed.’ “   (Ed. note: The seder table includes “bitter herbs” to recall the terrible  times as slaves.)

Joel went on to report  how they used “Yankee ingenuity” to make substitutions for other traditional components of the seder. Those Jews who fought with the North felt like they had the moral high ground  (compared to Jews serving in the Confederate Army) because of the similarity between the freeing of Jewish slaves in Exodus and their participation in freeing the American black slaves. Happy Easter and Passover to those Grovers who celebrate these holidays.

Here is a link about a seder in Ocean Grove in 2011 with references to Haggadahs.

Ocean Grove seder 2011.

 

—Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger

ETTA JAMES: “Down by the Riverside.”

 

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