Michelle Magy Kirk always had her Zadie’s (grandfather’s) matzo balls to rely on, a light and fluffy constant at every Passover Seder. This year, her holiday dinner will look — and taste — a lot different.
Separated from her family by Minnesota’s stay-at-home order to combat the spread of the coronavirus, Magy Kirk will be making the matzo balls herself. When the holiday begins at sundown Wednesday, only she and her husband will gather at her Golden Valley table to eat them.
Magy Kirk got hold of her grandfather’s recipe, and she says she’s up for the challenge of making her very first matzo balls. “No one else is going to eat them, so no one is going to know if they’re good or not.”
Passover commemorates the liberation of Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt, and is usually observed with family and friends at a Seder, the ritual dinner held on the first two nights.
But celebrating Passover in 2020 means adapting to new social distancing guidelines. Under restrictions that limit gatherings, Minnesota Jews are forging new traditions.
Some are planning to attend virtual Seders via video chat, with readings that address the coronavirus. Others are paring down 25-person, hourslong dinners to simpler meals. Without family around to do the cooking, many are going to be making holiday dishes for the first time — with limited pantries. And some will be spending the holiday alone.
“This year is going to be different, and with that difference is some grief, and that grief is real,” said Rabbi Michael Adam Latz of the Minneapolis congregation Shir Tikvah. “I imagine for all of us this year, the saltwater that represents our ancestors’ tears are going to have some of our own mixed in. And at the same time, we have inside ourselves and inside our tradition, the capacity to change.”
Creating new traditions to meet the needs of the day, whether during the Roman Empire or the Holocaust, is something Jews have done for generations.
“We have these elements of the Seder that may have been spawned out of darker moments, that blossomed into really bright customs and rituals that continue to enhance our families,” said Rabbi Avi Olitzky, of Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park. “I’m excited 25 years from now to look back and see what stayed.”
One new custom that future generations will likely trace back to Passover 2020 is the video screen at the table. Kerry Gershone, of Crystal, hopes her Zoom Seder will relieve the pressure of hosting a dinner with lots of kids. In a normal year, “at a certain point, it just dissolves into chaos,” she said. This time, “people will have some relaxed expectations.”
Matzo Ball Soup
Makes 8 to 10 matzo balls.
Note: Schmaltz is chicken fat. One commercial variety is Empire schmaltz, which is available at Lunds & Byerly’s in the frozen kosher section. Some observant Jews don’t use baking soda during Passover; it can be omitted, but the matzo balls will be denser. Adapted from chef Melanie Underwood of the Institute of Culinary Education.
• 1/2 c. matzo meal
• 1/2 tsp. baking powder (see Note)
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
• 2 eggs
• 2 tbsp. schmaltz, melted but cool (or clarified butter, other animal fat, or canola oil; see Note)
• 2 tbsp. seltzer
• 12 c. (3 quarts) chicken stock or water
• Hot chicken soup
Combine the matzo meal, baking powder, salt and pepper in a medium bowl; set aside.
In another bowl, whisk together eggs and schmaltz (or other fat). Add the egg mixture to the matzo mixture and gently stir until just combined. Add in the seltzer and stir until mixed. Cover and refrigerate 30 to 60 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring the stock to a boil.
Remove matzo mixture from refrigerator and form into balls using about 1 tablespoon (a cookie scoop is very helpful) to make a 1-inch diameter ball. Add the balls to boiling chicken stock and reduce heat to just a simmer; cover tightly and cook about 40 minutes or until matzo balls float to the surface.
Remove matzo balls from stock. Place them in a bowl and cover with hot chicken soup.