Traditions have not changed much for Hal Schmerer.
As a child, his father read from the Haggadah the exact same way every Passover.
“As long as I was in his house, it didn’t change,” he said. “But we’ve always had a lot of fun and I’ve tried to take that same thing in the Seders that I do.”
With children and grandchildren of his own now, Schmerer said the familiarity of the celebration of Passover just adds to the uniqueness of the holiday.
“You eat special foods, you sing special songs, it’s just a neat, fun time,” he said.
Schmerer and his wife, Miriam, are among the many Forsyth County families who will celebrate the Jewish holiday, which begins Monday night.
The eight-day observance honors their ancestors’ exodus from slavery in Egypt.
During Passover, Jewish families forego bread and yeast products and eat only matzo, or unleavened bread, to represent the Hebrew exodus, when there was no time to properly bake bread.
A Seder is held the first two nights, when families and friends read the story of the Hebrews’ plight in a book called the Hagaddah.
The book tells the story of God inflicting 10 plagues on the Egyptians, ranging from locusts to darkness, to convince them to free the Jews.
To be spared from the plagues, Jewish families marked their doors with the blood of a lamb, so the final plague — death of each family’s first-born child — would “pass over” their homes.
The Schmerers will spend Monday’s Seder with friends welcoming a group of nearly 20, including several Israelis.
“They are having a ton of people over and … there will be multiple cultures represented,” he said. “It’s a holiday that’s not somber in tone at all, but joyous. So it’s good to share the joy and those kinds of feelings with family and friends.”
Having a daughter, son-in law and three grandchildren, along with in-laws, the table will be full for Joan and Ken Schonfeld.
“It’s particularly good this year because our grandson is going to be bar mitzvah’d,” Joan Schonfeld said.
“It’s a very warm feeling knowing that things are being passed from one generation to another … that you teach what you’ve learned and you hear what they’ve learned and what they’re feeling is of the holiday — what Passover means to them — is an important part of how they celebrate.”
Passover is full of symbolism, with food representing different parts of the flight from Egypt. There are eggs and saltwater, symbolizing life and tears. Bitter herbs — usually horseradish — symbolizing the harshness of slavery and charoset, a mixture of apples, nuts, wine and spices to symbolize “the mortar that the Hebrews had to use to make the stones for Pharaoh,” Schmerer said
“It’s my favorite one,” Schmerer said. “I’m 65, but I remember as a kid — 12 or 13 years old at my mother’s house — I used to help her make the food and the smells of what she would cook.
“My wife is a great cook, a fantastic cook. And the charoset she makes is wonderful, the potato kugel is out of sight, she makes soup with flanken.”
In addition to the symbolic food on the table, Schonfeld said her family will also eat homemade gefilte fish, matzo ball soup and brisket, among other Passover staples.
The family may use a store-bought version these days, but Schonfeld remembers when her father used to made the Passover horseradish.
“We liked it really hot. Where you’d eat it and your eyes would water and your nose would run,” she said. “Horseradish is Jewish Dristan because it clears up your nose and your sinuses.”
But Schonfeld said her favorite food is the matzo, which is typically eaten only during Passover.
“A lot of people see Passover as things you can’t eat,” she said. “I tend to look at it as things you can eat.”