A rare snowstorm on the first night of Passover didn’t stop the 30-year tradition of the extended Brown and Peskoe families, who gathered for their traditional first Seder at Beth El Synagogue in Margate.
“Ask anybody in the community, and they’ll know about First Night with the Brown community at Beth El,” said Sharon Cullingford, of Ventnor.
It all started more than 50 years ago, said Fran Peskoe of Margate, as a traditional household Passover gathering — but the sheer numbers of descendants of her and her brothers soon began to overwhelm.
“It used to be at my house, ’til it got so big,” Peskoe said. “Then we switched it over here. They’re all supposed to be coming, I hope, from Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, and Galloway (Township).“
This year’s Seder, Peskoe said, is in honor of her late brothers — the last of whom, Harry Brown, died in January just a few hours after the birth of his great-granddaughter, Sophie.
“We look forward to it every year as an opportunity to bring the family together,” said her son, Bruce Peskoe, of Margate.
The snowy weather on a holiday that partly celebrates the beginning of spring, he added, is unique.
“It’s the first I can remember,” Bruce Peskoe said. “It may inhibit a few people from getting here. But there are lots of family events people have trouble getting to. This one, we all try to make an appointment to attend.”
One by one, the family began to arrive as Bruce helped set up the place settings at the tables.
“We’ll have traditional chicken soup … ,” he began.
“Matzo ball soup,” Cullingford added.
“And gefilte fish, chicken, and plenty of matzo,” Bruce said.
“Potatoes and carrots, and lots of desserts,” added Cullingford. “And wine.”
In the kitchen, Fran Peskoe unwrapped several cases of matzo, one of the six traditional items of the Seder plate.
“There’s a symbol of the Paschal lamb,” explained Rabbi Aaron Krauss of Beth El, “the symbol of the bitter herbs that represent slavery, green vegetables which represents springtime, and the matzo is unleavened bread like what was eaten in ancient times.”
There’s also a paste of apples and nuts, and an egg to symbolize mourning.
As for other fare, “Macaroons are our very favorite for the holiday,” Fran Peskoe said. “We have chocolate macaroons right now. And spongecake for dessert.”
Of course, the meaning of Passover lies in remembrance of dark days.
“The Passover Seder represents the reliving of the Exodus from Egypt,” Krauss said. “We are to feel through ritual, prayer and study as if we were slaves, the experience of slavery, and of having gone to freedom as a gift of God. We should identify with all who are hungry for friendship, for food and for a better life. All these should be made welcome to our Seder.”
And so, on a wintry night that was really different from all other Passover nights, the extended Brown/Peskoe families sat down as one.
“Even if you get lost or get the wrong directions,” Cullingford said of the First Seder at Beth El, “we’re always here.”
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