"And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat." (Genesis 1:29).
WHEN A GROUP of friends gathered recently at the Baltimore home of Mi- chael and Cindy Blum for a pre-Pas- sover seder, there was no shank bone, no chicken soup, no brisket. Not at this holiday meal; not when the guests are Jewish vegetarians.
Members of both the Jewish Vegetarian Society of Baltimore and the Baltimore Vegetarian Society, this group represents a handful of those who have abandoned chopped liver for lentil pa te' and who have grown accustomed to fending off "just a little chicken?" at family dinners.
Jewish vegetarian societies are located in several American cities, and there are a few national societies, as well as similar groups in Israel. Franz Kafka was, and Issac Bashevis Singer is, among the most notable of Jewish vegetarians. The international headquarters of the movement, formally organized in London in the 1960s, still publishes a quarterly publication, "The Jewish Vegetarian."
Those gathered at the Blums' included 10 friends of all ages, the hosts' 16-month-old daughter, Sarah, also a vegetarian, and an Episcopalian priest who said he had attended many non-vegetarian seders.
For most of the Jewish vegetarians there, the switch to a meatless diet occurred out of pacifism or for health reasons, and they report that life without corned beef and pastrami is easy. Not that it wasn't a hard transition--at least initially--what with chicken soup-making mothers. Charles Stahler's mother still packs him a care package when he goes home for Passover, which this year starts on Monday evening, but now it consists of mushroom soup and sweet potato casserole. And last year for the family's seder, Ruth Goldstein's mother added miso soup to the menu.
In the process of becoming vegetarians, they found that their Jewish values--respect for life and nature, freedom and the downtrodden--were in harmony with their new eating habits. And although their vegetarianism was not religiously motivated, the Jewish-vegetarian connection has become more solidified since they made the switch.
In accordance with the leaders of the movement, and perhaps discordant with the views of carnivorous Jews, Stuart Buckner and Stahler say they interpret the Bible to mean that all Jews are instructed to be vegetarians; to Goldstein, vegetarianism is the ultimate form of keeping kosher; for Debra Wasserman, the kosher method of slaughtering animals is still inhumane ("you kill an animal, you kill an animal") and according to Stahler, "the intrinsic values" of Judaism are best represented by a vegetarian seder.
So how was this night different from all the others? Start with the seder plate, on which are placed the main symbols of the service, a service which celebrates the ancient story of the Jews' redemption from bondage. Guests at the Blums' begin the seder as they read from the Haggada, the special prayer book for the meal:
First, we have three MATZOS, commemorating the bread which our forefathers were compelled to eat during their hasty departure from Egypt.
On this table are whole-wheat matzos, although this variety is not necessarily restricted to meatless seders. Goldstein said that the whole-wheat matzos are a more accurate reflection of the matzos the fleeing Jews probably ate since refined white flour was unavailable in ancient times.
The second symbol is the ROASTED SHANKBONE [HERE A BEET], which reminds us of the Paschal Lamb, a special animal sacrifice which our ancestors offered on the altar of the great Temple in Jerusalem, on the Passover holiday.
Instead of the traditional roasted shank bone, the vegetarians use a beet, whose reddish-purple color represents the blood of the animal. Or a mushroom could have been used, as one guest said, to symbolize the animal's fleshy skin.
The third symbol is a ROASTED EGG [HERE AN AVOCADO] PIT , which reminds us of a second offering brought to the Temple on Passover.
On traditional seder plates, this is symbolized by a roasted or hard-cooked egg. But in this group, there are several vegans--vegetarians who do not eat any dairy products. In addition, said Goldstein, since the egg also represents fertility, the avocado pit, with its roundness and ability to reproduce, does likewise.
Participants around the table read about the rest of the objects on the seder plate; the moror (horseradish, here freshly grated from Lexington Market) used to symbolize the bitterness of the Jews' slavery; haroset (a nut, apple and wine mixture), which represents the mortar the Jews used for building Egyptian cities) and the karpas (parsley), a reminder that Passover coincides with the arrival of spring and the ancient agricultural festival.
The service progresses and the group reads together:
With gratitude for the blessings which we have been given, we invite the less fortunate to share with us at this meal, and also at other times.
The group then reads a chapter about hunger out of an anthology of articles that appeared in "The Jewish Vegetarian" and Wasserman mentions that the society is planning to prepare a vegetarian meal for a local soup kitchen. According to Stahler, a meatless diet utilizes fewer resources and vegetarianism is the answer to world hunger.
For the miracle which He wrought in the past, and also in our day, we offer Him our thankfulness. He did deliver us from slavery to freedom . . .
The seder celebrates freedom for people, and that should include animals, Stahler says about the passage.
Following is the potluck array of vegetarian dishes eaten at the Blums', beginning with carrot soup and ending with homemade macaroons. And for those who wish to attend a vegetarian seder, the group will hold a potluck dinner Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Nature's Ingredients, 1444 Chartley Blvd. (in the Chartley Shopping Center), Reisterstown, Md. Admission is $2 if you bring a dish and $7 if you don't. For more information, call 301-752-VEGV. DEBRA WASSERMAN'S CARROT SOUP (6 to 8 servings) 1 pound carrots, chopped 1 onion, chopped 4 tablespoons oil 4 1/2 cups water 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional) 1/3 cup parsley, chopped Pepper to taste
In 3-quart pot, saute' the carrots and chopped onions in oil for 10 minutes over medium heat. Drain oil. Add water and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Place mixture with parsley in a blender or food processor and pure'e. Reheat. Pass pepper mill. DEBRA WASSERMAN'S STUFFED CABBAGE (8 servings) 1 small head cabbage 1 1/2 tablespoons oil 2 small onions, minced 1 1/2 cups matzo farfel or 4 pieces matzo, crushed 1 cup raisins 2 stalks celery, chopped finely 2 tablespoons dry red wine 2/3 cup apple juice 1/2 cup applesauce 29-ounce can tomato sauce
Steam head of cabbage until leaves are soft, about 20 minutes. In oil, saute' onions, farfel or matzo, raisins and celery for 10 minutes. Add wine, juice and applesauce. Simmer 5 more minutes. Pull eight outer leaves off steamed cabbage and place part of mixture in center of each. Roll leaves with mixture and lay in single layer in a baking dish. Pour tomato sauce over cabbage. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until heated through. TANTA MALKA'S POTATO KUGEL DELUXE (8 to 10 servings) 3 cups onions, chopped 4 tablespoons butter 3/4 teaspoon dillweed Black pepper to taste 1 1/4 teaspoons salt (optional) 1/2 pound mushrooms, chopped 4 large eggs 1 1/2 cups sour cream 4 red potatoes, grated 1/2 cup matzo meal Paprika
Saute' onions in butter for 5 minutes. Add dill, pepper, salt and mushrooms. Saute' for 5 more minutes. In large bowl beat the eggs. Add sour cream, potatoes and matzo meal. Spread into 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle with paprika on top. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 1 to 1 1/4 hours until crisp. From "The Enchanted Broccoli Forest" by Mollie Katzen BEET SALAD (8 servings) 3 beets, grated 1/2 head of cabbage, shredded 3 carrots, grated Handful of raisins 1 apple, diced 1/3 cup lemon juice 1/2 cup oil 1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional) Crushed pineapple or other fruit (optional)
Toss ingredients into bowl and mix. This is better if refrigerated and served the day after it is made. CINDY BLUM'S FRUIT COMPOTE (6 to 8 servings) 2 cups dried peaches, cut in half 2 cups whole pitted dried prunes 2 cups dried apricots 1 cup raisins 1 stick cinnamon, broken in half 4 whole cloves 4 cups apple cider
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer about 1 hour. Refrigerate and serve. MACAROONS (Makes 20)
8 ounces shredded coconut
2 ripe bananas, mashed
Mix both ingredients together well. Spoon onto oiled cookie sheet and shape into pyramids. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly brown, about 10 minutes.
Variations: For different flavors, add carob or chocolate powder, almond extract, and/or chopped nuts. graphics/1&2: The vegetarian seder plate, with some substitutions for traditional components, includes, clockwise from top center: the moror (grated horseradish); an avocado pit instead of the roasted egg; the karpas (parsley); moror (horseradish root) again; a beet for the roasted shankbone; and haroset (apple-nut-wine mixture).