A Rural Pesach

By Sara Rubin

Published March 30, 2007, issue of March 30, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

I was always vaguely aware that Passover was in some way an agricultural festival, but never realized that celebrating food could include consuming meat that came from animals I had known face to face. That was until last spring, when I spent Passover in Alamosa, Colo., a town situated in a high-altitude desert and populated by almost twice as many cattle as people. Spring is the windy season here, with gusts strong enough to pelt dust, sand and fertilizer (manure odor is part of this agricultural landscape in springtime) painfully at bare legs. Unlike spring in most places I have been, there is no greenery in Alamosa, where the rainfall rarely reaches more than 6 inches in a year.

There are, as is the case with much of rural America, not many Jews in Alamosa. When a Jew from the suburbs of New Jersey finds herself transplanted in America’s heartland during Passover (an unlikely coincidence, since my temporary job managing a flailing agricultural cooperative of family farms lasted only six weeks) with no Haggadah, no kosher-for-Passover matzo and no synagogue within reasonable driving distance, preparing a Seder suddenly seems even harder than using a heavy pitchfork to haul off hay from a moving truck.

I thought that Passover in Alamosa would be easy after a Seder in Santiago, Chile, where I struggled with the Spanish words for “bread without yeast” to describe matzo at the grocery store.

But in Alamosa (population 8,000), which serves as the metropolitan center for the entire valley in which it sits, flanked by three mountain ranges of 14,000-foot peaks and the New Mexican border, any form of a traditional Passover seemed hopeless. Without even a Seder plate, I enlisted Ruth, a 91-year-old Jewish woman from a New Jersey town near my own, to help cook and to supply the guests.

Ruth had hosted Passover celebrations before, sans Hebrew prayers, songs or much that resembled a traditional Seder, as far as I could tell. But the desolation of America’s rural cowboy country made me want a Seder that looked and smelled like Passover at home.

The cooking felt familiar, with the usual aromas of matzo ball soup and roast chicken. But the food all came from within spitting distance: The chickens had been bartered for steaks from the ranch where I was staying; the tomatoes came from a nearby greenhouse; the eggs were from a farm just to the south; the potatoes from practically under my feet and the wine from just over the mountains, and the beef was the product of a herd of cattle all named George that I had seen roaming the pasture a few months earlier.

The agricultural element of Passover is usually lost at a Seder. But when most of the food on the table is raised by somebody seated there with you, the emphasis the Seder places on farming is restored to a level of importance that it probably has not occupied since the earliest post-manna years.

When a few of Ruth’s family members and about 20 friends, most of whom had never participated in any sort of Jewish ritual, sat down to eat, the candles were already lit before I could gather attention for the b’racha. But the Seder proceeded with remarkable proximity to my hand-scrawled, photocopied Haggadah, with special attention to the interactive elements, like extracting drops of wine for the 10 plagues. I sang the four questions for the first time since my little brother was 5 (and I was 8). I let people call the festival “Pesatch.”

When I go back to visit Alamosa, some of the Seder guests call me a traveling rabbi. I will be in nearby Colorado Springs this year, but maybe one of the photocopied Haggadot will resurface in Alamosa in my absence. Last year in the Wild West, this year in civilization, next year in Jerusalem.

Sara Rubin is an editor for The Cipher, a monthly magazine published in Colorado Springs, Colo.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.