When I was a kid growing up in Philadelphia, each spring I enviously watched my non-Jewish friends gorge on solid chocolate bunnies and cream-filled chocolate eggs while I nibbled on the dry cracker, matzo, that is at the center of Passover food traditions; the two holidays often overlap. Oh, the unfairness!

Rabbi Laura Boenisch of B’nai Portland has neatly put an end to such childhood jealousies. On April 7, she will lead a chocolate Seder in Falmouth in which all the symbolic foods of Passover, including matzo, are made of, or enhanced with, chocolate. Last year, the event attracted almost 90 people, children and adults. Jews in Maine and around the world will hold the actual Passover Seder at sundown on April 19. The weeklong holiday celebrates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery more than 3,000 years ago.

The chocolate Seder, now nine or 10 years old, is in keeping with the mission statement of B’nai Portland, originally a Hebrew school, today a congregation that meets in Falmouth and Westbrook. It reads, in part: “To make Hebrew School fun and a place kids want to be.” If that sounds frivolous, it’s not. “As someone with a degree in education, I believe that if children don’t love the experience, then you’ve already lost,” said Boenisch, who founded B’nai Portland in 2009.

Rabbi Laura Boenisch of B’nai Portland adds baker’s chocolate to a milk chocolate Seder plate at her Falmouth home. The unsweetened portion is meant to serve as the moror – symbolic of the bitterness of enslavement. The variety of chocolate chips represent charoset, or mortar, that enslaved Jews were forced to make for Pharaoh. The white chocolate shank bone represents the lamb. Boenisch also adds a Cadbury Creme Egg for the Baytzah, to represent rebirth; an orange to represent chazaret, another form of bitterness; and a chocolate-covered apple for the Karpas, which represents spring. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

She uses a bone-shaped dog biscuit cookie cutter to stamp out chocolate lamb shank bones for the Seder plate; the bone symbolizes the lamb sacrificed at the temple in Jerusalem. A Cadbury Creme Egg stands in for the hard-boiled egg that represents the circle of life. Charoset, normally a mix of fruit and wine meant to evoke the mortar enslaved Jews used to build the pyramids, becomes a mix of milk, semi-sweet and white chocolate chips. Parsley dipped into salt water – to represent the tears of the slaves – is transformed into an apple wedge dipped into Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup, a stretch, Boenisch admitted, but “really delicious.” And maror, typically horseradish to symbolize the bitterness of slavery, becomes unsweetened chocolate, “which is always hilarious when the kids taste it,” she said. Wilbur’s of Maine has donated the chocolate to make many of these items.

Boenisch also makes the Seder plates themselves, which hold these symbolic foods during the service, from chocolate. “It’s out of a mold. I ordered it from a company.” Chocolate Hebrew words mark the spot on the plate for each of the required foods. “Why I don’t make these and sell these I don’t know,” she said, “because I know people would buy these.”

Boenisch has adapted the Haggadah, the text of the Seder service, too, with chocolate insinuating itself into the service from start to end. The Seder plate, for instance, holds “six symbols that capture the essence of the story of Passover – in a melt in your mouth sort of way,” it says. The usual blessing over the wine extends its reach: “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine and Creator of the chocolate milk.” It goes on to thank the cows “for their many hours of patient giving.”


Boenisch adapted the idea for the all-chocolate Seder from one she heard about held by Jewish students at University of California, Berkeley, some 15 years ago. Chocolate Seders are apparently now a thing. (When I asked my sister, who writes children’s books with Jewish themes, if she’d ever heard of them, she emailed back, “No, but I wouldn’t mind being invited to one!”) But Google it, and you’ll find a chocolate Seder Pinterest board, many chocolate Seder Haggadahs and even tips for holding a socially responsible chocolate Seder – in part, use Fair Trade chocolate.

Even without the chocolate, the Seder is, in many ways, tailor-made for children. The service is intended to convey the story of Passover to each succeeding generation. During the evening, children get to recite 10 plagues involving things such as gnats, frogs and boils while dipping their finger in a glass of grape juice (for the adults, it’s wine; at the chocolate Seder, it’s chocolate milk); search for a hidden matzoh – there’s a reward for the child that finds it; stay up long past their bedtime; and sing a lively song with repeating verses about a goat, a cat and a dog. The song, “Chad Gadya,” gets quite a bit more serious, and perhaps not so child-friendly, toward the end when the Angel of Death shows up.

Boenisch said her chocolate Seder is also meant to build community and give the kids a chance to practice for the “real thing” two weeks later. That’s my phrase, not hers.

“It is a real Seder,” she said of the event. “The word Seder means order. It is a particular order. We wash hands. We dip chocolate. We tell the story. We tell the story of Egypt – but we also tie it in with Milton Hershey.”

When I suggested that the entire event sounds like it could be a recipe for overwrought or queasy children, Boenisch, a grandmother, who is diabetic so stays away from chocolate herself, laughed heartily. “That’s not my problem,” she said. “I do tell parents, though, ‘Your kids probably won’t eat dinner.’ ”

Chocolate-Caramel Matzo Crunch


At Passover, matzo is eaten to remember that the Jews fled from Egypt in such a hurry, they had no time to let the bread dough to rise. Jews call matzo “the bread of affliction,” a term that definitely does not apply to Chocolate-Caramel Matzo Crunch. This recipe is very lightly adapted from “The Mensch Chef: Why Delicious Jewish Food Isn’t an Oxymoron” by Mitchell Davis. Davis’ recipe, published in 2002, was the first time I ran into matzo crunch, known for its addictive qualities. In the years since, some variation on it has become a Passover staple in many Jewish homes across the country.

5 square matzos

1 cup unsalted butter

1 cup light brown sugar

9 to 10 ounces bittersweet or white chocolate, or a combination, grated or chopped finely

1/cup sliced almonds, toasted


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a large cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Lay the matzos in a single layer in the cookie sheet.

Melt the butter in a heavy, non-stick sauté pan set over medium-high heat. Add the brown sugar and stir to combine. As the sugar begins to melt, start to whisk the mixture to blend. Keep whisking until the butter and sugar form a light caramel.

Pour the caramel over the matzos and spread out evenly with a spatula. Set the sheet pan in the preheated oven and bake for 6 to 7 minutes, until the caramel has been absorbed somewhat into the matzo and is bubbling. Remove from the oven.

While the matzo is hot, dust with an even layer of the chocolate. You can make a pattern with the dark and white chocolate or make patches of dark and white chocolate to create a variety of different flavors and designs. As the chocolate melts on the hot matzos, spread the chocolate out evenly with a spatula to coat. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds.

Cool completely and break into bite-size pieces.

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