Pinterest is no place to go to for seder table inspiration, according to Duby Litvin. The website’s bulletin boards of artfully set tables and food staged for the likes of “Gourmet” magazine is enough to make any woman go running for the chametz hills.
“Everything is over the top, looks beautiful, and everything is on our shoulders — the cooking and the preparing — so people tend to get stressed very easily,” said Litvin, author of “Duby’s Pesach Lists: The Frazzled Woman’s Guide to a Stress-Free Pesach.” Now in its third edition, the book tries to tame the mania associated with the labor-intensive holiday. In it she compiled lists once stored on her desktop and shared among her friends such as cleaning and grocery checklists.
“Since I’m a little bit of an anxious person I get overwhelmed easily, so for me having everything written down means it’s not in my head…I can really sleep easy at night,” she told NJJN.
Her book reveals “The Duby Method,” which entails breaking down Passover preparation into manageable steps. “It’s everything clearly laid out,” she said. “This is what you do step A, step B, step C.” It all begins with the cleaning — the earlier the better — and is followed by making a budget, creating a guest list, and coming up with a menu and very specific shopping list.
“If you stick to your menu and your shopping list you know you don’t need 20 extra packages of chicken,” she said. Same with that large brick of Swiss dark chocolate.
Litvin compiled how-to guides and extensive checklists covering cleaning, of course, but also must-have kitchen essentials, seder table items, menu suggestions, and even activities and games for a memorable seder. And not insignificantly, she notes that holiday preparation is not a burden that only the women should bear.
“Number one is planning, number two is delegating,” she said. “You have a teenager who can drive, why do you have to shlep to Walmart? Let the 16-year-old with a driver’s license go.”
Although her book appears as a hefty to-do list, in conversation Litvin makes clear that the holiday emphasis should be on the memorable and fun. “If your kids are seeing resentment, that is the wrong attitude completely,” she said. “That means we’re doing it wrong.”
She eschews the formal and fancy celebration for one that comes “from a place of love,” which means making beloved dishes and creating family traditions.
“With Pesach every family has their own way they do the seder, the foods they eat,” said Litvin. “There’s a lot of feeling associated with the holiday.” In her family, that means every seder must include her mother-in-law’s orange soup — a puree of butternut squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, and other root vegetables. According to husband Shmully, “It’s not Pesach without his mother’s orange soup,” Litvin said.
Another quirky Passover ritual in the Litvin home: “Pesach notes,” a custom she adopted from family friends in Morristown; after the final day of Passover, family members write down holiday memories such as funny jokes and stories, and predictions for the next year. The notes are stored in the boxes of Passover items, or in Litvin’s case, in her meticulous Passover binder, and they’re brought out for grins and giggles the following year. Adding levity is important since the whole point is to get the children engaged, according to Litvin. “It’s really to inspire the next generation.”
The author is an unapologetic Jersey girl, and she retains her 973 cell-phone number even though she’s lived in Louisville for six years after marrying a Kentucky native. “New Jersey is still my home,” she said. She grew up in Elizabeth, later moved to Morristown, and was a camper turned staff member for much of her young life at Gan Israel Day Camps in Morristown.
One of her fondest Garden State Passover memories was the annual Chol Hamoed trip to High Point State Park with the Teitelbaum and Morgenstern families of Morristown. “We would have a barbecue and we’d fly kites and the boys would go fishing,” she said. “We’d walk up to the monument, take a million pictures, and Rabbi Teitelbaum would play his guitar. It wasn’t pesach without a trip to the park.”
The food part of the holiday comes naturally for Litvin. She runs a kosher bakery in Louisville — “Duby’s” — and her father, Rabbi Yossi Dubov, supervises and works in the kitchen at the Lester Senior Housing Community in Whippany.
But contrary to what ShopRite might have us believe, the food is a small part of what makes the holiday meaningful.
“The cooking and the cleaning and the shopping is only the means to the end,” she said. “The end is the important part, the memory that you’re creating — being around the table with family and friends and loved ones and passing on our beautiful traditions and culture and heritage to the next generation. We want everyone to walk away saying, ‘Let’s do it again next year.’”