As preparations for Passover get into high gear, your web browser and mobile phone offer a plethora of sites and apps to help you get ready — spiritually, culinarily, and even humorously. Once upon a time, you had to comb through books and newspapers for recipes, information about customs and rituals, and even holiday-appropriate jokes. Today, there’s probably an app for it.
Passover is about the Jewish exodus from Egyptian slavery to freedom, of course, but it’s also about the food, and food is what the OU Kosher app is all about (for iPhone, Android; free) is all about. The app provides an up-to-date list of all the products under the supervision of the US-based Union of Orthodox Congregations, with separate listings for Passover and all-year-round. Just type in any keyword — product name, brand name, or product type (like “coffee”) and you’ll get a full list of products that meet the OU’s kashrut criteria. While there’s no equivalent app for Israelis listing kosher-for-Passover products, residents and visitors who want to eat out over Hol Hamo’ed can download the free Achbar Ha’ir app (for iPhone, Hebrew only; free), which lists the restaurants that are open over the holiday as well as the many Hol Hamo’ed activities taking place in Israel next week.
Once you do your shopping, it’s time to turn all those ingredients into seder dinner. While most people still rely on cookbooks to figure out what to make and how to make it, an app is indispensible if you are cooking for a crowd, because you can easily update quantities, make substitutions, etc.
There are several options if you want to use your iPhone, iPad, or Android device to cook. You can use one of the major cooking apps, like BigOven (for all devices; free) or Epicurious (for all devices; free), all of which have dozens of recipes for Passover. Or, you can use a “dedicated” kosher cooking app; there are several that also have dozens of recipes. But the truth is that Passover recipes in many of these apps are similar to the recipes in BigOven and Epicurious — after all, you have a limited ingredient pool to choose from — so you might as well stick with the free apps.
Or, you could just turn on your PC and surf to RFCJ — the archives of the old rec.food.cuisine.jewish newsgroup. This site has thousands of recipes that users contributed over the years, and is the largest Jewish recipe database on- or off-line. It’s a useful site any time of year, with recipes and menus grouped by holiday and category; there are 11 for Passover, including Passover cakes and pies, vegetarian recipes, matza balls (for which there are about 40 recipes) and many others.
Next to the Hebrew Bible, the haggada is perhaps the most popular Jewish publication, so chances are most seder-goers have numerous editions to choose from. While there are several haggada-related apps, especially for the kids — like PlagueAudio (for iPhone; free), which provides appropriate sound effects for each of the 10 plagues — a useful app, especially for those who are more interested in dinner than in ritual, is iPassover (for iPhone, Hebrew only; free). With this app, seder attendees (presumably secular, as those who take the holiday seriously wouldn’t turn on their an iPhone at a seder, or on a Friday night for that matter) can time the progress of the event, checking off the milestones and checking their time on the “speed monitor.” iPassover will give you appropriate feedback, like “you are going fast enough to break a Guinness world record,” or “they don’t say the Yom Kippur prayers as slowly as this seder is going,” and it will even predict, based on your progress, how long it will take for dinner to be served.
The app even features jokes (sample: Everyone says “Next Year in Jerusalem” at the end of the seder, but they know that come hell or high water they are going to be at their wife’s family in Petah Tikva”), and Youtube videos of funny Passover-related content. And, it has a haggada.
One of the important rituals of Passover is the counting of the Omer, essentially the countdown to the next important holiday on the Jewish calendar, Shavuot. Counting the Omer is a tricky business; there are all sorts of rules involved, such as if you forget one night, you can’t continue counting with a blessing. Thus, there is a plethora of apps that will remind you to count the Omer. One nicely done app, with color-coded listings of the Kabbalistic “sefirot,” the realms of God’s dominion, is Omer Count (for iPhone; free) while Sefiros Grow (for iPhone; $4.99) “takes you on a seven-week journey of spiritual refinement and improvement, providing you with practical techniques to maximize the growth potential inherent in each of the forty-nine days of Sefirah,” according to its authors. This app includes alarms, which will go off at a specific time each night, reminding you to count the Omer.
But the best way to remember the Omer is to make it a fun experience — and Omer fun is available free on-line in the form of the Homer Omer calendar. Using “The Simpsons” TV show as its theme, the calendar features not only a different screenshot of Homer Simpson in action each day, but a full compendium of Jewish life in Springfield, the Simpsons’ hometown, as well as information about what the Omer is all about. The site invites users to print out a copy of the calendar to use as a reminder to remember to count — and if you’re a Simpsons fan, you’ll probably find it more useful than all the Omer alarm apps in the App store.