At Google Passover seder, 'koogle' is served

At 6 p.m. on Thursday night, hordes of hungry employees streamed into the No Name Cafe on Google's central campus in Mountain View, Calif. On most nights, the No Name chefs serve up a free, gourmet dinner to the cafe's ravenous occupants; on this night, service was invitation-only.

The Google Passover seder--marking the Jewish holiday telling the story of the Israelites' escape from Pharaoh's Egypt--was the brainchild of Google massage therapist Joel Finkelstein and his buddy Todd Koenigsberg, a chef at No Name Cafe. Why not host a friendly seder for the company's Jewish employees and guests, they thought. "We threw this together in a couple weeks. It was very last minute," Finkelstein said.

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In just a few weeks the duo secured the cafe and printed haggadot--the booklets used annually to retell the Passover tale--complete with a humorous cover spoofing Google's famous search tool. Menus were printed, kosher wine procured, and the security detail assigned.

Finkelstein, a rabbi's son, steered the festivities. Googler Dan Ratner's four-piece band played klezmer and Israeli tunes. The 100 guests dutifully dunked flat-leaf Italian parsley into salt water, drank four glasses of commemorative kosher wine, and networked.

Servers carried out 11 dishes for the family-style meal, including house-made gefilte ("stuffed") fish; a Sephardic vegetable rice wrap acknowledging a branch of Spanish-Jewish traditions; and potato "koogle," a Google-ized take on kugel, the Yiddish word for a type of baked pudding or casserole. At one point, Google employee Matt Stone commented on the repast: "It was great enjoying the company of my fellow Googlers accompanied by the best food and drink I've ever experienced at a seder. Sorry, Mom!"

Finkelstein never called for guests to find the afikomen, a customary scavenger hunt for a hidden half piece of matzah, leaving my corner of the table slightly wistful. But the seder did end in the customary Hebrew words, "B'shana haba'ah b'yerushalayim": Next year in Jerusalem! If that's too far for most employees to travel, perhaps next year again will be at Google.

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