I remember the Passover (Pesach) seders of my grandparents: the drone of reading around the table from the ubiquitous Maxwell House Hagaddah, the inevitable “fifth question”–“When do we eat?” Oh yeah, and my grandmother’s Vishnic (a home-crafted vodka fruit liqueur). The seders were big; three generations gathered together as we did for all holidays.
The highlight always had been my grandmother’s sumptuous, traditional Eastern European Jewish meals: chicken soup, gefilte fish, brisket, and more. So much so, that we kids would be inspired to play “Mema’s Kitchen” after dinner trying to conjure the magic that seemed only to emanate from within our grandmother’s apparently enchanted freezer.
But times passed and so did the seder torch, first to my mother, and then to my aunt Grace, whose table seemed to grow every year, as she would invite neighbors, friends (Jewish and non) to her expansive table. We were older then, but the feeling was the same, and despite the fact that we were still droning on with the old, reliable, boring Maxwell House Haggadah. Although, by then, we’d add some readings to make things a little more “modern.”
We grew up and apart, scattered to the winds; most of the family settled in Southern California just as we began adding to the next generation. The mantle passed to me, and tired of Maxwell House (the Haggadah, not the coffee, in those pre-Starbucks days), I wrote my own. Magic tricks with wine, origami frogs, ping-pong balls to demonstrate the plague of hail. Times–and the generation–changed.
We re-inserted Moses into the story (traditional Haggadahs don’t mention Moses at all!), and made it all very kid-friendly, and for the adults, we added a sketch-comedy telling of the Passover story. The point of the seder is to tell it to our children, and tell it we did, with relish, and veggie trays passed around at “Karpas” to still the hunger pangs before the festive meal. We added feminist and other socially-conscious symbols to the seder plate, and reimagined the meaning of everything–from the Hebrew word for Egypt (Mitzrayim–narrows) to the Bible’s 10 plagues.
Our seders were fun and more meaningful (at least to us) than the round robin reading in English of arcane Haggadah text about obscure Talmudic rabbis, and taking a page from my aunt, we never failed to open our doors to anyone who needed a place for seder. Strangers new to this country from the Former Soviet Union, neighbors, acquaintances, extended family.
But the years passed, and we became sudden empty nesters. Nieces and nephews were grown, away at university, parents passed away, and Passover seemed to lose some of the joy, ironically, despite the new-found freedom during this festival of freedom. Our own children found their own communities distant from us.
Which brings me to 2015 (or 5775 for those counting in Jewish time), and for the first time in years, we will welcome a small child at our family seder–own beautiful 14-month-old grandson Ari. He’s not quite ready to ask the “Four Questions,” but he’ll love the singing, the plague puppets, and the seder plate puzzle we’ve secured for him. He’ll have his first taste of homemade gefilte fish (my grandmother’s recipe), rich chicken soup, and my mother’s brisket (the best I’ve ever tasted). We will again have three generations of our family at the seder table, which will will be bursting full with friends, family, food, and tradition.
We are commanded, at this season to pass the story of our journey from slavery to freedom from one generation to the next. And this year, we once again begin the journey with a new generation, firm in our hope that this will be the first year of many to come. Is it any wonder, then, that this year, during this time of renewal, of spring, I am filled with gratitude that I have reached this season and this time?[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B0014AJV82,0756602858,0761384928,B0013TO5OO,B007BF17PO,B001QFBJTE,B003BCPTU0]