Tag Archives: family connections

Passover 2017: We Continue On

Beth conducting Seder

When a word sticks in my head, appears and re-appears in my consciousness, I know something is brewing. On this, the 6th day of Passover, the day I will prepare charoses for our family Seder, hosted for the first time by my daughter, Beth, the words pass over cry out for attention.

The event of Beth’s stepping up to host the Seder marks the passing over of the beloved and sacrosanct family Seder to the next generation. Last year at this time, my first cousin Sid, then 99 years old and living in an assisted care community, carried on the tradition to host my mother’s extended family of cousins and friends, a group of 40 plus.

Sid’s death this past fall marked the ultimate passing over, the end of a five generation Passover gathering of my mother’s family.

Sid’s older brother, Lew and his wife, Selma welcomed Marv and myself as a newly arrived couple in the Boston area. Spring, 1958, the sight of an elongated “T” table set with Selma’s personally constructed Haggadah set the scene. Lew, as eldest son of Kunah, my mother’s half sister, an articulate and wise lawyer, held the reins, insisting that each and every participant read aloud in English or Hebrew, that we all take part. The mood was irresistible: we were grateful to come together, to re-tell the story of our ancestral exodus from tyranny, to raise our cups in thanks, to sing with verve and spirit.

As a child, I had little sense of the meaning of Passover. My father read the entire service in Hebrew from a black bound book lacking pictures, transliteration and songs. In contrast, Selma’s 8×10 bound Haggadah was printed in English and Hebrew, and included songs and pictures drawn by all the children.

When Selma and Lew passed, Sid and his wife relocated the Seder to their home in New Jersey. For two decades, I took over hosting our own small version of the family Seder. Using Selma’s Haggadah, I followed the tradition of my mother’s extensive menu of hard boiled eggs and salt, gefilte fish with horseradish, chicken soup with matzos balls, brisket, tsimmes, fresh green asparagus, my own baked macaroons and fresh fruit.

When my children married and started their own families, each one continued the tradition— Craig, returning home those first years and ultimately taking Selma’s Haggadah to the Midwest and Beth, still in the Boston area, joining with me, cooking the chicken soup. To continue on, we adapted. To include family members from afar, we shifted the Seder to a weekend date. In time, to accommodate restless children,we shortened the story telling and experimented with new and modern Haggadahs.

I recall my gratitude a decade ago when Sid relocated and re-instated the family Seder. With his passing, I am grateful that Beth has stepped up to host this first year with her family and close friends. Yesterday, I spent the afternoon scraping and cutting carrots and sweet potatoes, mixing the dried fruit, orange juice and spices to blend the flavors. My mother, Goldie’s hand written recipe card, alongside my favorite New York Times recipe, guided me. I am grateful to continue on.

Mom Taught Me Gratitude

Mom & Me, Circa 1992

Mom & Me, Circa 1992

My gratitude diaries, like the shelves of my food pantry, provide staples for nourishment. By putting pen to paper, I note the ingredients—the essentials of the event or situation, which are stirred into a reflective mix and stored by date for future use.

On March 14th last year, I wrote: Is there more to writing about gratitude than the simple act of writing? Each entry marks a point in time— to be recognized, acknowledged and pondered. It is a way to separate the wheat from the chafe, which, in this speed-word driven culture is essential to my slowing down, reflecting and deliberating.

A full year later, my thoughts are the same, only more so. With the promise of an upcoming April birthday, I am aware of time passing. My mother died at 93; and I have every hope of reaching her mark or beyond. She and dad were close-knit, a traditional couple. Dad was the provider and Mom’s life was filled with tending to the care of her family and home. A widow for eleven years after Dad’s passing, she spoke with me often about loneliness.

I suggested she start a diary to put down and express what she was feeling. Mom found comfort in writing— at first, daily, then once a week and then intermittently for three years. From 1986 to 1989, she wrote in pen in graceful delicate script on lined composition paper. She numbered each page at the top and dated each entry.

Though lonely, she often wrote about her sense of gratitude. She struggled with physical issues—high blood pressure and heart disease—but along with concerns for her health, her wish for independence, her grandchildren’s choices, she wrote about being grateful, especially for the presence of her children, her appreciation of their care and concern.

I cherished the candor of her words. As she aged, she became more outspoken about her needs and wishes. As her eldest daughter, I felt inspired to help her live out her life in the way she desired. Her greatest wish was to age at home and most of all, to be of little worry to her children. At the age of 89, she wrote:

One more week in August, and summer will be over. It was a good one for me. I was able to do some things, which I was not capable of for some time and I am very grateful. I just hope and pray it should continue, as it is a good feeling to be able to act on one’s own.

After several worrisome falls, Mom agreed to a live-in companion. My parents, especially my dad, were frugal. Mom was grateful for his ability to earn and to save.

In her mind, during the years of her widowhood, he continued to provide for her. She expressed gratitude openly, both verbally and in her writing. In her final days, she got her wish; she lived out her life and ultimately died, with the help of Hospice, in her own home.