Tag Archives: Family Haggadah

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.

Passover, 2016

Sid @ 99 years

Sid @ 99 years

During childhood, the reading of the Haggadah, the story of Passover, every word written in Hebrew, no pictures, was read aloud for three hours by my dad with little patience for a child’s restlessness. “Shh, Faygie,” he would warn as I would burst with a whisper to my cousin Caroline, my cohort in play.

At twenty-three, a recent bride, Marv and I attended our first family Seder at cousin Selma and Lew’s home. Harvard and Radcliffe graduates, liberal and Reform Jews, they convened a Seder of close to forty— family and friends— with ages scanning decades.

That first Seder, I wore a crisp green, linen suit, perfect for spring. The seating, their modern home, the combined living /dining room painted aqua, was set with tables in a large “T” formation. Selma’s effort— the bowls of fluffy matzos ball soup, the massive platters of steaming asparagus and fresh turkey, seemed effortless. Lew, at the helm, holding the family Haggadah , written in English and Hebrew by Selma, called upon each of us to read the ancient story. We sang, laughed, and dialogued. I understood every detail; I was grateful.

Over two decades, the Seder enveloped our children. At some point, a decision was made to share the responsibility with Lew’s brother, Sid, thirteen years younger, who lived in New Jersey. Alternative years, Marv and I were on our own. The first time I prepared a Seder for a dozen guests seemed mammoth—so many courses, each with its own recipe. I recall a morning preparation of the charoset— apples, pealed and cored, walnuts, Manischewitz grape wine, honey and cinnamon— ground in the food processor. I wasn’t prepared for the soupy mix that first try. The trick, I’ve learned, is to mix the type of apples— some dry, some juicy as well as test for texture.

I am grateful for the ritual of Seder, a time of family, of memory, of sharing a significant story of persecution, flight and freedom— all too pertinent and familiar in this decade of refugees fleeing from tyrants, in search of a better life, in too many parts of the world.

This year, I am especially grateful for my cousin Sidney, now 99 years old, who, with his three sons, hosted this year’s family Seder at the Hebrew Center where Sid now resides. The room set up was familiar—three tables shaped like a “T.” Sid’s three sons and wives sat at the head table; the eldest son, David, called upon each of us— children, spouses, grandchildren, fiancés, significant others— to read.

Our son and daughter, and three of our grandchildren joined Marv and me. We read from Selma and Lew’s original Haggadah. I learned that Lew had taught Sid to sing the four questions in Hebrew in late adolescence. They were thirteen years apart. My daughter, Beth, in her angel’s voice played the guitar and lead us in singing Dayenu: it would have been enough for us. We drank wine, savored the familiar foods. I am grateful.