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.