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.
Those are lovely memories! It is remarkable how you can remember so many details, like what color you wore!
It’s funny how memory works— the fresh green of spring!
4 generations – wow. Sounds terrific.
Yes, it is a Wow experience, all around!
I loved reading about your holiday tradition. Thanks for your sharing.
Heather, thanks, I really appreciate your feedback.
Your cousin Sidney is remarkable! Hosting a Seder at age ninety-nine is like doing the impossible to make it possible for his family to be together! His photo is quite something! You talk about the Seder experience with a full heart, and all your vivid memories of your past Seders come alive! It is these warm memories of being with my family during Passover that I carry in my heart throughout the year.
Bev, the tradition is so meaningful and special to all the generations. Everyone is engaged and glad to be part of such a special event. I’ve come to appreciate it more and more as the years have gone by. Glad you share a similar experience.
Please tell Mr. Sidney he has fans all over the country who admire and respect what he does. The Seder I attended down here in Durham was nontraditional in the extreme, but I reunited with a lot of old friends. Which felt wonderful in the springtime. Thanks for telling us about your grand uncle Sid and your family. What a blessing.
I will tell my cousin Sidney! He is my Mom’s half-sister’s youngest, and such a “mench.” A seder non-traditional in the extreme sounds like a lot of fun, especially with old friends! Always wonderful to be in touch.
What a gift and so much to be grateful for! I would love to see the crisp green linen suit.
Indeed, so much to be grateful for. The green linen suit was simple in design— rounded neckline, straight box jacket with three big white buttons, straight skirt or maybe slight A-line… neat, crisp look. I felt very grown-up!