[This has been cross-posted from Mindless Diversions.]
by Mike Schilling
In many Jewish families, there’s a Passover question that logically precedes the canonical Four Questions: where are we going to have the Seder this year? Perhaps at the synagogue, or the Jewish Community Center? Or should we stay home and invite the Bermans, and maybe the Blums? When I was growing up, this was never an issue. We’d have pretty much everyone we knew over to our house. We’d carry the ping-pong table up from the garage, everyone would bring chairs, and we’d squeeze about a dozen families, maybe forty or fifty people, into the family room.
My Mom was in charge of the cooking. She did most of it herself, but she would farm some out to her more trusted associates. Though not the matzoh balls, which she had the secret of making perfectly (neither so fluffy as to fall apart in the soup nor so dense as to resemble golf balls), and none of the baking. There are some desserts which are traditional for Passover, two in particular that she would make every year. Passover sponge cake is made without yeast or baking powder; the only thing that lightens it is egg, and it’s as prone to falling as a souffle, particularly as a result of loud noises like (speaking purely hypothetically) two small boys running around and slamming doors. The other was a loaf made with honey, brown sugar, cinnamon, nuts, raisins, and lemon and orange juice. You could live on it, as I often demonstrated.
The Seder itself was my Dad’s domain. We used the same Haggdahs every year, and the wine and food stains they accumulated simply made them more comfortable, like a well broken-in pair of shoes. (I don’t know who published them. They weren’t the famous Maxwell House.) My Dad would lead the service every year, good-naturedly putting up with the heckling (“When’s the next glass of wine?”), encouraging the shyer guests to read the next part, and ignoring the smart-alecks who would “improve” the text. (“And the work that the Egyptian taskmasters made our ancestors do was rigorous. Lots of epsilon-delta proofs.“) Every year he and Mom would argue about the custom of spilling a drop of wine for each plague, he on the side of tradition and she on the side of not ruining the tablecloths. And eventually we’d get to the halfway mark which is the meal, put down the Haggadahs, stuff ourselves, and, conveniently forgetting our good intentions to return to the ceremony, just enjoy the party.
This tradition gradually faded away, as things often do, as my brother and I went away to college, we all left the community where I’d grown up, and first Dad and then Mom passed away. I married a woman who’s not Jewish, and, as she’s far more religious than I am, the kids were brought up in her faith. And seders had been a thing of the past for a decade or so, when, reminiscing with some friends who also have a mixed marriage, it occurred to all of us that we should have one. And we did.
The planning was relatively straightforward. They are both excellent cooks, so they organized that part. I was in charge of the chicken soup/matzoh balls (which I delegated to my daughter, who has been making them for some years), and also the charoset, which is a sweet made from chopped apples, raisins, walnuts and honey, and if you think I chose that because it’s next to impossible to foul up, well, yeah. I also found a haggadah on the internet, which is cleverly enough called the Internet Haggdah, and volunteered to lead the service.
So, this Monday is the third in this new series of Seders. Both of the children are home for Spring Break, and will be there with us. I’ll lead the service once again, and while I’m not nearly as good at it as my Dad was, I think maybe he’d be proud anyway.