In the Suburbs: Carrying on Passover traditions a rite of passage
Published 7:37 am, Saturday, April 4, 2015
Saturday evening, the second night of Passover (Pesach), we will hold our first seder in our new home. We'll celebrate this special holiday with family and friends, as always, and my wife will go out of her way to prepare a wonderful meal (butterflied leg of lamb this year -- a first).
And by the time we complete the Steve Gaynes traditional, albeit abbreviated, seder service (maybe 20 minutes tops), everyone will be snacking.
They'll probably take some extra charoseth (a delicious mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon, sweet Concord grape wine and perhaps a little honey) spread on Matzah, the unleavened bread that our ancestors took with them as they escaped 400 years of bondage. And, usually, no one will leave the table, except for bathroom breaks, all evening.
Pesach is the holiday that always grounds us and brings us closer to family. No matter what is going on in our lives, we stop for one or two nights, surrounded by loved ones, celebrate freedom, peace and spring.
Although my wife and I have lived in six places, we've always invited a lot of friends, just like my folks used to do. My wife and I welcome any guests (we have been told it is Mitzvah -- a necessary good deed for the holiday) from different religious backgrounds and cultures. And we love having folks who have never been to a seder.
In the '70s, for instance, we invited members of our marriage encounter community, and 30 people piled into our living room and dining room in Jackson, Mich. They all read and sang, and it was beautiful. Other evenings have been equally touching and memorable.
Last Pesach, we were a small group enjoying what we hoped would be our last seder in a home we had listed for sale. It was! That night must have been a sign. We sold the house a week later.
There are so many memories surrounding this beautiful holiday, but, for us, most of them relate to food. One memory will always stand out. After 2012, the year we lost my mom, we not only felt a huge void without her, our stomachs felt a huge void without the incredible gefilte fish she and my aunt used to make in Chicago. Mom's gefilte fish was really a mix of about three fishes, ground up and blended with onions and seasonings and skins, cooked in a huge pot with heads and bones lining the sides.
In 2013, we drove to Chicago, and my wife continued the tradition by making the fish with my aunt, my mom's sister. Even my dad, mom's chief tester, thought the fish was almost as good as mom's.
Gefilte fish either traveled with mom in a plastic container, arrived as air freight (when it was still possible) at LaGuardia, came by Greyhound and finally was shipped via Federal Express. The travels of gefilte are definitely the best.
And relative to those stories, I was touched by a piece in The New York Times this past weekend called "All Grown Up & in Charge of the Seder" by a former Connecticut resident and author, Jennifer Weiner.
"The Seder foods all mean something in Jewish history," Weiner wrote. "When I was growing up, everything on the table was tied to a specific person, with tradition adding layers to the feast. Gefilte fish appetizer was always made from scratch by my Nanna, who would fly up to my mom's house in Connecticut with the fish in a Playmate cooler, wrapped in layers of trash bags and labeled with a strip of masking tape that read, simply, `Fish.'"
Weiner really got me, though, when she wrote about how her Nanna passed the torch to her.
"Last year, my 99-year-old Nanna made the trip, fishless, from Florida to my house in Philadelphia. I bought the fish, and she sat in my kitchen and coached me through the grinding and mixing and boiling, the importance of the fish skins and heads and bones for making a good broth ..."
This year, my wife passed the torch of the chicken soup to our older daughter, who will be making it with the ingredients her mom uses. Of course, my wife's recipe is what our family calls "schiterein" -- a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And it will be wonderful, I'm sure.
Weiner captured my beliefs about Peseach perfectly with just one line -- "Carrying on the family traditions, marked my rite of passage to adulthood."
She is so right.
Steven Gaynes "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.