Manya Brachear Pashman
Manya Brachear Pashman
Co-host, People of the Pod

A Passover to remember: The Four Questions will be a debut & duet for both my children

For the next few days, every meal in our household will become a dress rehearsal for the Pashman family’s rendition of The Four Questions.

With grandparents now vaccinated, my family plans to drive six hours to celebrate with them. I suspect my in-laws set the Seder table a month ago right after they received their second doses of the vaccine.

Since it’s still not 100% safe to celebrate with a large group, we will Zoom with a dozen other relatives. But having my son and daughter at the same table with their grandparents this year is particularly special – a debut of sorts.

My 6-year-old son is eager to read anything, and everything placed in front of him these days. The Haggadah will be no exception. Though he is not the youngest in our family — my 4-year-old daughter claims that title — I envisioned this year as his debut reading the Four Questions.

In my journey through the Jewish world, I have discovered there are families who memorize portions of the Haggadah and families who read it all.  I grew up in a reading family. In fact, I memorized very little Hebrew growing up. To this day, I struggle with the blessings over the Shabbat and Hanukkah candles. For my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, the Haggadah was a script, albeit a familiar one, but a fabulous story that my interfaith family took turns reading around the table. That was part of the fun. Occasionally, we read the transliteration of the Hebrew, but that was often a messy affair for our semi-observant and non-Jewish relatives. We mostly stuck to the English.

The other night, as we Pashmans wrapped up dinner and began to clean the kitchen, I announced with great fanfare that this would be the year my son would read the Four Questions — because he can.

Standing over the kitchen sink, my husband began to sing the first verse of “Mah Nishtanah” in Hebrew. As the melody wafted through the kitchen and into the dining room, I watched my son stare at his father in amazement and my daughter close her eyes and start swaying. Like my son, I too was amazed that my husband could call up the Hebrew and the melody so easily.

When he tried to recall what the Four Questions in Hebrew mean in English, that was another story. Why is this night different, why do we eat matza, something about reclining? It was all a bit fuzzy. My son, meanwhile, offered up his own question. Why are we escaping Egypt in the first place? My daughter asked her father for an encore so she could keep dancing.

Music carves a deep memory. That line from a favorite children’s book about the gift of song immediately crossed my mind. My husband was always the youngest at his family’s Seder table, so he sang the “Mah Nishtanah” every year. Of course, it carved a deep memory.

I treasure the memories at my grandparents’ Passover Seders: my grandmother’s chocolate mousse, searching for the Afikomen, which my grandfather often replaced with the chocolate-covered variety, so the discovery was extra sweet, taking turns reading, tripping over the Hebrew pronunciations, laughing.

Now it’s time to create new memories. For the next few days, with my husband’s help, my children and I will rehearse the “Mah Nishtanah.” When we sit down to celebrate, my son will read the questions in English and perhaps do an exegesis on why we were escaping Egypt in the first place. There may or may not be a dinosaur in his version. My daughter will undoubtedly sing at the top of her lungs and incorporate some dance moves. It will be a duet by our two youngest reunited with their grandparents — a Passover to remember.

A version of this piece originally aired on March 25 on People of the Pod, a podcast about global affairs through a Jewish lens by American Jewish Committee. Listen here.

About the Author
Manya Brachear Pashman is co-host of People of the Pod, an American Jewish Committee podcast about global affairs through a Jewish lens. She covered religion for the Chicago Tribune between 2003 and 2018.
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