Not My Father’s Seder

Passover is my favorite holiday. In truth it always has been. I’ve been thinking about not just why that is the case, but what makes it so special.

I would guess that many of us have Passover memories that go back throughout our childhood. I clearly remember the process of Passover, the scrubbing, the boxes of dishes and all the rest being carried up from the basement to be washed and put away. I remember that our first Seder was always at my grandmother’s house. My mom had a big family and many of us would gather, all dressed up in holiday finery, always a new dress for me and always a pair of shiny black patent leather shoes. The dining room would be full of adults and we were relegated to the children’s table, positioned somewhere between the dining room and living room. No one seemed in a hurry to be promoted to the adult table — we were sure our table was much more fun. It was loud and endless and joyful.

Second Seder was just the four of us at home, gathered around the dining room table. My dad (as always) was in a suit and tie and we were all dressed nicely as well. The table was beautifully set and the house was filled with the aromas of chicken soup, brisket and all the rest. I kept my eye on the sponge cake, my favorite both then and now, waiting for the dessert course to finally be served! And although our house often had fresh flowers that came from our yard, at Passover my dad always brought my mother flowers as a symbol of the holiday and a sign of spring.

Dad would daven every word of the Haggadah as if he were in shul, speeding through until he got to a point where we had to participate in some way. My brother and I would have already negotiated who was going to chant the Four Questions. Although he was eighteen months younger, “deals” could be made and often were. Whoever was cast in that role, though, had to practice. Dad did not tolerate any stumbles! We would keep our finger in the page that indicated that the first part of the Seder was over and that it was time for dinner. Despite the speed of Dad’s davening, it always seemed to take forever.

Today my Seder experience is different, in many ways, than the one I grew up knowing. I wonder sometimes whether my Dad would have approved. For first Seder this year, I joined residents and families at Jewish Home Assisted Living. Dad would have appreciated the formal setting and meal although a Haggadah largely in English might have taken some adjustment.

Second Seder this year would have been even more of a stretch for Dad. We hosted family and friends and that he would have loved. I bought copies of a preschool oriented Haggadah for all of us, hoping to engage our grandchildren, knowing that there were to be five active children under the age of 5. I’m not sure whether Dad would have been singing the silly songs set to the tunes of things like “London Bridge” and “This Old Man” or whether he would have found the whole thing too nontraditional for him. I do believe that he would have welcomed Miriam’s cup of water sitting next to Elijah’s cup of wine and he would have been the first to put an orange (“a woman belongs on the bimah like an orange belongs on a Seder plate”) right in the middle of the Seder plate.

While our Seders might not be what Dad was accustomed to or might even be able to accept, I know that there are elements that would have resonated with him. Seeing multiple generations around the table would have thrilled him and he would have wanted a chance to hold the newest baby and try feeding him every item on the table. He would have kvelled at the way his grandchildren have grown up and the beautiful families they are building and he would have welcomed our friends with open arms. He would have appreciated the menu and he would have said the things he said every year, telling us, as an example, that the “egg soup” (chopped egg in salt water) was delicious but only delicious at Seder.

Someday I hope that my boys will host Seders in their own homes, I hope that they will remember the traditions of their own childhoods and the importance of sharing holidays. Above all, I hope that they will remember the importance of family, whether yours by blood or by choice.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is a member of the boards of LeadingAge and the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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