The Jewish world is now in the heights and depths of Pesach preparation. After weeks of seeing our markets pushing Pesach in their inimitable styles we are now in the final days and in real panic mode. So much to do. So little time. It just can’t be done.
But it will. Thy will be done!
Much of the work is in the planning, the cleaning (if only hospitals were as clean as my kitchen right now) and the cooking. We get so involved with the domestic chores that we funnel out the essential meaning of this holiday of freedom. Well, don’t look to me for advanced religious dialogue and philosophy. My mind reverts more to menus and memories.
Interestingly, with all our gourmet aspirations, the seder menu remains pretty traditional, in all our homes. Ashkenazim either do or do not include kitniot but you can lay your bets that there’ll be chicken soup, kneidel, roast chicken and the like. If our ancestors came back, at least those from the past 100 years, they’d recognize the seder meal. And, if in America, they’d certainly recognize the Maxwell House Haggadot.
What they wouldn’t recognize is the cast of characters. Their own progeny and they wouldn’t recognize them? It seems to me impossible to believe that my parents, who died in the latter part of the 20th century and later, wouldn’t know some of the family members at our own seder. I would have to introduce my father, Sam, to his great-granddaughter Samantha who bears his name. They’d be strangers. Bizarre. My mother wouldn’t know the young man who was named for her, now a student at Yale. They too would be strangers. He was born less than two weeks after she died. These people and their cousins are so important to me and yet my own parents would not know them. Which means, of course, that they wouldn’t know Noam and Itai, the latest additions, our two great-grandsons. I can’t get that through my skin. History has made our family a family of strangers. Strange indeed.
Aha! If my grandparents were alive they wouldn’t even know any of my own children. And only one grandparent would recognize my husband. Where did the years go?
So, we sit at the seder and we do the traditional service, we smell the tempting fragrances and we think this is how it has always been. Yes and no. The menu stays pretty much the same. The Haggadah is always undergoing revisions but we still all eagerly await the four questions as our youngest participants thrill to the pride that their recitation always includes. But, the people of our long term memories are the real revision. Even if I think gone but not forgotten, that isn’t quite true. Gone, but never known. Really! I always think of Eliyahu arriving on a magic carpet carrying some of my long lost loved ones to our Herzliya seder and gazing at each other in confusion and wonderment. Who are these people sitting at this seder? Well, Mom, Dad, and beloved grandparents, they are all yours. Be proud. I only wish you could know them.