When I was a little girl, we all lived with my grandparents together in one old house on Robert Street. When Passover was coming, it was the time to buy new shoes and a new spring Shabbat dress, which I could not use until the first Seder. After my grandmother and mother cleaned the house thoroughly, it was time to cook for the Seder. My grandmother was a great cook and she welcomed my participation in the kitchen. It was my job to break the eggs into a glass cup, check for blood spots, and if there were none, put them into a big bowl. Later, I beat all those eggs to add to the kugel. I think I counted and helped wash the potatoes too. In the days before the first Seder, my grandmother stored some of the cakes and cooked foods in her cold room until the Seder.
The day of the Seder, the chickens and chicken soup were prepared. The tables were set, bridge tables for the children and the dining room table for the adults. Matzot, charoset and saltwater were placed on the table. Wine was poured into shot glasses for everyone. The Maxwell Coffee hagadot were distributed. I practiced the four questions for the umpteenth time.
By late afternoon, all my aunts, uncles and cousins were assembled. Most drove in from out of town. As we all gathered in the dining room, the adults would re-commence their discussions and quarrels from the last time we saw each other. Then, my grandfather would begin the Seder by outlining the order of events to come. Later, I discovered that Seder means “order”.
Each of the kids who knew the four questions, asked them in turn. When I was little, I did not understand the Hebrew answers in the Hagadah. Later, as an adult, I realized that there are not direct answers to the children’s questions there. I learned the songs before I began to work out why the story is told indirectly. First there was the idea that there is order in life and everyone there belonged around that table, even the people who were missing the hockey playoffs and resented being there. I learned why we all got dressed up for the Seder, at a huge special meal, and drank wine, so we could feel like privileged people now. We used to be slaves and we are celebrating our freedom at the Seder. I realized later that we are part of the Jewish people, with a long history, and not just one family getting together for a great meal.
The children all drank so much wine that we fell asleep and we missed the most important part of the Seder. No, I don’t mean, the welcoming of Elijah the prophet or the wish to be in Jerusalem in the future. I mean Birkat Hamazon, thanking G-d for this Seder meal and all our blessings up to now, that we may not deserve, but receive anyway.
May you enjoy a good Passover with your family and friends this year!