Although I’ve eaten in my share of restaurants and things, the most satisfying meals I had were at home with family especially before this ugly nightmare started.
My most memorable meal was always the 2 Passover seders our family had each year. Every year it was my Mother and Father, my sister and I, my Grandparents and later Grandmother, and my great Aunts and Uncles. I don’t remember there ever being an extra guest but I think maybe in there was here and there. Passover was such an ordeal the first Passover meal was like the climax of all the cleaning and switching out dishes.
You always knew what was going to happen and what to expect as the meal progressed but everyone acted like it was new and fun. At the beginning, the men went off to ritually wash their hands. Then, the prayers started in Hebrew and English. My family was old school and the men “davened” very quickly in Hebrew but stopped at sections in the Haggadah to let the family read sections in English. The book would be passed down the table for family members to read certain sections at the prompt of the seder leader, usually the great uncle that presided over the seder at his house, and, later, my father.
My most memorable English part is the Four Sons. My sister almost always got the Wise Son and I got the Wicked Son, and, later for some reason I got switched out to the Simple Son. Simple son, eh? Wonder if it was because I was oblivious to what was happening. No one ever told me why I never got to be the Wise Son. The most memorable Hebrew part was of course, the Four Questions, to only be said in Hebrew. We both were required to ask the Four Questions I think and, later, I think I asked them alone even though I was older than my sister.
Later, we would have the Bitter Herbs where everyone, especially the women would pass judgement on how strong the horseradish was this year. We’d take a stick of raw horseradish and eat it after dipping it in salt water and later in charoseth which is apples nuts cinnamon and wine (with tons of variations) and eat it some with stoic bravery others with coughing and tears running down their face. Then, we’d do the blessings on the vegetables (or were they first?) and the matzoh (which we’d eat for 8 days afterward) and make blessings over “matzoh sandwiches” made with matzoh and charoset and horseradish. After that, we’d get hard boiled eggs with the shells on them and play the “egg game”. We’d smash them against each other and the last person with an uncracked egg won. Then we’d dip them in salt water (signifying tears) and eat.
After that was the meal, and, depending on which great uncle’s house it was at, how good it was. One great aunt could hardly cook and the other one was THE cook in the family. The main course was usually a turkey or a brisket with overcooked veggies and a kugel and various other sides. I forgot the chicken soup which came first. The bad cook’s soup came with “sinkers” or heavy matzoh balls that sank and were barely edible and the good cook’s soup came with “floaters” or light matzoh balls that were delicious. BTW I make floaters.
Dessert was fruit salad and a “passover cake” made with lots of eggs and baking soda and sometimes passover candy and macaroons. Later, I went to a seder that featured chocolate covered matzoh but that was way later.
After the meal the Hagaddahs were brought out and the wine cups refilled (even us kids got wine) and the later part started. We kids would be expected to find the afikomen for a “reward” which usually was only a buck at one uncle’s house and 5 bucks at the other. I think when my father ran it the reward went up to 10 bucks. We kids, usually the two of us would ransack the house to find the matzoh wrapped in a ceremonial cloth. Once it was found we were asked what “reward” we’d like for it but the prize was usually the same all the time. Then, the piece of matzoh was broken up and eaten with a blessing and we could have no other food until morning which was just as well since we were pretty darn full by then. Also, Elijah’s cup would be filled and the relatives would swear he drank some of it. I dreamed every year he would ACTUALLY come but of course he never did. I’m a little weird.
At one point our father had to bless us. I used to think it was a weird part of the seder and now I know it was very important because if no one prays for you you sink into a life of curses. I often wonder if my father meant the blessings he imparted to me even though he meant them towards my sister. Now, that I’m separated from family and have no church to go to no one prays for me and it shows. You can feel the spiritual oppression the lack of lightness, when no one prays for you.
At the end songs were sung which the old men mostly knew. I remember the one “dayenu” or it would have been sufficient–that God would have performed this or that miracle without all the other miracles and the one about the little goat that got eaten by something and that something got eaten by something else. After that it was usually about 10:00 or 11:00 and we kids would be sleepy and later as we were teens, half drunk on the four cups of wine. We would drive home, usually through the SNOW, because back then it almost always SNOWED on Passover no matter what time of year it fell. I was like the snow on Halloween…death taxes and snow were the certainties of my childhood. Nowadays it could be cold but it could also be hot. The warmest Passover I remember was at my Aunt’s house way back in the 1980s. It was a late Passover and it went over 80 degrees. The lilacs were blooming outside. I wore a summer dress not the usual woolen skirt and sweater.
The last family seder I remember going to was the year my mother died. All the old aunts and uncles and all the grandparents were dead. I was out of college and my sister was in graduate school. My mother was getting over an injury but still was strong enough to put on the seder. We invited various members of my father’s family then including an uncle and a cousin. I remember it being a large seder for our family there being at least 12 guests. My cousin, who turned into a perp, drove me home.
I sure miss the family seders. It was one of the few times reality did not seem so bad in my world. The seders and other Jewish feasts and fasts were the glue that kept the family together. I miss them terribly even if I didn’t relish sitting in “shul” 4 hours every Saturday. I used to go to the seder at another family’s home but their seder was far less detailed and shorter than ours. My father remembers seders in his youth that went to 2 or 3 in the MORNING. The other family’s seder was focused on the food and they used another Haggadah, most of it in English. I put on a “Christian” seder about 10 years ago where I cooked and overlooked everything but it bombed. Later, I was invited to another Christian seder that bombed and did not even go off. I left there in tears wondering if the perps had engineered it. Most of life today is bitter tears and disappointment now.
I will not be going to a seder this year. Another thing lost, another thing mourned. I used to like Easter as a new Christian but I nothing planned for Easter either this year. The best Easter I had was before I converted when I went to sunrise services with a bunch of people (pre targetting of course). The last family seder I was invited to was in the late 1990s??? but I had to say no because they had a multiplicity of pets and I have allergies.
My family will be having a seder this year a 1000 miles away as usual and as usual I will not be invited.
p.s.–I forgot the Gefilte Fish which was sometimes prepared by HAND in a grinder along with the homemade horseradish sauce .