This Friday night, we begin our eight-day holiday of Passover. I have written more about this Jewish holiday previously on my blog in this post and this one where I shared a simple recipe for chicken and matzah ball soup. During the Seder we tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Most Jews can probably remember celebrating a Seder at some point in their life no matter how observant or religious they are. When I think back about different stages of my life, I can remember celebrating Seders in Israel, with college boyfriends and their families and more recently (the past decade) with my own family and a variety of friends who have joined us in our home over the years.
I often tell non-Jewish friends and colleagues that Passover is as intense as the Christmas season. Swap gift shopping for food shopping, baking dozens of Christmas cookies for hours spent cooking traditional Passover foods like haroset, brisket and gefilte fish as well as the additional days of cleaning our homes and clearing out all of the chametz (bread) that is forbidden in our houses during the holiday.
Finally, the Passover holiday also requires that observant Jews use a separate set of dishes that hasn’t been in contact with chametz. So in addition to the cleaning and cooking there is also the schlepping and reorganizing of your kitchen. I must admit that there is a big part of me that dreads Passover. I know how much work it is to prepare for the holiday and the weeks before I begin actually preparing I spend too much energy fretting and worrying about everything that needs to get done. Yet every year the same thing happens. I find the cleaning to be an opportunity to touch cabinets and drawers that deserve a spring cleaning and a good wipe down and pulling out the Passover items puts me in a time warp. I have several Haggadot (the Jewish book we use that tells the order of the Seder) from when my kids attended a Jewish preschool. The Haggadot include velcro matzahs, hand drawn artwork and photos of my children at age 2, 3 and 4, unbiasedly adorable!
When I was a newlywed and we relocated to Portland, Oregon, we had just a handful of dishes that first year. Probably four plates, four sets of utensils and a few glasses. In the late 1990’s after my husband and I had bought our first house, my folks sent me my grandmother’s glass Passover dishes. My beloved Grandma Rose greatly influenced my Jewish identity and I have many fond childhood memories of my grandmother, most revolving around eating and cooking. She was a kosher caterer and her food was always delicious. Her Passover dishes were nothing special just a simple set of glass dishes but each year when I unpack the dishes, I often feel her nishamah (soul) close to me as if these dishes that she used and touched transcend time and the traditions I continue are the same ones she celebrated.
Several years ago, I tucked some letters that my grandmother had sent to me in the final years of her life into the Passover pantry. After I graduated high school and left Vermont to attend college in California, we wrote to each other regularly. When I find them in the Passover closet each spring (which I somehow forget are there from year to year) I read her words in her scratchy handwriting and feel her love and adoration for me, her first grandchild. They also remind me of my connection to my past and my link in the family and always make me smile.
I hope others find that the work of the holiday is lightened by the ability to continue a family tradition and feel connected to loved ones who are no longer here to celebrate with us in person but whose spirit remains with us always.
Wishing you a wonderful and meaningful Passover.