I made haroseth for my Passover dinner today, and in memory and honor of my mother, I kvetched.
“Why do the Jews have to do everything the hard way!” I clearly remember her bellowing as she chopped the apples and walnuts into tiny pieces. “If the men were doing this, it would be some kind of whipped topping, I swear.”
The first time I made my own Passover meal was when my son was three. We had been celebrating both Easter and Passover, in deference to his father’s religion. We gleefully decorated eggs, welcomed the Easter bunny with his requisite candy baskets and then used the colored eggs for our semi-Passover table when the timing was right between the holidays.
Although we celebrated Passover with my parents in the past, this would be our first holiday on our own—just my son and me. I had just joined a synagogue for the first time in my adult life and I felt a pull to give my offspring a religious base. God knows we needed some kind of anchor. My parents and sister and her family lived far away from us, I was newly divorced, and was looking for a kind of surrogate family. I called my parents for guidance and was sent a detailed list of foods I could serve for our Passover meal along with a Maxwell House haggadah with my father’s dogged eared pages and notes in the margins.
“I have no idea what you mean, Dad,” I said when I called him.
“Just do the parts of the service I marked, or you won’t be having dinner until midnight,” he advised.
The only part I remembered from my childhood was how to say the four questions in the service reserved for the youngest member of the family. I knew them in Hebrew by heart and couldn’t wait to show that off to my little boy. He was not impressed. He kept asking when he could eat a hard-boiled egg. That was the one question I didn’t know the answer to.
It was a lot for me to take in, but I was determined to do this right, even if our Passover was for just us two. I felt the responsibility to be a role model for my son. He would start Sunday school soon, and this was his initiation into our religion.
As I prepared the meal of matzo ball soup, chicken, gefilte fish, hard boiled eggs, haroseth –and set the Passover plate with the required shank bone, horseradish, parsley—I realized why it optimally takes two people to accomplish this holiday. How was I supposed to be preparing the meal, saying the prayers and serving the meal at the same time? It was a juggling act for an octopus.
By the second year, though, I had mastered the shortcuts I needed, and slowly enlisted my kid’s help as he got older. We were never extremely strict, but we always had the flavor of the holiday. Now that he is in his twenties, and our Passovers have changed quite a bit, I am sentimentally grateful for those special times together. Somehow his presence in my life was enough to bring me back to the fold and allow me to connect to my ancestry through age-old tradition and observance. Not to mention food.
Which brings me back to my mother’s tradition. Chop, kvetch, boil, kvetch, mix, kvetch, bake, kvetch. Then sit back and enjoy your family and be grateful for them, and all that came before them.
Happy Passover and Easter to all.