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Op-eds

Don’t break the chain that is Pesach

  • Howard Feldman 2018
As a child, I loved Pesach. I loved changing over to the weird, outdated crockery and mismatched cutlery. I loved my new clothes that signalled the start of winter, that were too hot to wear in April, but worth enduring in any event. That is, just because it was Pesach. And I loved my new shoes that would blister my feet, but I knew would improve by the end of the festival.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Apr 18, 2019

I loved the family time, when all the cousins would get together for the seder. I adored the collective negotiations around the afikomen gifts. Even as little as we were, we knew that my grandfather was pretending to look the other way when we “stole” the piece of matzah he had precariously balanced on a glass next to him. We also knew that he had instructed my father to watch it carefully so that we didn’t take it.

I loved that we never got caught stealing it. Even though it came close. Every year.

I loved how no one ever tired of talking about my grandmother’s knaidel (matzah balls). And how each year, we would listen in rapture as she described how the first batch had failed and were too hard, while the current offering was falling apart. But we all, apparently, preferred them that way.

I loved the conversation around the table which seemed so important, and drew me in. I loved noticing that there was some kind of mini power struggle among the adults. It didn’t go unnoticed that my parents would whisper fiercely on the way home about a guest who was at the table and had behaved inappropriately.

I loved how they never suspected that we knew who they were talking about, and that all the children had spotted the behaviour even before the adults had.

We could have told them exactly how many extra glasses of wine that guest had snuck in when they thought no one was looking.

I loved the boredom that would follow an interesting conversation, and how although the seder was meant to be about us kids, it never felt like it.

But of course it was.

Because it was at the seder that we learned that the father of our forefather Abraham was an idolater, and that we didn’t need to pretend that he wasn’t.

And it was at the seder, surrounded by those that loved us, that we learned that anti-Semitism existed thousands of years ago. We learned that the stories of Passover and Purim and of Hitler’s Europe, were the same story, but with different actors in the lead.

We learned that there were times in history when we had to endure the most terrible and painful cruelty because of our faith. And that by implication, we probably would have to do so again in the future.

And at the same seder, we learned that we don’t celebrate when our enemies drown. And that they might have inflicted years of oppression on us, but we still remove wine from the glass because it doesn’t make us happy to watch anyone’s demise.

I loved the different foods as much as I hated the deprivation.

I don’t recall the stress of the cleaning that seems to be all the rage now. My mother might have been difficult and unpleasant in the weeks before, but I recall none of it.

Rather, I recall waking up early on the first day of the festival, and making our breakfast – gebrokte matzah – which was essentially crushed matzah with coffee, sugar, hot water, and milk. It tasted terrible, but I remember the process of crushing the matzah so vividly, my fingers still hurt. As does the knowledge that I can’t remind my late mother of those experiences. And that I can no longer thank her for creating those memories.

What I can do is make sure that I pass on the memories and rituals to the next generation.

More than any other festival, Pesach taught me what it means to be a Jew. It taught me about identity, family, love, compassion, and history.

It taught me that G-d has a plan, and that sometimes, in the moment, it is hard to understand or comprehend what it is.

It taught me the value of tradition and of ritual. It taught me that each of us has a responsibility not to break the chain. For our children’s sake.

Chag Kasher v sameach!

1 Comment

  1. 1 Douglas Davis 18 Apr
    Chag Kasher v'Sameach. And thanks for your columns, Howard. Much appreciated. Douglas

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