I sat on the brick hedge in the yard, warm winds swirling under a gray spring sky, and wept. It has been so many years since I sat in my grandparents’ living room, around their long majestic table, my grandfather’s jolly smile and big belly presiding over the Passover Seder.
Grandma was in the kitchen, bustling among the chicken soup pots and gefilte fish platters, scooping her homemade chopped liver into a china bowl and arranging the salads on glass plates with the finely chopped hard-boiled egg on top that was my grandfather’s signature.
We kids would commiserate under the table when we were very young, plotting and strategizing about how to steal the Afikoman, or middle matzah, the “dessert” of the festive meal, from between the pillows underneath our grandfather. He humored our first few attempts, catching us just as we tried to grasp the napkin-wrapped matzah, but eventually he let us steal it, pretending not to notice.
My male cousins were always the ones who somehow got the line to read aloud that mentioned a woman’s breasts. (Those translations really go for the literal.) Giggling spread like wildfire around the table and whichever boy had to say the offending anatomical word turned shades of pink and red.
We sang the few verses of Dayenu that we knew and at some point, my grandfather or my grandmother would start to laugh, triggering laughter in the other one, tears streaming down their faces, as they laughed in unison, one of the traits of their long marriage.
That’s what Passover always meant to me.
Yesterday, I was remembering it all, and missing my grandparents so much. Grandma just passed six months ago, making this the first holiday without her. It’s an aching hole in my heart and soul.
Grandpa has been gone for nearly 13 years, but I can still feel the warmth of his soft hands and the happiness of his spirit.
So I’m trying to find my own meaning in Passover, as we rise to the leadership generation, guiding the younger ones. Holidays were always about the cousins coming together and family all around. The meaning and observance were secondary; the people, primary.
This year, we won’t be with family because we want the meaning. But I think that was a mistake. I believe I can marry the two and have special memory-making rituals alongside the rump and ruckus of children playing and enjoying their cousins and family.
So next year, that’s the plan. This year will be nuclear family and a night of friends and then we’ll pack everything away until next year – except before we bring out the boxes, we’ll plan a bit so that all areas of the soul are touched by the beauty of ancestry, the richness of tradition.
On Passover, we ask, why is this night different from all other nights? We are supposed to feel as if we are exiting Egypt, leaving oppression and slavery. We are directed to sit around a table and discuss how the stories in the Haggadah are meaningful to us today.
I’m going to start with, this night is different because we take time and slow down, to be together, to recognize our special traditions, to shine a spotlight on generations that have come before us and handed us a legacy fraught with story and rich with lessons.
This night is different because we make it so. Not because we’ve slaved (pun intended) for days or weeks to get it all kosher. It’s different because we allow ourselves to be different.