Recalling a Family Seder

    April Passover 2006 Edition            
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Grandma Rachel's Passover Pounce and Pinch

By Shirley Coles © 2005

With all of the richness of Passover still in the atmosphere of my own home, I am taken back to the time when my heart learned I was born Jewish. I am taken back to the sights and smells and people which formed the world that formed me. All of these would become part of my identity, my way of making a home, my way of parenting.

With little effort, I can still see my mother and aunts helping my Grandma Rachel to get the meal ready for fourteen people. This is the Passover that remains indelibly in my memory. I was almost ten years old. There should have been fifteen chairs at the holiday table, but my father had passed away some months before. Thus it was that my grandfather, Joseph, and my uncles took over the task of teaching me about the holiday. They answered my many questions as I was at the age when children are hungry to learn. The women never seemed to get in each other's way, although it was obvious that Grandma was the captain of the ship. My two cousins and I were able to eavesdrop on everything while we played under one of the extra tables. Little did we realize then that we were taking in some very important lessons, traditions and a strong sense of belonging.

Grandpa Joseph's job for the day was to monitor the "kinderlach" and remind us of what was to come during the Seder. He and my uncles told us of asking the Four Questions, of the Seder Plate, and of the afikoman, the half piece of unleavened bread which had been placed between two other pieces, broken in two and then hidden somewhere in the house for a child to discover. When it was almost time to sit at the Passover table, we were washed, combed and dressed in our best. Later, we would try to find out where Grandma had hidden the special piece of matzo. In times past there were lovely small gifts for the child who found it.

Listening to the story of Passover as told by Grandpa was magical; he was a gifted story teller. Cousins Marilyn and Lila and I were rapt even though we had heard it before. Learning and knowing that we were descendants of a people who had survived such incredible hardships as ten plagues brought on by the Pharoah Ramses II of Egypt about 3000 years ago had me holding my breath at times. When we heard of the eventual flight of the Israelites out of Egypt, only to find that they were trapped by the sea, we were more than ready to hear about God's miracle. The waters of the Red Sea parted, allowing the Jews to reach the opposite shore. Pharoah's army, attempting to follow, perished as the sea closed over them.

There was one small price we had to pay for the successful matzo hunt. Before the gift was given, one had to literally dig in their heels and brace for Grandma's onslaught. Flushed with the kudos for her amazing meal, and maybe more than a few sips of what we then thought was Ginger Ale or Coke, she would marshal every bit of grandmotherly love for her grandchild, find her way breathlessly around the table and despite all efforts to protect one's face, she would pounce on the hapless victim, grab both cheeks, pinch mightily as she kissed so loudly that we feared being inhaled.

No one can pounce and kiss like my Jewish grandmothers. Grandpa Joseph was given our kisses, but my Grandmas were the givers, and they saved the best ones for special occasions. Several times we all but fell over together. But, am I complaining? Do I kiss my grandchildren that way? Not only am I not complaining but I am grateful for the unconditional and total expression of love. I am two generations apart from these two amazing women, and I do indeed love my children. Somehow, it has manifested itself in a more conservative way. I think we have lost something in the translation. Nevertheless, they know they are loved, they know they are growing up Jewish, as are their children.


from the April Passover 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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