Passover Memories

    April 2001 Passover Edition            
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How My Family Willingly Gave Up Freedom At Passover

By Ronit Sarig

Passover is just around the corner, and a stranger unfamiliar with Jewish holidays wishing to purchase a ticket out of Israel is bound to be disappointed. All flights are fully booked, and it is expected that Israel’s international airport will see record numbers of outgoing flights in the next few weeks. This exodus of people wishing to cross the sea has nothing to do with religious symbolism and is not a reenactment of Moses parting the waters for the Israelites. In fact, this act resembles the biblical story in one respect only - it is an escape from family oppression and matza terror. At this time of year all Jewish people must answer one simple question: can we or can’t we sit through one more Seder with the family, or will we be better off staying in some hotel in Europe, eating croissants and making believe Passover never happened.

Personally, I always liked Passover, and it never bothered me that everyone had to do what my aunt said, or else. This was the one day in the year when my aunt took complete control over the family, and needless to say, not all family members appreciated being ordered around like schoolchildren. My aunt insisted on reading every word in the Haggada, and no skipping of irrelevant paragraphs, usually suggested by the younger members of the family, was tolerated. My aunt disregarded jokes, special requests, pleads for reduced sentences, and all cries of hunger. We read it all, sang it all, ate everything we were told, drank it all, two cups as instructed, and finally, at long last, were rewarded with dinner. Of course by then nobody was very hungry, but everyone ate anyway. Overstuffing yourself in Passover is part of the tradition.

For most families the second part of the Haggadah remains a mystery. After the coffee and cake most family members retire to the couch, and spend the rest of the evening chatting and catching up on family news, occasionally stopping to take a deep breath and sigh, “I ate too much”. Negotiations over the price of the afikoman are only a formality, since no one intends to actually read the rest of the story. But not in our family. After dinner my aunt allowed everyone fifteen minutes to recuperate, and then insisted we all come back to the table and continue reading. People begged to be given a break, promised they would follow the Haggadah from their place on the couch, said they were tired, explained they ate too much.

Occasionally a new family member, someone who married into the family and was ignorant of the powers that be, tried to convince my aunt to give it up. This act of bravery was acknowledged by all and secretly supported, but all the same it was doomed for failure, as we all knew. Eventually, among grunts and complaints, we all came back to the table and as before, did it all, to my aunt’s great satisfaction and happiness. Some years, depending on the mood and the participants, we would finish singing the songs in the Hagadah, and continue singing other songs for quite a while, and for once we would all feel like a family that belonged together.

Nowadays things are very different. My uncle died last year on Passover, and my aunt has not been the same since. She seems to have lost all interest, and this year, for the first time in over twenty years, did not have the Seder at her house, but went to her son. The family itself is not the same either. Talk of divorce, hard feelings between the sisters, illness, all these have altered the delicate balance that allowed for a reasonably pleasant get together.

As for me, for the past ten years I have been living in Los Angeles, and the last family Seder I participated in was three years ago, at a time when things were more or less as they always were. This was when my girls were still in preschool, and before I went back to school. I was still free to choose when I wanted to fly out to Israel, and I chose Passover. Nowadays, even if I could pull my daughters out of school for three weeks, there would be no point. Last year we were lucky to have my sister in law, her husband and her three children visit us from Israel, and so we had a family Seder. Other years we got together with friends, and while it was always nice and pleasant, it was never quite the same.

Sometimes I want to stand in Israel’s international airport with a big sign saying, “stay for the Seder”, but even if I did, I doubt anyone would pay any attention. People get impatient with their family, they get tired of the same old discussions, the same old jokes, they think, “so what if we miss one seder?” I guess one Seder would not make much of a difference, but people need to realize their family will not always be the same. People die, people leave, people get sick, they get old, and what a family once had, and what was taken so for granted, may easily become memories the following year. As for me, after ten years in Los Angeles, the most difficult times are still the holidays. It is during those times that I miss having a family and the sense of belonging that comes with it.


from the April 2001 Passover Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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