Passover: Passing Over

    April Passover 2005 Edition            
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Pass over

By Charlene Hecht

I can still smell dinner cooking as the four of us make our way slowly down the hallway in the apartment building my grandparents own on Brady Avenue in the Bronx; each and every Passover, way back then…

I begin to skip… down the hall, to the right, up the stairs… two flights… two steps at a time, three more steps. I get there before my sister. Ha! I knock; three quick meaningful taps to announce our arrival. I touch the shiny brass number "3" on the door. I see Grandpa's eye peer out through the peephole… the door opens and the warmth pours out, as if directly from the oven; the oven where Grandma stands, dressed in her pretty cream colored skirt and sweater Set.

I recognize her holiday outfit from beneath the bright, cheerful apron she has on. She's wearing her fancy opal earrings and the necklace that I love. She looks so pretty on Passover. She smiles, gives us kisses. Her family has arrived to partake of the heavenly holiday meal she has prepared for them. Grandma has put two leaves in the table, more room for tradition. She has used her finest linen, a lace tablecloth makes the table look like it, too, is ready for the special event that is about to take place.

She counts on Grandpa to set the table just the right way, the way it should be set for Passover… he double checks his well worn holiday book, it's corners turned back, the important places saved for future reference. He licks his index finger and turns to the next page, then glances up at the table. All tradition wrapped up in proper cloths, on proper dishes; the colorful ones that we use only at this time, once a year, at Passover; the special seder plate Grandma brought back from Israel, a gift from one of Grandpa's sisters, proudly in it's place, near the table's center, a bit closer to wear Grandpa sits; it's symbolic meaning, we are about to proclaim.

The word seder means order. We sit at our places around the table, open our prayer books, and with proper words begin this year's sacred seder: "Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha'olam borei p'ri hagafen." We start with the blessing over the first cup of wine. Grandpa sings the familiar melodies. We are together, our quiet little family. We are joyful, we make a holy noise together… in the same order as it has been done for the past two thousand years. We help to carry the tradition on to the next generation. The youngest gets to recite the four questions. My sister: "Mah nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleilot?" Why is this night different from all other nights? And the story is told. Each year we listen, each year we learn, each year we sing.

Grandpa leads and we follow. We pray. We sing. We clap. We bang on the table. Grandpa's loud, energetic, melodious version of Dayenu: "Da-dayenu…da-dayenu…da-dayenu, dayenu, dayenu…"

Our souls are filled; with happiness, with love. Years go by. We can hear Grandpa's songs in our head any time we chose to listen. We look forward to the warmth. We look forward to next year, together. Dayenu… means "it would have been enough for us".

"Mah nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleilot?" Why is this night different from all other nights?

We arrive at the door. The number "3" is not as shiny this year. My sister knocks. She gets there first. She glances back at me, triumphantly. Grandma opens the door. The food smells divine.

Something is missing this year. It's Grandpa. Our leader. He passed away last summer. It won't be the same without his voice at our table. But we have to carry on, in the same order, for the next two thousand years… don't we?

Father takes his seat at the head of the table. The role of leader gets passed over to him. He looks nervous. He checks Grandpa's book. We check, too. Is everything as it should be? No. Grandpa's not here. We are not as joyful. It is hard to sing. Dayenu is sung quietly, slowly this Year.

Grandma uses her napkin to wipe the sadness away. Dayenu. It would have been enough for us, if only he were here. The years go by. The seder plate takes it's place near the table's center, a bit closer to where Father sits.

We are joyful again. Father's special song comes at the end of the seder: "Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya Dizvan aba bit'rei zuzei…Chad gadya, chad Gadyaaaaaaaaa..."

Father is never this animated. He never seems to be having this much fun. He gets up from the table. He dances round and round. He laughs. He derives such pure joy from leading his family in song.

Unlike the other holidays, when Father's praying is done at the orthodox Temple, away from those he loves most, the Passover holiday is celebrated at home, around the family table, in the same order, for the past two thousand years.

"Mah nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleilot?" Why is this night different from all other nights?

Many years go by. Father sits next to me in the car. I come around to help him out. I help him up the stairs… slowly, carefully. He rests… three more steps. He rests again.

I knock on the door. My sister and her family are already inside with Grandma. She got there first. She smiles. My family is there, too. Something is missing this year. It's Mother.

Father and I have just come from visiting her. She is recovering. She has had open heart bypass surgery. Father has cancer. We are allowed to visit Mother for a short while, she is still very weak.

Mother and Father in the same room, but worlds apart. I sit between them, trying to get either one of them to talk, to me, to each other, but they are quiet, each suffering on their own, each worried about the other.

It is so hard. I still want them to take care of me. I am the child. We say goodbye. I walk Father back to my car, slowly, carefully. We are at Grandma's now. It is the first night of Passover. The food smells the same. Nothing else is.

Grandma greets us, She's not smiling. Worry fills her face. "How is mommy?" she asks.

"She's comfortable. Still sedated," I reply as I help Father off with his coat. He is so weak. We take our seats around the table. Father asks to lay down.

The couch is in the same room. He can hear our songs, he can hear our prayers, but he can not lead us, he can not even follow this year. He sleeps through most of the Passover seder. We miss Mother, and Father, too. There are no special songs this year. Just heartfelt prayer and hope. Next year, all together, in health, we pray.

"Mah nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleilot?" Why is this night different from all other nights?

My daughter shouts, "They're here!! I'll let them in." She practically flies down the stairs and to the door at the driveway where they have parked. My sister gets in the door first. She has brought Grandma and Mother this year. She has brought them to our house to have Passover. Grandma brought her seder plate, the one from Israel. She wants me to have it. "This is for you, you will have the seders. I want you to have this now."

In the same order, for the next two thousand years. Something is missing this year. Father. He passed away three weeks after last year's seder, the seder we quietly had at Grandma's.

Mother is stronger now, sadder too. Her heart has been repaired, but it remains broken. She misses Father. She wants to be with him again. She yearns to hear his voice. She looks for him in messages, in dreams. He is not with us this year. My sister's husband is the leader now. He has a beautiful voice. He has learned the prayers. He knows the order. He checks the book.

I've set the table. The seder plate sits near the table's center, closer to our new leader. We have children now, my sister and I. Their voices add merriment to our gathering. We must carry on, for the next generation.

"The food, it smells sehr gut," says Grandma. "Not as good as when you cook it," I assure her.

She has made the matzah balls. They are packed away in her suitcase. She's also made a sweet potato pie, just for me, she says. She knows how much I love her sweet potato pie. I carefully unwrap the packages of food.

Grandma's matzah balls; I add them to my soup. And together we carry on. We give Dayenu and Chad Gadya a special tune this year. We chant. We cheer. We dance again. We tell our children about their Grandfather and their Great Grandfather.

Mother and Grandma cry as they hold us close. The circle that remains. The circle weakens when links are torn out, forever, but we join together again, in strength, when we remember to repair the breaks in our circle. We add new links. New family, new friends. Our circle is strong again.

"Mah nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleilot?" Why is this night different from all other nights?

My children are older now. They will miss the seder, but I don't think I can do one this year. I call Grandma on the phone. She lives far away. "I'm feeling better," she says. "but I can't make such a big trip to you.

Yes, you should go to the Temple seder by you. It will be nice. Take the children. They will enjoy themselves."

The word seder means order. There is no order, there should be no seder. My family, my friends want me to carry on, for the next generation, for the next two thousand years. It is so hard.

Something is missing this year. Mother has passed away, two months ago. Her heart broke, the repair failed, she is gone. This Passover holiday is when my own heart feels heaviest. It is the holiday when we should pray together, at home, as a family. The holiday when we should sing the songs, chant the prayers.

Who will sing the songs my Grandfather and Father and Mother sang? Who will chant the prayers? This night is too different from all the other nights. Can one make a joyful noise when those you love, those you feel safest around, no longer sit at the table beside you? We must repair the circle. We must find the strength.

"Mah nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleilot?" Why is this night different from all others?

We carry on. Years pass. We pass the tradition on to the next generation. One of my sister's sons has us all to his home this year, to be with his family. We walk slowly down the sidewalk, up the stairs. We ring the doorbell. The food smells just like it did. The warmth, it feels so good.

My sister isn't there yet. I got there first. His red hair, his first name, just like Grandpa's. He is the leader now. His wife looks so pretty on Passover.

He checks the book. He sets the table according to tradition, just like his Great Grandfather before him. We gather at the table. Order has been restored. The seder plate I have brought with me is proudly placed near the table's center, closer to the seat of another new leader, Grandpa's namesake.

We pick up the first glass of wine and the proper words ring out: "Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha'olam borei p'ri hagafen." He has the same voice. The same order. We honor our ancestors. We pass the tradition over to the next generation. My nephew's favorite song? Dayenu… it is more than enough for us.

It is just as it should be.


from the April Passover 2005 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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