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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Passover is coming, part 2

Passover is, I think, the essential Jewish holiday. 

Just as the Crucifixion and the Resurrection are the core elements of Christian belief, the Exodus from Egypt and the Giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai are the core of Jewish identity.  At Passover it is incumbent upon Jews to retell the story of the Exodus, to reenact it. Scripture tells us that if G-d had not redeemed our ancestors, surely we and our children and our children's children would still be slaves. 

And, unlike most Jewish holidays, Passover is centered on home rituals: holding  a Seder, reading the Haggadah, eating the prescribed foods and drinking the required four cups of wine.

The Haggadah my family uses was printed in the 1960's.  The booklets are falling apart, they are stained with wine, there are matzo crumbs caught between the pages.  And we will never replace them. 

The Seder plate is a family heirloom, inherited from my paternal grandparents.  I never met my paternal grandparents, they died before I was born, but their memory lives on in a piece of china they bought as recent immigrants to this country, probably about 100 years ago.  When I posted a picture of the plate on Facebook, my cousins were quick to share stories of long-ago Passover dinners at our grandparents' home, events that took place long before I was born, but part of the fabric of our family.

When I think of Passover, the first thought that comes to mind is my father leading the Seder.  The last few years have been difficult, because failing eyesight, and then dementia, robbed my father of his ability to read the Haggadah and lead the rest of us in prayer.  The role fell first to my mother, and then to my daughter Becca.   L'Dor Vador, from generation to generation, in accordance with the Biblical commandment:  "And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying, It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt." (Exodus 13:8)

Yet, even though he was compelled to relinquish the role of leader, my father was at the Seder every year, he played an integral role in our service and celebration.

And this will be the first year we hold a Seder without him.  It will be painful.  Bittersweet.  Emotional.

My paternal grandmother died in...I think it was 1955.  My father always said she died erev Pesach, the night before Passover.  He would say "And we came home and held a Seder."  He seldom talked about his mother, except around Passover, when the joy of the holiday mixed with the pain of the anniversary of her death. 

And now I understand his pain.

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