Here is a picture of my son at his first seder, paying homage to his great-great grandfather Itshe Meyer Korolnek. I always loved Passover—or Pesach as we called it. Some of my earliest memories involve the two seders we would attend each year at my grandparents’ apartment on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive. My orthodox grandfather’s seders were true marathons. He wouldn't dream of skipping a single word (in English or in Hebrew) in the Hagaddah, the ritual book that is read during the seder. We savored every morsel of the boiled potatoes in salt water we ate at the beginning of the seder because we knew it would be hours until we had any more food. The potato filled the seder's “Karpas” requirement, the green vegetable for which most people use parsley or lettuce. This was a remnant from my family’s past in the shtetls of Poland where green vegetables weren’t available at that time of year. “These are so good,” my mother would always say, “why don’t we eat them all year round?” I recall the hefty chunks of raw horseradish my grandfather would make us eat for the bitter herbs, sending us all into dramatic gasps and coughing fits. I dream of my grandmother’s unparalleled gefilte fish, matzah ball soup, and brisket. And I remember how my grandfather placed a call to his parents in Toronto towards the end of the evening so they could sing together the Pesach songs from his childhood—“Chad Gadya” sung in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, and Russian!
As befitting the holiday, Charlie went straight for the sickly sweet Mogen David wine. All guests must down four cups of the stuff in the course of the seder. We started drinking that fermented Kool-Aid at an early age. Replacing our grape juice with the hard stuff was a rite of passage we all looked forward to. One year, my cousin Jerry and I drank so much wine we were falling-over drunk by the time Dayyenu rolled along. My memory is hazy on what happened next but I know at some point, I think just after we ate the hard-boiled eggs, Jerry punched me in the nose, sending streams of blood pouring down over my concord grape wine moustache. Oy.
There was no violence at our seder this year but plenty of excitement as we joined Jewish families around the world in retelling the story of the Hebrew slaves’ exodus from Egypt. As usual, I couldn't stop myself from pointing out characters and moments from the classic 1956 version of “The Ten Commandments,” the definitive cinematic treatment of the Passover story. I’m sure I invoked Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, and Yvonne De Carlo more often than the names of the actual biblical sages.
Last year Passover fell in mid-April. Kendall was pregnant and couldn’t partake in her beloved Mogen David (she’s the only person I know who actually prefers this wine to all others!). Of course we had no idea that just two weeks later our boys would be making their own exodus, four months ahead of schedule and in the most traumatic of ways. What we went through last spring made this Passover all the sweeter, as we passed around Charlie in all his roly-poly glory. I winced every time a mention was made of the plague in which the first-born son of each family must die. It was hard not to think of our own first-born boy who was taken from us last April. Did we forget to mark our doorpost with lamb’s blood?
I always use a fairly traditional Hagaddah but this year, hours before the seder, I suddenly craved more meaning, more connection to our lives today and the challenges we are facing. I found a wonderful progressive Hagaddah online, removed some of the pages that I found too P.C., and ran to Kinko’s.
To give you a taste of a Hagaddah that would NOT have been used in my childhood, here’s the reading that ended our seder:
Tonight we have acknowledged our ancestors. We vow that we will not allow their stories, their experiences, or their wisdom to fade. These are our legacy, which we will study and teach to our friends and children. The task of liberation is long, and it is work we ourselves must do. As the Talmud tells us: “It is not incumbent upon us to finish the task, but neither may we refrain from beginning it.”
And then, before chanting the traditional, L’shana ha-ba-ah b’Yerushalim!” (“Next Year in Jerusalem!”) we read together these words from feminist author Judy Chicago:
And then all that has divided us will merge
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both men and women will be gentle
And then both women and men will be strong
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the earth
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.
Wishing all of you a Happy Passover as you explore your own personal liberation.