Sunday, April 12, 2009

What Next

We’ve been doing Passover the same way for 100 years. Like a popular, but well worn, Broadway show, most of the original cast is gone and in their place there are equally talented but different players. Sure, there is comparison about performances, like the matzah balls are too fluffy or the chicken soup doesn’t have enough salt (nothing ever has enough salt), but all in all, over the years the recipes have improved and with the new fangled appliances, the work gets easier. Of course, we still argue about recipes and ingredients, but we have the cookbook to turn to in an emergency. And we argue about who was there which years and who said what to whom that started some trouble. But we are luckier than most families because we have an actual document that helps to guide us every year. And it provides us with the so many memories we are likely to forget, as our brains start to shrink.

As it turns out this little piece of family history has also inspired poignant comments from strangers. Letter such as this one are posted on the web site. I thought this was worth sharing.:

“My family is very small - I only have my 88 year old mother and 90 year old stepfather. They live in Florida and I'm in Washington, D.C. Their days of holiday preparation, let alone any meal preparation, are long over.
So this week was kind of lonely for me. I have good friends, but it's not the same.
Last night I was channel surfing and came across the 3 sisters cooking in the kitchen. I had no idea what I was watching -- and I was loving it. Couldn't stop. Then I checked the info button, only to see I was watching PBS and I cracked up when I saw the title of the show. I don't know how far into the show I tuned in, but it was long before the meat grinder broke. Watching those bubbies arguing over which way the blade should face and then trying (successfully!) to put together the new one from Home Depot was priceless. Even though my family has always been small, I have childhood memories of my late father leading the seder at my grandparents' home in Florida. Since he passed away in 1969, Passover has never had the same meaning for me. Until watching the show last night. I've never seen anything like this in my life. Old world meets 2006 (I saw the copyright date). Old family pictures. Remaining sisters (it broke my heart when they said that one of them had passed away since the filming) cooking "with love" and kibbitzing. This needs more salt. No it doesn't. Hysterical! Everyone sharing memories of past Passovers. Mentioning past seder leaders and introducing the new ones. And the eloquent speech made at the beginning of the seder. For a while, last night, I felt as if I was part of a beautiful celebration, even if it was from my sofa. I laughed hysterically and I cried, too. I was sad for all those times that can't be recaptured.You asked if I liked the show? Now you know! I loved it. The credits were hysterical. I bought the DVDs and cookbooks for my 2 best friends from childhood, my mother and me. Since my mom doesn't cook anymore, I didn't get a cookbook for her. I hope that the family tradition never dies in that family. And I hope that everyone appreciates all the love that surrounds them.”

I wonder if there’s a difference between events that you celebrate every year, like an ongoing New Year’s Eve party at someone’s home or a restaurant, and a celebration that becomes a family tradition. We always had a New’s Year’s party and for years served caviar with blini, tenderloin and assorted expensive goodies. But so many people moved on (in any number of ways and expensive was no longer an option), that we looked for an alternative. For us, Passover is not just something you can do until it gets too lonely or too expensive. It is a celebration that sustains who we were as a family and what we have become. But every year the number of guests seems to dwindle. We have successfully moved the celebration generationally and even geographically, four times — from Brooklyn to Boonton, NJ to Newburgh, NY to Caldwell NJ. But what happens when we’re gone? Will our children continue with holiday banter and fare? One of my cousins said it’s not about who comes on what year. It’s about knowing you have a place to go if you want to be there. I think that’s right, at least. I hope so. We're just sayin'... Iris

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