I wrote and published the piece below several years ago. It is the “think back” part of my story. As we all know, this year (despite what Trump says) churches will be empty on Easter. The only Easter egg hunts will take place within a nuclear family sheltering in place. And for those of us who celebrate Passover, a Zoom Seder was the best many of us could do. Most of the special foods are unobtainable anyhow. Just my luck that we had been invited to celebrate with friends of my daughter, their parents, and my daughter’s family. All I had to do was bring was the soup. Instead, my husband and I sat by the computer with our Haggadahs and attempted some version of a virtual Seder with our children and grandkids, minus most of the foods described below. When we got to reciting the ten plagues, I know all of us were thinking about an eleventh one that was keeping is apart this year. Next year, at a real table with loved ones.
PASSOVER PREPARATION FEELS LIKE BEING A SLAVE IN EGYPT FOR ME
When we got to reciting the ten plagues during our Zoom seder, I know all of us were thinking about an eleventh one that kept us apart this year.
I’m not a particularly observant Jew, so I really have no right to complain about Passover. After all, I don’t switch all of my dishes or buy a totally new pantry full of food or clean my house obsessively to remove all traces of chametz (leavened bread). The latter might not be such a bad idea. I could rid my home of all those cracker crumbs and Pirate Booty pieces wedged in my furniture by my grandkids. Does anyone do spring cleaning anymore?
I digress – back to Passover. Here’s what I do have to do if I am hosting a Seder:
Plan a menu that includes a ridiculous variety of food regardless of how many people are coming. Even though most of us could live without these things (and live longer), we will need chopped liver, gefilte fish, chicken-matzo ball soup, kishke, hard-boiled eggs, a matzo casserole (call it what you will – they all taste the same), seasonal vegetables, potatoes, chicken and/or brisket, and at least three desserts. Same menu for 10 or 30 people.
Shop many times over, searching for foods that are easy to make and also kosher for Passover. This means going to several markets in neighborhoods that stock these things. And going back again and again because I have forgotten one thing.
Buy a huge quantity of matzo. I could buy one or two boxes but it’s so much cheaper to get the 5-pack. Ditto a massive number of eggs. I told you this was not a holiday for the healthy.
Create the Seder plate. That means making charoses, a dish of chopped apples, nuts, cinnamon, wine, and assorted other goodies, depending on family tradition. We will also need parsley, a roasted egg, horseradish root (or a jar of horseradish). Finally, my personal challenge – I will need a lamb bone. This item is not usually available where I shop, but I can’t bring myself to use a chicken bone. So, I go to a butcher shop where they stock these. It’s just one more shopping trip.
Make a special dessert that everyone will eat without using flour. It’s not impossible. I’ve made flourless chocolate cake, chocolate mousse trifles, and any number of special mixes (see shopping above). All of these items call for 1,000 eggs and lots of sugar. More healthy eating.
For a woman who is accustomed to cooking easy meals for two, all of the domestic demands tend to freak me out. But who am I to complain? If I were observant, I would be covering all of my countertops and preparing all of this in specials pots and pans.
The next step is planning the Passover service. Since I have young grandkids, none of the six sets of Haggadahs I have purchased over the years will work. The traditional Seder starts at sundown and can last past midnight. Ours can’t be more than fifteen minutes long or my grandkids will bolt. I spend hours editing A Children’s Haggadah, which is already abridged, to its essential parts. I know – they should learn to sit and listen, but I know they won’t. I decided a few years ago that it was better for them to participate and enjoy it than to watch them squirm and for me to sit and listen to their whining.
If I were setting a proper Passover table, I would need my nicest tablecloth and napkins as well as special dishes, silver, glasses, and wine glasses that I only use for this holiday. Since I am far from proper, I shop (again) for the nicest paper and plastic ware I can find. I must remember to put out dishes of salt water for dipping and lots of wine in case we get past the first cup.
A website on how to prepare for the holiday recommends a nap before (LOL), but I know that will never happen. In my tradition, I must work myself into a state of exhaustion to begin the Seder in the proper frame of mind. Then, I must miss parts of it going back and forth from the dining room to the kitchen to fetch important foods and keep everything hot. By the time we get to the page that says, “Dinner is Served,” I’m ready for my nap.
When our kiddy Haggadah proclaims, “This year all Jews are not free,” I briefly think that applies to all of the women-folk who put this production together. But I know I am being ridiculous. I think about people all over the world who wish they were lucky enough to have all of this food to share with people they love in the comfort of a home. I look at my family and guests and understand why this is the one holiday celebrated in the home rather than in a place of worship. After slaving over all of the preparations, I am free to partake in the blessing that is sharing a wonderful tradition.
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.