The traditional Passover story tells of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, my Passover story is about my family. Over the years my family has been together and apart at Passover, and we tell the story of our own continuing journey. In my mind are snapshots of holidays over the years; the people who are no longer in the picture, the people who have joined it, and faint images of those we’ve yet to meet. For the past five years my siblings and I have been the senior generation; the keepers of the story.
My earliest recollections of Passover are of standing in my grandma’s steamy kitchen in Queens. My family included my paternal grandparents, my father and his three siblings, their spouses, and my cousins. The images are dim, but I do remember my grandmother giving me tastes of what she was preparing, and of playing Candyland with my cousin Arthur, in the bedroom that was right off the kitchen, and filled with the sounds and scents of cooking.
In 1967 shortly before they married we went to Julie’s house for Passover. Our soon to be family was there, my dad, my brother and me, as well as my future mother, sisters, Connie and Susan and grandparents, Dave and Yetta. I also remember with some guilt, a mean trick Connie and I played on Susan; after Susan got the afikomen, we managed to steal it from her. No hilarity ensued, instead this was the first of many tense sibling/parent negotiations that would be a theme of our family life.
Our new family hosted Seders for years. At first, in addition to the six of us, we had all the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins; seventeen people! Eventually my mother stopped inviting uncle Jerry and his family as they invariably arrived at least two hours late, making the Seder almost untenable for hungry children sitting through an hour long service waiting to eat the first morsel of food. Uncle Larry married and divorced twice offering us a few years of three extra cousins, and a lot of drama.
We moved to a new house, and lost my maternal grandmother, then Dave and Yetta. Connie’s boyfriend David spent many years with us before becoming my brother-in-law, then Andy, my older sister’s husband joined us, and then came all the kids. Eloise, the first grandchild was born while Susan and Andy were stationed in England. By the time they returned we’d added Yvonne. Years sped by, as they do. We gained Jeremy, Amanda and Rachel, adding both joy and frustration to the events. There were the years Connie and Dave were in Switzerland, the years we invited friends to join us. There were fights and ill-will, fun and silliness. There was and is always singing.
My father had always led the Seder, but it became a misery when my dad showed little patience for the interruptions that are inevitable with little kids. When my sister volunteered to lead the Seders things got easier and more pleasant. Then we lost my dad, and the faces continued to change, as did the dynamics. Except for the year my dad died, we spent the holiday at my mother’s house in the Berkshires until her death. Now my sisters and I share hosting Passover. This year we will be at my house, and we’ll be missing my two nieces, Amanda and Yvonne, there will be eight of us, one of the smallest Seders I recall, but there are many more Seders and Passover stories to come.