Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Building – and Keeping – Traditions

Oh, I love New Things, but Old Things hold such comfort and warmth. Here in Alaska, far from our original hometowns, we’ve had to create our own traditions: our own Thanksgivings, New Year’s Eves, Passover seders.

Let me tell you how much I love Passover! In telling the story of the exodus from Egypt, we tell a story of slavery and freedom, injustice and social conscience. We do this while sharing a meal and enjoying each other’s company. It’s a thousands-years old tradition, but for us, now in our Third Thirds, our version is almost thirty years old, too.

We tend to alternate Thanksgiving with Bob and Connie so this year, Tim and I got the seder. This means that I got to pick the haggadah, the book we use to proceed through the rituals, engage our kids, and give meaning to the holiday.

I pull out my huge collection of haggadot and that’s where I see the years of accumulated Passovers. My very first: a faded, yellowed one on newsprint, the one we used back on Long Island, the free one from Chase and Sanborn Coffees. Mine has a post-it note on it, “Love, Mom.”
Then I have the college haggadot from Liberation Seders. Each year, we’d focus on another population that needed both freedom and our attention; One year, gays and lesbians, another year Ethiopian Jews. I had lots of them so they were the ones we first used in Alaska. This year, my new additions focused on refugees.

I remember that first seder in Alaska. Gathered together were maybe a dozen of us who’d all grown up with our own family’s Passover. We all thought that’s how seders had to be done, and then we encountered … deviation. “No, you’re not allowed to eat until we finish.” “My family always let us eat.” Sacrilege!

Mark reminded us about the time he’d been assigned matzoh ball soup. He’d had no idea what he was doing so he just got some matzoh and kind of broke them up and kind of stuck them in canned chicken broth and kind of made a mess of the whole thing. This year, he brought Brussels sprouts. Marla did the soup.

There are years of tradition in the charoset, the mixture of apples, walnuts, wine, honey, and cinnamon. One year someone introduced Sephardic charoset with dried fruit, different spices. One year, a newbie didn’t grate the apples or chop the nuts: it was like a chunky salad, not like the mortar it’s supposed to represent. And then, because one of the kids had a nut allergy, we offered a non-nut version.

Kids changed the Passovers over the years. Kids meant the introduction of the shorter haggadot, the ones with pretty graphics, the ones that didn’t take hours.
As we sat at this year’s seder, with Rebekah the youngest and so the one who had to ask the Four Questions, we looked around. Yes, there had been a time when Tim was the youngest. Max and Sophie used to do it together, and now Max is back at the table as an adult.

There was the year Sophie and I bought little toys of the Ten Plagues: rubbery frogs, little cows, plastic bugs. Somehow, when tossed out, they stuck to the ceiling. Throughout the seder, frogs would rain down on us. It was very profound. For months afterwards, I’d find plagues in the potted plants. I hope Sophie found a seder this year, that she’s creating her own traditions.
This is what I know to be true: every year, Connie will want to make the special Passover dessert; Celia will make gefilte fish from Alaska fish (halibut or salmon). Rebekah will usually slice all the eggs with my special egg slicer. Someone will grate fresh horseradish root, and I will repeat the story of the time I grated it, sniffed it in the food processor, and passed out on the kitchen floor. Karen will remember the time, after dinner, when her dog grabbed the leftover turkey plate and ate it all. Poor _____, not a Passover goes by without someone remembering the time as a baby he projectile vomited grape juice all over the single guy at the table. Things change, and things remain the same.

This is what tradition is: the memories that hold us together.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Sharing Button