Passover is a big thing for Jews. Lots of cleaning involved and new rules for a week, such as no leaven or food mixed with leaven – things like pasta, bread, legumes and beer are a big No No. The house has to be cleaned from any trace of leaven – it is this time of the year when you really clean your place – Judaism is a very practical religion. You start your spring literally clean.
During Passover dinner it is a tradition to read the story of when the Israelis left Egypt, according to the old testimonial – Haggadah. It is a fascinating story and it is all about making sure people remember and not forget their history and where they came from – tradition. It is also about sitting as a family and friends next to a table full of food and wine. An interesting fact: four glasses of wine are a must and are part of reading the Haggadah. I know, I told you, Judaism is a very practical religion. I usually summarize Jewish holidays in one sentence: “They wanted to kill us, they didn’t succeed, so we eat!”
I was raised in a very non-religion family. I was a year and a half old when my parents were kicked out of their jobs and life in Poland and decided to move to Israel – 1968 following 1967 Six Days war in Israel.
My parents had a choice to move to the States, or Canada or other places in the world, but they chose to start a new life in Israel, with two girls and later on a third girl. Funny fact – the three of us are moms to girls only. We are 11 women in our small family.
I remember Passover tables as a feast of Polish food, this kind of food that you never have during regular week days.
Passover was different – all the food that we all craved for during the year, was there on the table. It was all home made and from scratch. From a stuffed carp fish, a matzah ball chicken soup, three kind of salads, a beef stew, a chicken dish and four different side dishes. Desserts where never the highlights of my mom’s cooking, and Passover kosher dietary rule made it even worse, so we had a “Kompot” – cold fruits’’ soup. Don’t ask.
Our house was a very non-kosher house, but on Passovers we agreed that we follow the “no leaven or food mixed with leaven” rule as a minimum, during the Passover dinner it is. More than that you could not ask from my father, who was against anything that had a smell of religion.
As my father refused to follow the tradition of reading the Haggadah, Passover nights where a night of a pure family gathering, where we saw relatives that we did not see for a long time and suddenly we got to see all of them together in one room for four hours. How fun, not.
I was the middle child and as 13 years old, my mother made sure to keep me busy all the time – cleaning the plates, bringing new dishes, pouring water or taking care of my younger sister who was too young to help. My older sister was in her mandatory army service, Israeli Defense Army, so SHE needed to rest.
That specific Passover night was special – my mom’s mom moved from Poland to Israel – eleven years after we moved. It was her first Passover ever and my mom wanted everybody celebrating together in our place as she was the eldest sister.
The “new grandma,” new as I last met her when I was a year and a half, was already dating a man in the nursing home she moved to when she arrived from Poland, six months ago. My grandma was 77 and he was 71 and she was doing anything she could to make sure he becomes her man. There was a fierce competition on men in the retirement home.
Some of the people who were sitting next to table put a Kippah on their head, as it is tradition when reading from the Haggadah. My father refused to do the same. They also brought with them their own copies of the Haggadah to read from and my father refused to take part of it. I gladly took a copy and made sure I sit next to them to hear the reading. It was a crowded table, 12 people in a small condo.
My uncle, my mom’s brother, brought the Haggadah copies, and was now trying to start the reading while my father continued other discussions that had nothing to do with the holiday.
I was fascinated. I learned all about it in school and heard about it from other kids at class, but I never had the experience in my own household. Weird but true. I always hoped nobody will ask me “How did the Seder go?” so I will not have to lie. I couldn’t say that we didn’t do the reading.
But still – a table full of Jewish people who are reading a story about Egyptian Jews and eating Polish food to remember them? It sounded like a joke. I thought it was hilarious and was waiting for the fun.
My uncle was very serious about the reading and knew what he was doing. His family was there as well, a wife and two young kids. It looked like they did it before and are enjoying every minute. This was the first time we celebrated the holiday together and I knew why – my father never agreed to go to their place and follow tradition and they didn’t want to come to our place as no tradition was followed.
New grandma kept piling food on her future husband’s plate, making sure he eats all the time. The way to a man’s heart is his stomach, or something like that, right? And boy, he had a stomach. In one point I heard him asking her if he can have a beer with his food. He was not into wine and the promise to have four glasses of wine during the evening was not as tempting as having a cold beer with the dry matzah that were the bread replacement for the night.
My new grandma didn’t hesitate for a second, and off she went the kitchen, opening the refrigerator where she knew she can find a bottle of a local beer. My father liked his Fridays’ beer and of course in our household cleaning the place from any “leaven food products” was not something that was followed.
At the same time that the beer bottle was getting ready to arrive the table, I saw my mother putting a beautiful dish in front of my uncle and father. It was a huge plate of mushrooms that were stuffed with ground beef, rolled in bread crumbs and fried to perfection. Our small family all loved this dish and I was suddenly drooling. My uncle took couple of mushrooms and so did my father, with a very weird smile on his face.
And then it hit me – the bread crumbs. The stuffed mushrooms were covered with breadcrumbs!
Want to Read more? You will have to wait… To Cont… Tomorrow)