By Shelley Fyman
I met Shelley at a writing workshop and we became instant friends. Through the years we kept in touch, both sharing our faith along with our love of writing. She is a conservative Jew, and in this piece, she shares her memories of the Seder.
My earliest Seder memory is sitting on Grandma Rose’s and Grandpa Harry’s couch in their living room, with several younger cousins and my brother; the table was fully opened and placed the length of the couch, bedecked with plates, silverware, wine cups with napkins underneath to catch the plague-spills, the seder plate which held the symbolic foods to tell the story, and hagaddahs (the book which held the story).
Of course holiday candles had been blessed and lit. Everything was shiny and festive, and everything had a story, which is why it was placed on the table – to attract the children’s eyes and get us to ask questions.
In Grandma’s house we usually ate in the small kitchen, except for Seders. My aunts and uncles sat on chairs across from the couch where the children sat. My Grandfather read the entire hagaddah in Hebrew, start to finish—aloud and with ancient melody. My father began the tradition of doing it in English, simultaneously, and each adult took a turn reading a page or two.
The telling of the story begins with a child asking the Four Questions. Every child had the chance to say as much of the formula as he could master.
The food was fantastic. There was chicken soup with baby egg yolks and matzoh balls. There was chopped liver, gifilte fish, tsimmis, Passover rolls homemade, chicken, beef, potato kugel, salad… to name but a little. For dessert we had sponge cake, fruit and nut logs, and of course, fruit compote.
The most special marker of the holiday was the matzoh! We were forbidden to eat any for the month prior to the holiday so that it would taste special and yummy on the First Night of Pesach.
There were songs, unique to the season, and we all had a favorite, which we sang out loudly. There were games incorporated into the service; for example stealing the afikomen and then ransoming it back for whatever we were offered.
There is the myth of Prophet Elijah, for whom a place is set at the table, and wine poured. At one point the children go to the door and open it for Elijah, leaving it ajar in the hope that he will come and drink. And we watch the level of the wine in his cup, swearing that we saw it go down! And we all had wine, four cups by law had to be consumed for the seder to be ‘kosher’. Of course, some cups were larger than others. But all the children had rosey cheeks and slept well that night.
I have attended more than 60-years worth of seders, and each one shares these similarities. However now I am the Grandma, and I am passing on the pride in tradition and making memories for my granddaughter, Manhattan Sarah.