Passover is one of my favorite holidays. When I was a child, my maternal grandparents owned a delicatessen, Al’s Delicatessen, in Long Beach, Long Island. The store, which is what we called the delicatessen, was open from the end of Passover to Labor Day. Long Beach is an ocean town with a lot of seasonal visitors. In the off season, my grandparents worked in hotels in Miami Beach.
Before they opened the store for the season, they had a big seder for friends and family. The room would be filled with tables where all my relatives sat talking loudly. All of the kids were at one table, me, Fred, Sara, Marla, Linda, Stevie, Marsha and Stanley. I think Lowell was a baby.
My grandfather conducted the seder in Hebrew, speaking really quickly. The place was filled with people and always noisy. There was often singing, not from my family, but my Great Aunt Fay, her children and grandchildren could all carry a tune. I didn’t have any idea what my grandfather was saying but I was always able to figure out when we were done because we got to eat.
The food was delicious. My grandmother was a great cook, especially when it came to Jewish food. She couldn’t make a hamburger but her matzah balls and brisket were fantastic. I can still see her wearing a beige apron wrapped around her waist with her kind face smiling.
At the seder, the grandchildren always got special treatment. Somehow, one of us always found the afikomen (hidden piece of matzah). If we didn’t, we still got a treat. That was the kind of person my grandfather was.
Perhaps these wonderful memories are why I like Passover. I also like that it is family based and takes place in the home. The holiday message of freedom and liberation is meaningful and timeless. My grandmother died when I was ten and a few years later, my grandfather sold the store. After that my mother organized family seders which of course had fewer people.
My father, who didn’t speak Hebrew, kept my grandfather’s pace, but in English. The seders were still loud and lively but there was no singing. My mother tried her best to replicate my grandmother’s tasty dishes. That kind of cooking did not come naturally to her so I give her a lot of credit for trying.
Once I had my own family, I made seders. I have tried to prepare my grandmother’s dishes , filtered through with both my mother’s and my adaptations. From 2005 to 2009, my first cousin’s daughter, Nina, went to Hampshire College so we saw a lot of her. She attended our seders and has continued to do so even after she graduated.
Our seders are loud and lively. We even sing, very off tune, but we do it. My favorite song to sing is not really a Passover song. It is Rise and Shine, about Noah’s ark. We sing it because I know all the words and I think it is funny.
Last year, we had a virtual seder on Zoom. I am grateful that this year we can celebrate Passover in person because we have been vaccinated. Almost of all of the people who made my childhood seders so special are gone. My brother is also deceased. I am glad for those memories and the memories I have made for my family.