On the eve of Passover 5772, you can file this one under “Be Careful What You Wish For.” You see, throughout my childhood, I wasn’t particularly fond of Passover seders. My grandmother (and later, my mom) hosted enormous seders with aunts, uncles, cousins galore, and always a few “strays” as we called them—friends whose kids were with the in-laws that year, folks who were new to the community, acquaintances who weren’t able to travel to wherever home was.
The Haggadah reading was inevitably an interminable snorefest and the meal was culinary torture. Aside from my grandmother’s chicken soup with matzoh balls and the haroset (chopped apples mixed with nuts, sweet wine, cinnamon and a bit of honey), there was nothing on the table that floated my boat. Not the chopped liver. Not the eggs and onions. Not the gefilte fish, even with the gloppy jelly rinsed off. Not the chocolate Passover cake layered with Cool Whip. And not the brisket. Especially not the brisket.
Though it was always lovely to see the mishpocha, every year I wished we didn’t have to have a seder.
Fast forward a few years. As happens in many families, once the elders started to dwindle, the individual family units started to splinter off and have their own holiday celebrations. I now had toddlers of my own, and a home in which to hold a big, festive seder, and I eagerly embraced my new role as de facto host. I loved the opportunity to use my fancy dishes, and I relished having the liberty to select gourmet recipes that weren’t necessarily traditional but were always Passover-appropriate. After leading a couple of seders using my parents’ Haggadahs, I even decided to write my very own version. I researched the story of Passover and the traditional prayers and customs that are part of a seder, and I actually wrote and illustrated (to the best of my pathetic artistic ability) the Reiser Family Haggadah, which I premiered at the seder I made while 38 weeks pregnant with baby #4. It was so well received that we’ve used it ever since, making additional copies as needed.
And then, unfortunately, our seders started getting smaller and smaller. Siblings got married and had in-law obligations. The grandparents stayed in Florida instead of traveling north. There was illness, and sadly, loss. We moved away and couldn’t swing school-night seders two hours away. But I remained committed to making seders for the six of us. Revolting as I found it, I even dutifully made brisket for David. One year when he was heavily involved in a business transaction, it was just me and the kids. But I wanted to light the holiday candles, fill my Nana’s Lenox seder plate, and give the guys a Passover meal and service, no matter how abbreviated. Each year it got a little more isolating and lonely. I realized that in my heart, it wasn’t about the exodus story or the food. Passover always brought me back to those dreaded seders of my youth when I was together with a big, loud, crazy extended family. And I slowly concluded that there’s just not a whole lot of joy or meaning in cooking a bunch of unappetizing food myself so I can munch some matzoh and speed through the telling of the Passover story with the very same five people I have dinner with 300+ other nights of the year—much as I adore them.
I suspected there’d eventually come a year when I just couldn’t muster it. This is that year. There doesn’t seem to be even a trace of wistfulness in my decision. Yes, I’m fully aware it completely invalidates my application for Jewish Mother of the Year. But we’ve made our own literal exodus, and we’ll be together as a family for the day, the evening, the weekend—under the full Pesach moon—even if it’s (hopefully) without a reminder of frogs, flies, locusts, blood, gnats, boils, hail, pestilence, darkness and death of the firstborn.
So savor your seder if you’re having one. Don’t wish away the time you’re forced to spend with your brother’s annoying mother-in-law, your crotchety Uncle Harvey, and cousin Phyllis and her loose dentures. Read those four questions with gusto. Have a maztoh ball or two for me. Help your little nephew find the afikomen. And above all, please give my best regards to Elijah and tell him I said, “Cheers!”