passover magic by roni schotter

Passover Magic tells the story of one seder filled with--you guessed it--magic. Every year, Molly's family welcomes a houseful of relatives--kvetchy Uncle Bernie, drowsy Uncle Arnold, Aunt Ina the worrier, and the very charming Uncle Harry, full-time dentist and part-time magician. Just in time for the holiday, Passover Magic by Roni Schotter is the March selection of The PJ Library.

While this family participates in all the rituals you might expect--preparing huge pots of chicken soup and matzah balls, chopping the haroset, dipping parsley in salt water--that's not what makes their celebration magical. It's Uncle Harry--making the afikomen "disappear" and then casting a spell to bring it back, along with a squirting bouquet of flowers, of course.

But if you ask me, that's not the only magic at their seder. When we celebrate Passover with the same family or friends year after year, we develop our own personal, and often idiosyncratic, traditions. There's magic--though not the abracadabra kind--in the way Harry dotes shamelessly on his wife Eda, and the way the whole family crowds into the kitchen to help with the preparations. The way Uncle Arnold dozes off on the chair, and the way the family joins hands and dances in a circle to welcome Elijah the Prophet. That's a kind of magic that can be found at almost any seder, with or without a part-time magician. The magic of loved ones being themselves. Year, after year, after year.

I grew up in a family like Molly's that also served the traditional foods and performed the customary rituals. But when I think back to my childhood seders, these are not the memories that stand out. Instead, I think of my brother Ken's annual joke after the singing of Dayenu. "So," he would say, "you mean to tell me, if God had drowned the Egyptians, but not led us to dry land…it really would have been enough?" I remember my mother's repeated attempts at flourless sponge cake that more closely resembled concrete. I recall our outlandish theories about the mysteriously named "Rabbi José" cited in the old Maxwell House Haggadah. That was our Passover Magic.

Now that I'm a mom, I usually host and lead at least one family seder. I make sure to retell "Uncle Kenny's Dayenu joke" and manage to effortlessly botch at least one Passover dessert, just like my mother (an otherwise excellent cook, it must be noted). I hope we're also starting to create new traditions that will seem as essential to my children as the Rabbi José joke did to me. (Our current haggadah calls him Rabbi Yosi, which is way less funny.)

It might be their father dressing up as Pharoah, or my insistence on having a meatless seder for the sole purpose of being able serve Matzo Crack Toffee Crunch in all its buttery goodness without violating the prohibition of mixing meat and dairy. Odds are, our magic won't be created by mixing potions and casting spells, and it probably won't be found on the pages of the haggadah. It will be about the members of our family, coming together year after year after year, and just being ourselves. We make our own kind of magic.


pj library logoThis piece is part of our monthly series with The PJ Library. The PJ Library program sends Jewish-content books and music on a monthly basis to families with children through age eight. Created by The Harold Grinspoon Foundation in partnership with local Jewish organizations and philanthropists, The PJ Library is available in more than 130 communities across North America.

Amy Meltzer

Amy Meltzer is an educator, author and mother of two. She blogs at Homeshuling, where she writes about raising Jewish children while spending very little time in synagogue.