I don’t have to look at a calendar. Lodze, the woman who has helped me clean my house for 25 years, and is by now as much friend as “cleaning lady,” already told me the first week in February that she is starting on my kitchen drawers and cabinets. Lodze is a religious Roman Catholic Pole who had family members who died in Auschwitz.
I don’t like Pesach. I dread it. I feel like I should make the shehecheyanu blessing, thanking God for “sustaining us and bringing us to this time” at the end rather than the beginning of the holiday. I’m grateful when it’s over.
What a confession from a FFB (Frum-From-Birth) woman who has made the seders for about 20 years.
When I was little and growing up on the Upper West Side, both sets of grandparents lived within two blocks of us. We would go to the first seder at my American-born maternal grandparents, my Nana and Papa, and to my immigrant paternal grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa, for the second. The first was lots of fun. My sister and I were the adored only grandchildren and we had two fat and funny uncles. Papa would find out in advance, in secret, what we wanted for our afikomen presents and he would surprise us by wheeling out a new bike or presenting a jewelry box on the spot. For the second afikomen, Grandpa, reserved and scholarly, always got us the very best tickets for the circus at Madison Square Garden. He had been poor when my father was growing up and if he could afford it in any particular year, my dad and his sister went to the circus and sat all the way up in heaven. To me the circus, especially up close, was a torture. I was afraid the trapeze artists would fall, the tigers would get loose (and get us first since we sat in front), and to this day, I am afraid of clowns.
My Nana died suddenly six weeks before Pesach when I was 9 years old. That year, the family went away to a hotel and all I saw was sadness and crying. Only as an adult did I realize what a trauma that time was for me. I have not enjoyed a Pesach since. My mother would cry for many years at every seder. I would always get upset.
I have tried to figure out ways to make the holiday, and the preparations leading up to it, enjoyable. But the drudgery overwhelms me (and I am not easily overwhelmed) and I just get crabby. I have involved the kids, and then the grandchildren, in preparing the food, and setting the table, trying to make it fun for them and me. Doesn’t work for me.
I have written a prayer to try to make the preparations more spiritual (see here if you are interested). I introduced a new tradition at the beginning of each seder acknowledging the work that went into the meal we are about to eat, the ceremony we are about to experience. I have tried to feel interested and entertained by the seder commentaries of two generations of kids. But I am, and was, always interested and entertained by them, not only on Pesach. (Although I still remember with a smile when my son surprised us with a Yiddish rendition of the mah nishtanah (Four Questions), and then a few years later, with a Spanish version. Now that was entertainment!)
So, I just took out my folder to start looking at my shopping lists and menus. I do enjoy being a host so we’ll again have nice, interesting people at our table. My husband will have all sorts of things to say, based on the Torah learning he does throughout the year, and especially in the weeks leading up to the holiday. I’ll feel cranky and bored and since no grandchildren will be with us this year, I can’t excuse myself from the table to read to and cuddle a sleepy child (OK, OK… and put my feet up and my head down!) But I’ll be gracious and smile even though the kitchen is my least favorite room in the house and what I do there are my least favorite things to do. I’ll smile with clenched teeth in that hot kitchen after hours and hours of planning, shopping, preparing, and cooking. And I’ll serve the meal and then clean up in the middle of the night. And I’ll try not to resent the whole thing. Yeah, right.
Truly, I’ve tried everything to make it a good experience for me. Nothing really works.
But, as always, and especially this year after a medical scare, I thank God for the good health of those I love and for my growing family, two new members of which arrived this year. I am grateful that I can set a pretty table and can afford the crazy cost of Pesach-dik food. And I will pray that God gives me many more years in which to prepare seders for family and friends, no matter how crabby and knocked out I get.
But in the end, all I can really think about is slavery.