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Apr 5 2012

Bringing the Seder to the Hospital

By at 3:03 pm
grandpa with baby girl

My dad with one of my daughters, Maya.

One year ago, I blogged in this space about how I’d be skipping the seders. I was pregnant with twins, and my scheduled c-section fell on the morning of the second seder. My husband and I were sure that God (and our parents) would forgive us if we sat the seders out, just that once. So instead of a Hillel sandwich and my mom’s farfel-apple-kugel, we had veggie burgers (no buns) and went to sleep early.

Fast-forward eleven months. It’s Passover again, and preparations for a seder at my parents’ house have been underway for weeks. My dad bought the new Safran Foer/Englander haggadah and he has the plastic frogs ready to keep the kids occupied. My mom’s placed her gigantic order of meat at the neighborhood kosher butcher and she’s already changed over all the dishes in her kitchen. I’ve bought all the ingredients for my kosher-for-Passover mandel bread, just about the only thing I know how to bake and my (sorta pathetic) contribution to the meal.  Jon isn’t on call this weekend, and the family—ours, my two sisters with their husbands and children, my aunt and uncle, great aunt and cousins—will all be together for the seders once again.

Except we won’t, because we just found out there won’t be a seder, after all.

On Tuesday, my dad was admitted into the hospital and today we were informed that he won’t be discharged until Sunday. So he’ll miss the seders. And we’ll miss the seders. And Passover will pass us by, again.

My dad has lung cancer. He was diagnosed a year and a half ago and since then, he’s been a hero of immeasurable proportion. Considering the grim details of his diagnosis, he’s beaten odds and been oddly upbeat. I don’t have to tell you how in the past year and a half we’ve all sunk to the lowest depths and then bounced back, buoyed by incredible scan reports and positive visits to the oncologist. Our story is not unique, but it is unique to us. For me, my dad’s illness is the center, the apex of all things horrible and dreaded. He is my best friend, and this diagnosis was a raw slap in the face, an end to the innocence I had held on to for way longer than a thirty-something gal is meant to.

And yet, this post isn’t about that. My dad, thank God, is in the hospital for a minor procedure, and it should make him feel much better. When I saw him this afternoon he made no less than three bad puns, kissed Jon on the cheek and told me he loved me more than I loved him.

Rather, this post is about a realization I had hours after visiting my dad, when I was back home in Brooklyn, chopping blueberries to feed Avi and Maya during dinner. I was feeling blue. But I wasn’t just down because my dad wasn’t feeling well; I was down because another year was going to pass without a Passover seder at my parents’ house. And I miss it. I miss the way my mother’s kitchen smells of brisket. I miss the sun falling onto the long table in the late afternoon, lighting up the fancy wine glasses and the colorful lamps and the blue glass bowls from Israel. I miss sitting on the floor in the living room amidst what seems like hundreds of little kids (seven or eight, really) and eating kosher-for-Passover potato chips. I miss singing songs about the four sons and maniacally chanting Chad Gadya with my Great Aunt Dubby. I miss falling effortlessly back in time the minute I cross the threshold of their home. I want the warm, familiar holiday, the warm, familiar Jewish stuff my parents have provided us with every year since always.

But as Avi grinned at me, blueberry stuck to her cheek, I realized that as an adult, and as a mother, I have an obligation not just to receive the holiday experience but to create it and provide it, too. This year, we’re thinking of bringing Passover to the hospital. Maybe we’ll stuff all seven grandchildren into my dad’s small room, sprinkling the floor with matzah crumbs and the gold foil from Barton’s chocolate lollipops. We can still sing Chad Gadya and pour the extra heavy Malaga for my dad to sip. And I can sing Dayenu to Avi and Maya and it’s still going to be Passover, even if it doesn’t occur on the cul-de-sac where it has since time immemorial. Passover isn’t just the long table and the beautiful stemware. It’s not just the bowls of salt water and the brisket. Passover isn’t just something my parents give to my sisters and me.

Rather, Passover is the gathering of the group, the retelling of a story in all of its variations, no matter where it occurs or under which circumstances. It’s still Passover, even if the smells are different and the stemware is Styrofoam and the food is brought in from the kosher deli.

And next year, while we might not be in Jerusalem, I pray we’re in a much better place, a place where we can all give Passover to each other and tell a story of health and happiness, strength and love and tsimmes and kugel and family.


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