Every once in a while, it hits me like a soft pillow. I am a matriarch!
This year, for the first time, we are going to my daughter’s house for the first days of Passover. She is exactly the same age I was when my parents first began coming to me and my sister who lived around the corner. Nearly a quarter century has passed since the day we told our parents that it was time to give up the seder in their home, where bodies slept all over the Upper West Side apartment in which I grew up, and come out to Queens where they, and my brother’s family, could be put up more comfortably.
How Seders Used to Be
In our house, we had put in a small Pesach kitchen in the basement where I cooked for days, enlisting the kids as “helpers.” Yes, sometimes it was the kind of help you could do without. But we had lots of fun–daughter #1 dipped chicken cutlets in egg and matzah meal, son #1 de-bugged the maror lettuce, daughter #2 made knaidlach (matzah balls) and son #2 played in the chopped meat trying to form meatballs. We all grated the horseradish and mixed the haroset together. Invariably, the smoke detector let out a piercing screech in the middle of all the hoopla and I had to climb up to disconnect it. Our ears rang for a while. As I said, it was a small kitchen.
It was a lot of work and I did get crabby. I always say that if you prepare for Pesach you get an inside look at slavery. But the excitement and togetherness of the preparations were not only educational, they created enthusiasm for, and pride in, the finished project. We’d set the table together and the kids would put out their hand-made place cards. Each seder would begin with my acknowledgment of, and thanks to, each child for her/his particular contribution.
Since my grandsons were 2, they have come over the day before the holiday to help me prepare the ritual foods. We talk about the story of the Exodus and I reminisce about the seders I had with my own grandparents. According to custom, I acknowledge and thank the kids for their help (again, the kind of help you could, under other circumstances, do without.)
The Times They Are A’Changin
This year, I will cook at home and go to my daughter’s on Sunday night. Monday, I will repeat the ritual with my two boys and, for the first time, with their 20-month old sister in their kitchen. We’ll set the table together and put out hand-made place cards and discuss the Exodus story. And they will again listen raptly to my reminiscences about seders with my Nana and Poppa, my Grandma and Grandpa. (I am a compelling storyteller, if I do say so myself.)
I have asked my children to work out among themselves that my husband and I are not alone on a holiday. So we are off to New Jersey while two of our kids go to Israel and one to Brooklyn with their respective in-laws. It will be a smaller seder than usual for us, but I am anticipating it happily.
Me, the Matriarch
My husband and I will sit at a different table this year. But, as in the past, I will look at the precious faces around the table and my eyes will fill with tears of joy and gratitude. I will be thinking of the unique confluence of past, present, and future the seder represents to me. I will remember when my grandmothers were the matriarchs and then my mother. I will be mildly astonished, yet again, that I now fill that role. And I will look forward to other holidays, other tables, other faces joining us as our family expands.
One day, I’ll be missing. But I am pretty sure that my grandchildren will make the ritual foods and reminisce about the seders they spent with their Savta and Zaidie. And maybe they’ll even recall the proud smile and teary eyes that Savta always seemed to have as she looked around the table.
Because then, you see, I will be there, no matter where they are, no matter which table they are sitting at.