When I was 8 months pregnant with my first son, my husband and I started a new Passover tradition. We invited both of our families to our home for the first Seder – my parents, my husband’s parents and their current spouses, all of the siblings and half-siblings, nieces and nephews, aunts and cousins from Israel, and even some close family friends. My husband cleaned the entire house top to bottom, kashered our dishes, and made us a new family Haggadah, heavy on tradition and funny songs. My mom and I shopped and cooked (and cooked and cooked) for a solid week. We had 18 people the first year, and have averaged 25 or so every year since then.
But the second Seder, that’s really where the magic happened. We took the show on the road, and brought the leftovers to my maternal grandparents, in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Each year I held my breath, sure that this would be the last year to celebrate with them. But, year after year, although they asked for less Seder and more eating, the tradition continued. They loved seeing my kids asking questions, singing songs, and telling (their version of) the Passover story and the symbolism of the Seder plate. And I loved it, too.
One of my all-time favorite pictures is of my then 98 year-old grandpa, sitting at their kitchen table with my then 2 year old son, each of them digging in, in parallel, to their Passover meal.
And then last year, something magical happened—my grandpa’s 100th birthday fell on the day of the second Seder.
My dad had just passed away 11 months earlier. He had battled early onset dementia for 10 years, and my memories of him as his healthy, smart, funny self were hard to conjure up. His long and painful disease stole not only his life, but also many of my memories of my life with him before he got sick. Even worse, my kids and my husband didn’t know him, as he truly was, at all.
I couldn’t let this happen with my grandpa. I needed to capture this moment in time. I wanted to preserve my strong, vibrant, ever-cheerful grandpa. I needed my boys to remember this amazing juxtaposition of their earliest excitement about Judaism and my aging grandpa beaming over them, handing them the torch.
So I hired someone to document our celebration of these two occasions. Susannah Ludwig, Founder and Executive Producer of “Portraits that Move.” Susannah creates mini-documentaries about kids and their families. Her work is beautiful and her subjects are captivating— kids being kids, playing in the park, showing off their toys, and talking about what they want to be when they grow up. I take these types of mental videos all of the time of my kids, as they play Lego hour after hour in our living room, as they run around the bases in Little League, as I walk with them to school or pick them up at the bus stop. On the one hand, I’m sure that I’ll remember these moments forever, but experience has taught me that I won’t.
During the filming, my grandpa felt like a celebrity. The weather was perfect and we took my grandpa to the boardwalk for the first time in a decade. My kids were surprisingly well behaved, and my mom and I felt present and celebratory – maybe for the first time since my dad died. Although I forgot the matzah ball soup at home, everything else fell into place. I now have this beautiful video to treasure, forever. To say that my mother and I have watched it 100 times is not an exaggeration. It brings us such nachas.
My grandpa died 6 months after Passover. Until his last few weeks, he remained his healthy, optimistic self—the exact self that was so brilliantly captured in the video .