Friday, April 8, 2011

We were once slaves in Egypt: Time to clean the silver.

I think it is safe to say that we Jews take spring cleaning quite seriously, as it is spring that reminds us, among other things, that we were once slaves in Egypt—and at least once a year it is our duty to retell the story. To prepare for this event, we take out dishes, recipe books, Hagaddahs, and assorted serving dishes that otherwise sit wrapped tightly in dark cupboards for the rest of the year. In the weeks leading up to the Passover holiday, we ponder and fine tune our festive meal line up, purchase boxes of matzah (hoping this year's batch will be as crisp and delicious as last year) and other unleavened concoctions, and of course clean the silver.
My mom had a beautiful set of china that only came out for Passover, for the seder (festive passover meal). Gleaming white china with gold leaf designs. Wonderful soup bowls with little handles on each side, so perfect for steaming chicken soup and fluffy matzah balls. The table was always beautifully set with crystal water and wine glasses, sterling silverware, silver platters and serving dishes for all of the amazing dishes my mother and her sisters prepared for the meal.
As a kid, I really had no idea how much work went into pulling this off each year. My biggest concern at the time, was having enough room in my tummy for all of the seemingly endless courses of aromatic food being served on those beautiful dishes! But we all grow up eventually, and there is a time for all of us, when “cleaning the silver” becomes our responsibility.

For me, it happened the year my dad was so unwell, that my mom was planning on skipping Passover all together. I was by then completely grown up, married, a mother myself with a son already bar mitzvahed. Still, I had more than one moment of fear, wondering if I could really pull it off. There were tears in both my parents eyes that night as we silently agreed that the seder would move to our house that year. 

It turns out that it is just as hard to let go of the “silver” as it is to “clean” it — yet for every family there is a moment when it is time to pass down the traditions, recipes, dishes and responsibilities from one generation to the next.

From generation to generation things change. My table is always set with modern dishes (not china) and stainless steel silverware (dishwasher safe every piece!), but in keeping with tradition, the horseradish is in the crystal decanter my mother used every year – the salty egg mixture is always served in my Baba Fruman's glass bowls – the silver jacketed Hagaddah from Zada Harry always sits on the table. Our table is full of seders past and all of the wonderful memories they bring with them.

Mom's kiddish cup and candle sticks — that she passed down to me the year the seder moved to our house, have come out of the cupboard. As I ready myself to clean them, I see in my mind's eye, my dad, uncles and grandfather negotiating so astutely with all of us giggling cousins for the afikoman – I see my mom and her sisters in and out of the kitchen serving us delicious food – I can hear my own son as a child singing the four questions – and my husband Marc leading our seder –and my most recent and cherished memory of leading the seder myself for the first time with my daughter-in-law's family in New York. And of course in my imagination I conjure up the day when my son will be leading the seder with his own children. Mom's beautiful china and sterling silver have been passed down to them for just that special Passover!
Happy Passover preparations everyone! And by the way, toothpaste is the greatest for cleaning your silver!

1 comment:

  1. Dear Naomi. . a great nostalgic blog, I am happy to say that I was at most of those wonderful seders. Minda wanted to tell you that reading it left us "teary-eyed", and I for one seldom seem to find tears in my eyes, no matter how moved I have been, so this was a big accomplishment. Those really were the good old days. Minda is going to make Baba Springman's knaidel tzimmes for Pesach, and I, sorry to say, instead of standing and cooking Esther Tzuriel's wonderful recipe for gefilte fish, (which Uncle Osher always made for the seder) will be bringing Jerusalem gefilte fish in jars, (with no sugar added). Now our grandchildren are taking the place of our adorable children at the seder,
    all of you still beautiful and wonderful people. Love you all, Aunty Irene