I dreaded passover growing up. It seemed boring and oppressive and... dreadful with the emphasis on DREAD. I never really named it, but felt somewhere in my hungry gut that this wasn't a great place to be...my grandparents’ overheated undersized apartment in Queens, with these flat books in our hands, these hollow songs, this jelly on my fish.
A couple of years ago I was at a workshop called L'dor V'dor (generation to generation) and I thought about Pesach from my grandparents’ perspective for the first time.
They both came to the US from Vienna in the late 30's, in what would have been their university years. They both lost many family members in the Holocaust; my grandma lost both of her parents in concentration camps.
I got a picture in my head of my grandpa Joe, a 25-year-old newlywed in a new country, New York City (well, it was Jersey actually), getting settled in what would be his lifelong career as a garment cutter - this shy, hopeful, sad young man, this new husband and new dad and recent immigrant and non-english speaker (the guy still sounds like he hasn't been off the boat for long). This guy leading the seder cause nobody else made it and he and my grandma were basically orphaned. Grandma Ruth, leaving Vienna at 17 in a rush, no time to take the recipes she was too young to have really learned, in their ample and loving home where she, the youngest child, hoped to be a doctor and spent her time studying and playing with friends.
Cut to New York. Long gone the lush days of Vienna, or the simple comforts of home and family and the Haggadah they knew, recipes from many generations, the Seder plate and the cousins, and maybe Bubbe cooking and Zadie leading. Here they are, doing their own Seder in their apartment with their two little boys who would grow up to be absolute New Yorkers who don't know any German and, strangely enough, don't identify with Judaism, don't cherish and nourish traditions. These two sons who dread the seder, go only out of a sense of duty and, I think, knowing how dreadful it feels, are too pained to imagine my grandparents going through the motions alone.
Once I imagined the pain or the numbness they must have had around the seder, I was able to wrestle it back. Now I cherish the chance to celebrate with people that I love, to make food, to study the story and seek for application in my life and our world. I cherish the chance to honor Ruth and Joe and their amazing parents and struggles and sacrifices, and consider it my joyous duty to acknowledge, feel and someday move beyond, the sadness that encompassed them.
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