It’s been three years since I attended a Seder, and while I’m not Jewish and I never even participated in the actual ceremony, for 11 years I tended the kitchen and listened to the stories and prepared the fish plates and the soup bowls. My boss’ wife, M would ask me every year, “does the fish come first, or the soup?” and it would be a good bit that released some steam because preparing a house for Seder was no small feat. She made the charoset and the tzimmes (which sometimes I got to take home), and her mother made the most amazing matzo ball soup. Brisket with fresh horseradish, roasted asparagus and flourless cakes and pies, three generations enjoying each other’s company across two tables. I remember the year M and H pulled everything out of the kitchen and scrubbed it all down to prepare it for a kosher meal, and I could only admire the dedication to the Faith that you so rarely see these days.
In my head I can hear the A’s Hebrew and H’s singing (often with a cousin since they were the youngest), and soak up the topical discussions that would spontaneously break out between passages while watching everyone grow up and go off to college and come back and reconnect, really feeling the warmth of family and friends. “Dayenu” always made everyone laugh, even if it was slow to get started. I was never made to feel like an outsider or just “the help”, and I can remember hearing something to the effect of “may all in need come and celebrate with us.” I could feel that, even in the spacious kitchen with the sudsy hot water waiting for the first gefilte fish plates and the soup on the stove slowly come to boil. I didn’t mind the five hours on my feet cleaning and putting away, because this family knew the meaning of a holiday – reflection, celebration, and hope for the coming year. Then I’d do it all over again the next night at the sister in law’s house, warming the wet hand towels for the Hand Washing, assuring again that yes, the fish came first, preparing hot water for tea and starting the coffee. Oh, and most importantly – keeping the dog away from the fish.
I sit here at the desk of my new job, happy of the new friends and opportunities I have, but I miss the old days, now three Passovers behind me. I miss the flurry of plates and M standing in the kitchen waiting for sundown so she could reward herself with a hard-earned drink. I can see in my mind A standing on chairs to put away the good dishes, and H finally growing out of wanting her soup strained; D heading off to college and coming back a fairly respectable citizen, even if he still has the energy to power a small city. I knew M’s kitchen like the back of my hand, though sometimes I think there were hunts over the following days for bowls and pots that may not have been put away exactly right.
I understand that this year will be the first Passover that A’s father will not be in attendance, as he passed October last. I only found out about his passing a few months back, and it broke my heart a little. This will be a difficult Seder I would imagine, and my heart goes out to the family.
I’m not Jewish but I miss Passover. I miss the family that wasn’t mine, but felt a part of, and I hope the person they found to replace me fits and feels as welcome as I did. Eleven years is a long time to watch people grow and settle. Three years isn’t nearly long enough to forget.
I won’t be attending any Seders this year but I did treat myself to some fine matzo ball soup from the Bread Basket Deli in Southfield. I even toyed with the idea of making tzimmes, and I still may, but it won’t be the same. I wish them all the best and offer up my own little hopeful prayer for them, like the one I heard for many years at the end of the Seder:
“For you, next year in Jerusalem.”