Friday, March 18, 2011

From All Other Nights

I always sat beside Uncle Moe, who’d cue me. “Why is this night different from all other nights?” I’d ask. And so began the Four Questions, with me, the youngest child at the Passover Seder, prompting a kind of overview of the Israelite exodus from Egypt.

As the ‘60s gave way to the ‘70s then ‘80s, as all of us cousins started families of our own, the dining room table sprouted massive “wings” of card tables laid end to end, with a “new” youngest child every few years. But with the passing of Uncle Moe, our large extended family splintered, everyone retreating to their own little corner of the northeast corridor, with Mom at her stove until she announced she was handing the baton, or, rather, ladle, to me. For almost two decades, I dutifully prepared a traditional Pesach meal. Except early in that tenure, Mom bullied the matzo balls back from me: “Yours are like golf balls,” she complained. Oh, and to save oven space, I’d sneak off to Boston Chicken and bury the aluminum-lined bags at the bottom of the trash. (Yikes, I guess now the chicken is out of the bag, so to speak.) We don’t keep kosher, but still….

Then two years ago, I moved here to Bucks, further fracturing the family tradition. So these days, my brothers gravitate toward their children and grandchildren, leaving Mom a free agent. But with every ending, there is a beginning.

Last year, with Mom at brother Sam’s house, my family attended an inclusive Seder at the BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Warrington. I’d signed up weeks before to bring a dish. Not cook, bring. To continue a longstanding tradition, I ordered roasted chickens (kosher, just in case) for the more than 50 people who participated, many reading Hebrew phonetically from the Haggadah, the Passover story. As I recall, a blond woman with a Scandinavian accent asked the Four Questions.

So what made that night different from all other nights? For me, when I think back to Uncle Moe’s house, everything. Globally, though, despite our differences in background and ethnicities, we were sitting down to share a meal and a tradition, a coming together that doesn’t occur – or isn’t possible - in most places around the world.

Later this month, we will be attending our second Seder there. We’ve invited Mom, who’s oscillating between here and my brother Keith’s home. But something else will make this night different. While I’m still ordering chicken, I’m also bringing 150 matzo balls. Bringing as in cooking. You could say I’ve begun my own matzo-ball boot camp.

I’m sending Mom this column to lure…and guilt her.

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