It was the early 80’s, and I was ten years old. The room smelled of matzah ball soup, and I was sitting at a pool table, converted into a long Passover table with multiple connecting folding tables on each side. With a stained and soiled Manischewitz Haggadah in hand, and sitting on top of a stack of yellow telephone books, my family and best family friends surrounded me. We were in the midst of our annual 3-family Passover Seder. The seder was long and tedious, and my sister, Marcy and I held our breath, panicked and prayed that we would not have to read the paragraph with the long Rabbis names. There was no laughter or casual interaction. There was a story to get through, but, my mind was only on my Aunt Char’s (z”l ) delicious matzah bagels. They would be my reward for sitting through the seder without whining.
In 1991, I graduated from college and spent Passover with my UF college roommate, Lori, in her small D.C. apartment. We invited a couple of friends and sat around a folding table with Seder icons drawn on a paper plate and colored in with crayons. We wore aprons, cooked the whole meal ourselves, and called our Moms multiple times during the prep for help. Our Seder was simple and the food wasn’t spectacular, but we did it our way, and it felt great.
Fast forward to Passover 2002, my husband and I were living in Cleveland, OH and were invited to spend Passover with my Uncle’s friend Marsha (z”l ), and her family. Marsha’s favorite holiday was Passover and since she was the matriarch of her family, her two sons, seven grandchildren, and multiple friends made a big deal of it. Every year they created a new and personalized Haggadah with each guests name listed next to their reading part. Seeing our names in print in their Haggadah, we felt truly included in their family celebration. There were interesting Passover tidbits throughout, researched and written by her youngest son. The experience was amazing! Filled with laughter, wine, stories and connection, Passover became my favorite holiday that night. My husband and I left with a new extended family.
In March of 2005, my little family of three moved to Charleston, SC. I stopped into the JCC and asked the woman behind the front desk if there was a communal Seder we could attend because we didn’t know anyone in town. The young man standing next to me, with his handsome face and bright smile, jumped in and said, “YES, come to my house!”. Ok, great I replied, not knowing he was Rabbi Ari Sytner from the Orthodox Shul. I was so nervous and had no idea what to expect. I had never been to an Orthodox anything, let alone a Seder. I thought it would be a dry night and we would come up with some excuse to quietly slip out and make an early exit. Instead, when I looked at the clock, it was 3 am, and we were all still fully engaged. The kids and adults told stories and answered questions. There was fantastic food made by the Rabbi’s wife, Chana, and laughter and energy filled the space.
Now I have a family of four, and no one needs to sit on phone books anymore. (Do they even exist?). This year, we will spend Passover with my sisters and their families and my Mom. I will bring the bag of plagues and decorate the table with plastic frogs and tiny skeletons. We will read from my silly, outdated Haggadah, which I created 11 years ago when my children were babies in memory of my friend Marsha. (It was meant to be updated each year, but it hasn’t happened quite yet.) We will act like children as we snap photos of our crew in our plague masks, giggle through the Seder as we read the same old Passover tidbits with exaggerated intonations, and stumble through the rabbi’s names while we steal nibbles of chocolate covered matzah. We will lounge on pillows covered in personalized pillowcases, tell funny family stories and wish we knew how to make Aunt Char’s delicious Passover bagels (like we have since we left our little neighborhood over 30 years ago).
We all have so many memories to reflect on and an opportunity to create new traditions. With friends and family, you can prepare for the Seder by making homemade plagues, finding new recipes, learning new songs or even making your own Haggadah. This year, after our Seder my family and I are adding one new tradition, we are heading to Ramah Darom for the Passover Retreat (second half). I look forward to sharing our experience there with you and I wish your family a happy Passover filled with matzah bagels and lots of giggles.
For more great ideas on how to make your Passover Seder fun read “Perfectly Passover: A Dozen Ideas to Help Make Your Holiday More Fun Than Ever,” by Elizabeth Applebaum.
I found this recipe for matzah bagels but I can’t promise they will be as good as my Aunt Char’s.
Note: (z”l ) means “of blessed memory”