Passover was always one of my favorite holidays as a child.
I loved the symbols on the seder plate, searching for the afikomen that Dad would somehow sneak away to hide even though we all tried to follow his every movement, and eating the round, solid matzah balls he would make every year.
Even though the seder always seemed unbearably long, Mike, Jon and I would take solace in reenacting the annual ritual of asking loudly, “What page are we on?” since we never seemed to have a complete set of a single Hagaddah,
The holiday meant a lot to Dad, too.
Having left Germany on the Kindertransport shortly before his fifth birthday, the story of exodus from slavery had particular personal resonance for him.
He was grateful to America for taking him in and he wanted to stay here-a sentiment that was manifested in his yearly amendment of the statement, “This year we are. Next year may we be in Jerusalem” to “This year we are here. Next year may we also be here.”
That feeling and those memories were all part of the backdrop yesterday’s seder at our home.
Dad, who came into town on Thursday, was there. So was Lee Kass, his former high school girlfriend.
Our dear friend/honorary family member Ava was there, too. About to turn 86 years old, she brought her inimitable blend of wisdom, humor, vitality and extraordinary life experience to the group.
To give just one example, when we got to the part of the story when we read the 10 plagues and put a drop of wine on the plate after we named each one, Ava talked about having witnessed a horde of locusts cut a swath of devastation in the Negev.
Jon picked up Ava, and was in his typically upbeat spirits.
And, of course, Dunreith.
These were those of us who were physically in the room, and there were many who were also with us in spirit.
We served the meal on china that Nana and Grandpa, Mom’s parents, first bought many decades ago.
We sat on chairs and ate on the dining room table that had been in our childhood home in Griggs Terrace in Brookline.
Dad, as he has done so many times before, made the matzah balls from the recipe his mother used from the Settlement Cookbook, soaking the matzahs in water, adding the matzah meal, nutmeg and finely sliced ginger, and, with Lee’s assistance, rolling them into those perfectly round balls just a little smaller than ping pong balls.
I made Russett potatoes the way my Aunt Helen would always make when we attended Passover at her house. I cut them into small triangular cubes and put them on the roasting pan, covering them in olive oil and adding two cubes of garlic and just a touch of salt.
I also made a roasted chicken the day Dad would when we were kids, substituting olive oil and garlic for salt.
Although I led the seder, in which we remember and retell the story of moving from slavery to freedom and link ourselves to the Jewish people past and present, it was, to say the least, a free flowing exchange. I’m not going to use the well-traveled expression “herding cats,” and it’s safe to say that the ceremony did not proceed in a straight line.
The meal was exquisite and animated by the four glasses of wine we were mandated by Jewish law and tradition to drink (Jon went out at one point to swap the red version of Cotes de Rhones Guigal he had purchased for the white one Ava wanted.).
Jon’s friend Liz, a writer, mother and entrepreneur, joined us around 8:00 p.m., jumping right into the conversational fray with gusto. Among her other qualities, Liz is also the daughter of Jack Crane, a fellow Boston-area native as well as one of this blog’s most regular and thoughtful commenters.
We ate and drank and clinked glasses and laughed and sang a bunch of songs, like the one about the goat my father bought for two zuzim that gets faster and faster with each verse. We called Mike and Annie in California, singing a vigorous chorus of Dayeinu to Mike’s cell phone as our message.
I looked at our bounteous table at my beautiful wife and our remarkable Ava who remains spritely deep into her ninth decade and my joy-filled brother who continues to live his photographic vision and his friend and my father and his long distant and present love.
Gratitude and good fortune and the essence of life’s meaning filled me.