Seder and Holy Week: Family Traditions, Old and New
April 14, 2015 11 Comments
Welcome to the April 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Family History This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, lore, and wisdom about family history. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants. ***
My children’s ethnic ancestry is five-eighths Yiddish: All of their father’s grandparents, and my maternal grandfather, were descendants of Eastern European Jews. We aren’t Jewish–my ten-year-old son Nicholas and I are Episcopalians, we’re bringing baby Lydia to church with us, and my partner Daniel does not practice any organized religion–but Jewish/Yiddish customs are an important part of our family background.
Daniel’s grandfather, Herschel, is 99 years old and still hosts a Passover seder in his home. I’d never been to a seder before I started living with Daniel. Now it’s our annual connection to our Yiddish roots, and I missed it very much the few years we weren’t able to attend. Daniel’s mother always comes to spend Passover with her father, and she makes the dinner. Family friends, the Feldmans, come over for the seder and bring dessert. We don’t make it as formal and reverent as we could, but we all respect the basic structure of the ritual and try to follow the traditions.
Nicholas was three months old at his first seder. He sat calmly in my lap and even slept through part of it. Of course he doesn’t remember it. He was too young to sample any of the food. But it was very special to all of us that he could participate in this family tradition with his great-grandfather. (An extra bonus was that my brother happened to be in town that spring, so he got a chance to attend the seder, too, and to meet Daniel’s extended family.) Herschel exclaimed many times how glad and amazed he was to be a great-grandfather. Although he knew we wouldn’t be raising Nicholas as a Jew, still we were welcome at the seder table.
Over the years, Nicholas understood more of the Passover story: Our ancestors were slaves in Egypt, and when they decided to leave, they had a bunch of adventures! We are grateful to God for guiding them through all those difficulties so that we can be here today. We remember our brave ancestors and celebrate the coming of spring with this ritual and these ceremonial foods. He was three years old when he recognized that this story also is part of our Easter Vigil service at church and that we hear parts of it in church at other times of year. At five years old, he noticed that the Gospels say the Last Supper was a Passover meal; celebrating Passover is totally appropriate for Christians as well as Jews. His parents, grandmother, and great-grandfather all have enjoyed watching Nicholas grow old enough to read the Four Questions and to hunt for the Aphikomen–a matzoh wrapped in a napkin that is hidden somewhere in the house at one point in the seder for the child(ren) to find at a later point.
None of us expected that Daniel and I would have another baby in our forties or that, if we did, Great-grandpa would be still alive to know her–but here they are! Herschel and Lydia each took their first unsupported steps in the week before the seder (his were the first since an injury last summer) so they had something in common. “Imagine knowing someone so much younger than me!” Herschel marveled. He can remember when radio broadcasts began! Each year we have together is a blessing.
Lydia was eleven months old at her first seder. She sat in a high chair and was rowdier than I would have liked, but we got through it, and she loved the food! She ate matzoh, hardboiled egg, date charoses (the apple kind is too crunchy, since she doesn’t have teeth yet), matzoh ball from the soup, gefilte fish, asparagus, and strawberries. (The asparagus and strawberries aren’t traditional Jewish foods, but they’ve become traditional at this seder because they are springtime foods.) We didn’t offer her any horseradish!
We read the seder from The Union Haggadah, published in the 1920s and used by Herschel’s family ever since. I love the illustrations and the feeling of reading from the same books that have been used for generations. There are some parts that just give me chills. Why is this night different from all other nights? Each year, this night is similar to last year’s seder and many years before, but this night finds us all slightly different than we were or will be in any other year.
We Do This. These are the traditions of our people. We do not change them for the children. The Haggadah includes many references to suffering, slavery, plagues, even a casual mention of “The Angel of Death”–which Daniel always says in a spooky voice. When the leader reads, “Let us now say grace,” all the rest of us pipe up, “Grace!” I think this was the first year Herschel didn’t chuckle about how silly he feels saying, “Lo! This is the bread of affliction…” (That was probably because he bowed out of the role of leader this year, so Daniel’s mother was reading that part.) There are dark parts and fun parts to the seder, and there are parts we always skip to save time, and it’s not a singing family so we just chant the parts that could be sung–and all of that is the same now as at the half-dozen seders when I was the youngest person present. Nicholas squirmed a bit when he was one and two years old, and he spent some of the time playing under the table, but he was there through the whole thing. We expect Lydia to do the same. After all, they are part of the family.
The seder doesn’t make me want to start observing Judaism, but it makes me feel more connected to the Jewish part of my heritage–which is an even larger part of my children’s heritage. My two great-grandparents whose lives overlapped with mine were the two Yiddish ones, but I never did any Jewish activity with them; now I feel a little closer to them because I know a little more of what was familiar to them. I’m glad that my children get to participate in this family tradition.
- They Come Through You — Aspen at Aspen Mama shares what her late-discovery adoption means to her and her family.
- The Shape of Our Family: Musings on Genealogy — Donna at Eco-Mothering delves into her genealogy and family stories, observing how the threads of family reveal themselves in her daughter.
- Hand family stories down to the next generation — Lauren at Hobo Mama asked her father to help her son learn to read — never expecting that Papa’s string of richly storytelling emails would bring a treasure trove of family history into their lives.
- Saving Family Stories — Holly at Leaves of Lavender talks about why she thinks it’s important to preserve fun and interesting family stories for future generations.
- Serenading Grandma — When Dionna at Code Name: Mama started playing violin in the fifth grade, her grandma and mother were the biggest part of her musical cheering section. Her grandma urged her to keep playing and reminded her that someday she’d be thankful for her talent. As was so often the case, her grandma was right.
- Family legacy ambivalence — With a family history of depression and suicide, Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama frets about her children’s emotional health.
- Seder and Holy Week: Family Traditions, Old and New — As an Episcopalian whose children’s ancestry is five-eighths Jewish, Becca at The Earthling’s Handbook values the annual Passover seder that connects her and the kids to family traditions.