I stood in front of the open refrigerator door, peering intently inside as if the multi-layered plastic containers filled with left-overs were going to give me the answer to my question. THE question, of course.. the one I had asked myself every morning this week. What will I take to work for lunch? The brisket was gone, the charoseth on its last liquidy legs.. nothing appealed to me. As I stood there, I heard my mother’s voice over my shoulder “Close the door! Do you want to let all the cold out?” Or, at least I heard my mother’s voice in my head - she has been gone for more than thirty years. The anniversary of her death occurs this week, and as usual at this time of year, she is in my thoughts more than usual lately. My mother loved the Jewish holidays. She loved all holidays, of course, cutting oranges in half and filling them with colorful sherbet to decorate the Thanksgiving table, filling trifle bowls with blue and silver Christmas tree ornaments for the “winter holidays,” but she loved Passover most of all. Passover was the one holiday when she was guaranteed to have most of her extended family around her and she could show off her cooking skills. Chicken soup with perfect matzah balls was her specialty. In her later years the cancer that would eventually take her was gnawing at her bones, and my father and I were the kitchen crew.. doing everything to her exacting specifications. I hadn’t known until then that there was a “right” way to peel a hard-boiled egg – but it’s the way I now peel them. The table was set with our twice a year china and silver, and everything gleamed. The Seder was formal and stiff, using the Maxwell House haggadah. I can still see my mother’s face as she lit the Yom Tov candles and said the blessing. She said it in English, of course; saying the blessing Hebrew was not even a possibility in our house. Even so, she practiced it for days before the Seder, making sure that she could recite the blessing from memory without mistake.
I often wonder what she would think of my Seder – I sometimes forget to polish the silver, my kids and their spouses live far away and the family around my table is made up of friends whom we have made into family. Instead of preparing all of the food, including the hard-boiled eggs, I delegate much of the food preparation to my guests. Every year I try to add some new reading to the Seder – this year instead of reading the Maggid section of the haggadah, I found a play which everyone took part in (I let my husband play the part of God!) We decorate our table with finger puppets and frogs, and the china doesn’t match. But my mother’s chicken soup and perfect matzah balls are always on the menu, along with her brisket. And when I light the Yom Tov candles and say the blessing in Hebrew, from memory without a mistake, I close my eyes for just an extra moment and remember my mother’s face, shining with the light of the Yom Tov candles. I have a granddaughter now, just ten months old, but one day I hope to pass on to her my mother’s recipes for chicken soup and perfect matzah balls, and brisket, and the light from the Yom Tov candles.