This year the lunar calendar has aligned Passover and Easter perfectly. The first seder takes place on the evening of Good Friday, so this weekend Jews and Christians (except Eastern Orthodox Christians) will all be celebrating an important holiday. At least in my part of the world, it is also spring. My lawn is green, the daffodils are blooming, and there are buds on the trees about to burst into flower. It should be a joyous time. After all, Passover celebrates the liberation of the Jews from slavery, and Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christ. I hope that for all who celebrate (and for those who don’t) this weekend brings lots of joy.
For me, this year Passover is tinged with sadness. This is the first year my father will not be with us. It’s just two months since he died, but somehow it feels so much longer. So for today’s post, I want to ponder Passovers past and my father’s role in them.
When we first celebrated Passover, it was at my Aunt Elaine’s house. Her husband, my Uncle Phil, had grown up in a more traditional home than my mother and her sister or than my father. Uncle Phil could read Hebrew, and he knew the traditional songs and the blessings. So, of course, he led the seder. We used the Haggadah for the American Family—almost all in English, except for the blessings, the four questions, and some other passages. It was perfect for our assimilated, non-affiliated, non-religious family. I was enchanted by the whole experience. It was my first and for the longest time only exposure to Judaism, and I loved the story, the music, the rituals, and, of course, searching for the afikomen.
After the first couple of years, my mother must have decided that she also wanted to have seders at our home, and so we began to have one seder at my aunt and uncle’s house and one at our house. At our house, my father took over the leader’s role (with my uncle helping on all the Hebrew and the songs). Given that my father was not at all religious, it was perhaps an uncomfortable role for him to assume, but he certainly wasn’t going to let another man lead the seder in his house. If he was uncomfortable, he certainly did not show it. He always did a great job, and I can still hear his voice, reading the English text, admonishing us to be quiet and listen, and then giving up and moving on to the next page.
When my aunt and uncle moved to Florida, my father was all on his own as the leader. By then I was an adult and married with children, and we did one seder with my husband’s family, one with mine. My husband’s family’s seders were far more traditional and educational, but also always warm and filled with love. The seders at my parents’ house continued to be somewhat chaotic—too many people talking, too many people getting up and down, chasing the children, helping with the food and the dishes. My father continued to lead the seder, and we all read from the Haggadah and said the blessings and sang the songs. Our children read the four questions. And in the midst of all the noise and chaos, the seders continued to be cherished by us all.
Then I became a grandmother. And we wanted our grandchildren to experience Passover at our home. Now my grandsons read the four questions. Now my husband and I hide the afikomen. And now my husband leads the seder.
My father graciously moved out of the leader’s chair. I wonder whether that was hard for him—recognizing that another generation was taking over and that his time as the leader after over fifty years in that role was over. If so, he never showed it. He seemed to relish the opportunity to watch over the younger generations without having to worry about keeping the seder rolling along.
This year there will be a missing chair at the table, a missing voice adding to the chaos, a missing mouth to feed. That missing chair, that missing voice, that missing mouth will be noticed and felt by us all. When we open the door for Elijah and wait for him to sip the wine, I will be watching for my father instead. Not, of course, literally. I don’t believe in ghosts. But I know that his spirit will be there inside each and every one of us as we hear, once again, the words of the Haggadah.