A Holiday Of Firsts
Wed, 04/04/2012
Special to the Jewish Week

A Seder In Freedom

Jeanne Dortort Schwartz

I was the first person in my family born in this country; my grandparents were born in Poland. I heard so many stories about what happened in Poland, the atrocities.

In1924, at 7, I vividly remember my first seder — in a second-floor apartment on Clinton Street on the Lower East Side. The apartment was on the first floor, with one window in the rear of the building, a coal stove, an icebox, and one toilet for four apartments.

At the head of the table, the candles shining so brightly, was my grandfather Elias Spiegel dressed in his holiday finery, his long beard shining … and my grandmother Fanny Spiegel dressed in her best.

They spoke Yiddish. I could not understand their language, but even at that early age I realized the sincerity and importance of their words.

That scene has never left my mind. Today I am 95, having attended many seders, but this one with the fervor of celebrating Passover in a free country made the most fervent impression.

Jeanne Dortort Schwartz lives in Delray Beach, Fla.

On A Holiday Of Memory, Drinking To Forget

Jack N. Porter

I don't remember any sederim in Europe — whether in Maniewicz or Rovno, Ukraine where I was born, or in the DP Camp in Bindermichel, near Linz, Austria — because I was born almost as 1945 began and we came to America a year and half later, on the American boat, the Marine Perch, along with Vladka and Benjamin Meed and other partisans.

My parents, Irving and Faye Porter (Puchtik-Merin), were Soviet partisans. We arrived in New York City around June 1946; since there were so many Jews in New York, they transferred a lot of us refugees around the country, especially if one had relatives that would sponsor you.

We had such relatives in Chicago and in Milwaukee, so we were shipped there. We lived briefly with my Uncle Morris and Aunt Betty and cousin Allen Porter, but things got crowded in Chicago. We went to Milwaukee. We lived in what was actually a Black ghetto with a small-but-dwindling number of Jews fast getting out and moving to a “better” neighborhood.

The first seder I remember was there. My mom and dad invited all their “survivor” friends over. The survivors back then were still fairly young and healthy and very good drinkers. I was just a toddler of five or six; I remember people drinking a lot of wine and falling under the table, and I crawled among them.

I thought they were “playing a game.” But they were trying to forget all the horrors of the war and all their losses, all those parents and zeydes and tantes and sisters and brothers, all lost to the Holocaust.

They drank on Pesach to forget, but I thought they were just fooling around.

Sociologist Jack N. Porter lives in Newton, Mass.

A Frightening Seder in 1933 Germany

Wolfgang Rauner

The year was 1933.  I was not quite 4, the youngest of four children. The Jews of Trier, the city where I was born, sat down to their seder. Although they were over the recent elevation of the rabid Jew baiter, Hitler, as chancellor of Germany, the Jews were loyal Germans, secure in that knowledge.

In the early years of my life, the Jews of Trier lived in harmony with their Christian neighbors. It was well known that our then-Rabbi, Dr. Altman, even had weekly Talmud study with Bishop Franz Rudolf Bornewasser.

I don't remember whether I asked the Four Questions or who, besides our immediate family, was gathered at the seder table that night. One incident, however, is so clearly etched in my memory that I related it annually to my children at our seders.

Dinner was finished. I was permitted to stay up longer than usual, and Papa was ready to continue the seder. A tremendous tumult of people was heard outside. To my young ears, it sounded like millions. We all ran to the door and beheld a sea of people screaming, “Heil Hitler,  Heil Hitler.” They seemed obsessed, carrying torches and lighting up the sky. White faced, my father quickly closed the door. “Let’s all sit down and continue. It’s nothing! It's just that Hitler must have arrived at the station, and his band of supporters are going out to greet him.’’

Hitler was making his triumphal tour of Germany after having outmaneuvered his opposition in the Reichstag to be elected chancellor.

Our family lived in the heart of town near the main railroad station, across from the Ost park where the multitudes had settled in for their raucous rally. At the mention of the name of Hitler I cried and screamed so vehemently that all the blandishments and calming words of Mama were to no avail. I recall clearly running from the table upstairs to the security of my parents’ room. Once safely inside, I stuck my head under my mother's quilt where I finally cried myself to sleep.

In 1935 my family was fortunate to be able to emigrate to neighboring Luxembourg. We were still there in 1940 when Hitler invaded the Lowlands and the German Army marched in, and through a miracle were able to escape to America in May 1941.

Wolfgang Rauner lives in Hillcrest, Queens.

No Matzah, But He Kept His Life

Alex Beck

In 1946, after surviving the Holocaust in Hungary and Ukraine, I was traveling with a group of other survivors by train through Europe on our way to an Italian port city, from where we intended to embark to Palestine. We were being assisted on this journey by members of the Hagganah and were instructed to say, if we were stopped, that we were Greek refugees returning to our homes in Greece.

Before Passover, a gentleman came up to me. His family needed someone to “arrange” a seder for his family. He said he could provide matzahs, kosher food, plastic dishes. I led a nice seder for them.

Two days before Passover, we stopped at a train station in Northern Italy from where we were going to be taken to a DP camp run by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Work Agency, for an overnight stay. As the group’s appointed representative, I approached a man in the train station who was wearing an UNRWA armband to request assistance obtaining Passover food for the upcoming holiday. 

After inquiring how many boxes of unleavened bread we would need, the man told me to follow him to a building.  He took me into a room, closed and locked the door, and with an angry look removed his armband and pulled out a revolver. I realized then that the man was not from UNRWA but rather was from British intelligence. He told me that he needed to know who was leading our group of refugees and that if I didn’t divulge the specific location of our leadership he would shoot me. Initially I continued to insist that we were Greek refugees but eventually I realized that to avoid being shot I would need to provide him with some information.

I remembered the address of my cousin’s yeshiva, Chaim Sofer in Bratislava, Slovakia, a building that I knew had already been destroyed by the Nazis and turned into a stable. After two days of interrogation, I lied and told the man that all of our activities were coordinated from that address. 

Afterwards, I was released and was allowed to rejoin the group of refugees. Although our group of refugees was unsuccessful in obtaining matzah for that Passover, we were able to reach Palestine in early 1947. 

Alex Beck lives in Brooklyn.

A Seder Education About Judaism

Terri Frankenberg

My parents escaped from Germany in 1936, when I was just a few weeks old, to the jungles of Paraguay, to save the family from certain death.

As I approached my 20th birthday, my father decided to send me to the United States for a better life. That was in 1956, just a few weeks before my first-ever Passover. I was welcomed with open arms by an aunt and cousins whom I had never met.

There were “rumblings” of Passover and seder, words that had no meaning to me. I could not speak or read English, much less Hebrew. The only thing I clearly remember from that night is that I was told to drink four cups of wine.

I am happy to say that today, more than 50 years later, thanks to my husband, I keep a kosher home, observe Shabbat and have two seders with our family. I even make my own gefilte fish from scratch and change my dishes.

Terri Frankenberg lives in East Meadow, L.I.

From a D.P. Camp To Jamaica, Queens

Ann Ragovin

I will always remember my first seder in America.

My family and I arrived in the United States after the Holocaust — December, 1949 — from a DP camp in Germany. We were a family of seven — my father and six children. We lost our mother in the Holocaust.

My cousins in America were able to get us an apartment in Jamaica, Queens. It was a small apartment, but we considered it a palace. Came spring of 1950, erev Pesach, we started planning for our first seder since the war.

We did not have a table big enough, so my brothers went to the lumberyard and brought back a big wooden board and made a table out of it. My cousins told us to go the East Side, to the Essex Street market, where we did most our Passover shopping, bringing home live fish from which I made gefilte fish.

We all participated in the preparations. My father koshered the stove and other items. We got the Maxwell House Haggadah from the supermarket.

Finally, Pesach arrived. We invited my father’s aunt and uncle to our seder. The seder lasted to almost 12 o’clock; my father had to read the whole Haggadah. We continued making sederim in that apartment until we all got married and started the tradition in our homes with all our families together

Ann Ragovin lives in Boynton Beach, Fla.

A Sad Education On Yom Tov

Judi Langer-Surnamer Caplan

My father, Rabbi Samuel Langer, zt”l, who was living with us in 1996, stopped eating a few days before Pesach. It was very hard for me that year getting ready for Pesach and celebrating Pesach, all the while my father slowly ebbing away before my eyes.
He was at the seder the first night in his wheelchair, but he was too tired the second night to do that. Friday night I got him to have a spoonful of chopped liver and a sip of grape juice, and I was hopeful that he had turned a promising corner, but I was wrong. When I came in to his room the next morning he was gone. He passed away on the first day of Chol Hamoed at the age of 90 years, 10 months, and 16 days.
I sent one son to one rabbi, and my husband to another. One rabbi quickly sent back instructions, and the other left his shul to personally oversee what needed to be done. As my husband and my sons are kohanim, they had to leave our house for the remainder of the day until Shabbos was over and a funeral home could be called to come to pick up my father’s body. I remained at home to be the shomeret to watch over my father.

The son-in-law of one of the rabbis came over after services to be a shomer so I could rest, and the other rabbi arranged for additional people to come over to be shomrim the rest of that long afternoon. Shortly before Shabbat was over, two members of the Long Beach Chevra Kadisha came to my house to help me make funeral arrangements for the next day, Sunday; there could be, they pointed out, unfortunately, quite a few Jews awaiting funerals after three days of yom tov, when Jews cannot be buried.
I also became acquainted with some of the special ins and outs of funerals and shiva when someone passes away on yom tov and is buried on Chol Hamoed. I spoke at the funeral, because rabbis don’t normally give a eulogy during that time.

Because the funeral took place during Chol Hamoed, shiva didn’t “start” until after Pesach, with the eighth day of the holiday counting as the first day of shiva. It felt like I sat shiva for six days, not seven.

Judi Langer-Surnamer Caplan lives in live in Long Beach, L.I.

Doing The Four Questions In Yiddish

Naomi Brunnlehrman

My father, Albert J. Brunn, began leading the first seder with our family at the Rosa Coplon Jewish nursing home in Buffalo in 1964 when I was only 2 years old. Our rabbi, the late Rabbi Isaac Klein, told my dad that the nursing home was looking to hire someone to lead the seder and they couldn’t find anyone.

Dad said he was happy to volunteer. He did it one year and they fell in love with his warmth and genuine spirit. Of course, the fact that he and my mother were born and raised in Germany, before escaping as refugees as a result of WWII, helped a lot — some of the residents were easier to understand in German than in English.

Before leaving Berlin on a Kindertransport, Dad had learned how to lead a seder by chanting the entire Haggadah.

Dad led the first seder at Rosa Coplon with our family for 25 years. In addition to the traditional meal and seder story, Dad always found some interesting material to add; the residents looked forward to Dad’s bubbly personality, and his good voice, and many residents used to sing along with him.
As a child, I was a student at Buffalo’s Kadimah School. When I was eight, one of our teachers realized it would be good to teach us how to ask the Four Questions in “Yiddish.” Being a kid, and not always appreciating what I was learning, I thought it a big waste of time. 

My father thought it was wonderful; that year, at the Rosa Coplon Home, after I asked the Four Questions in Hebrew, I did so in Yiddish. You could have heard a pin drop, the room was so quiet.

By the third question, some of the residents started to sing along with me, others cried, but no one moved. It was a powerful moment as a child, to realize that I could evoke such loving memories for so many in their later years of life, and that experience has stayed with me to this day. 

My Dad is now 87 and still sings with us every year at seder. May he live to 120, singing away.

Naomi Brunnlehrman lives in Westchester, where she is executive director of The Jewish Deaf Resource Center (jdrc.org).

Seder Of Mixed Feelings

Hani Lipp

Grandma Sadie, my mother’s mother, died in 1981 at 94. She always told us that my mother, Evelyn (Chava Ettl), was born on the last day of Pesach, 25 Nissan 5621, the 23rd of April, 1911. Pesach was always a special holiday in our home as we were growing up.

Mom’s health was failing at the beginning of 2003. She lived long enough to take a picture with her three great-grandchildren; the last two were born in October and November of 2002, and they with their mothers and fathers and the older great-granddaughter, made the trip to Florida to see “Lala,” as my children and grandchildren called her.

She died on 12 Nissan 5763, (April 14, 2003), two weeks shy of her 92nd birthday. Her funeral was the morning of the first seder. My cousin Susan made the seder meal outdoors, at her home in Cooper City, Fla. The rain, which had threatened all day, never materialized. Susan said that it was my Mom’s spirit, and her intercession with the Almighty that allowed us to remember the Passover, and remember mom on that special night.

Hani Lipp lives in Palm Beach County, Fla.

A Newcomer’s Lesson In Giving

Phyllis Freeman

I arrived from England alone as a young girl full of the excitement at being in New York. I soon found an apartment and a job. To fill my time after work and on weekends I volunteered at the Veterans Hospital on East 23rd Street helping the patients, writing letters for them, wheeling them down on Friday nights to participate in the service, feeding them at the Oneg Shabbat, etc., etc.

Then Passover loomed ahead. How lonely I would feel on the nights of the seders. I started to feel sorry for myself.  When the rabbi at the hospital asked me to assist the patients, taking them down to the hospital seder, helping them to eat, etc., of course I agreed. 

Seeing how appreciative the Jewish patients were just to be alive and able to participate in a seder made me feel ashamed. I really enjoyed the warm atmosphere. I learned that I would never really be alone so long as there is a Jewish community where I would always be among my people.

I volunteered at the hospital for quite a number of years, eventually receiving several pins for the hours I put in. I put the pins on a bracelet like a charm bracelet. 

When I joined B’nai B’rith (Brooklyn Heights Chapter), they made me SCAFV (Service Committee for Armed Forces and Veterans) Chairman, so I was proud to volunteer in their name. After all, I not only helped Jewish patients but whoever needed assistance.  

Phyllis Freeman lives in Roslyn Heights, L.I.

Vroom At The Seder

Judith Eisenberg Pollak

My father led our seder in a traditional and serious manner. My sister and I as little girls would anticipate the part where he would fill the cup for Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet). He would then take us to open the front door to welcome Eliyahu into our home. Everyone would sing “Shefoch Chamoscha” (“Pour Out Thy Wrath”), and when we finished, my father would again take us to the front door to say goodbye to Eliyahu. He would then tell us to make a wish, and my sister and I would wish for the things that little girls wish for.
One time while saying goodbye to Eliyahu, we heard a motorcycle roaring down the street. My sister perked up and said, “There goes Eliyahu!”

Judith Eisenberg Pollak lives in Manhattan.

Starting An Old Seder Tradition

Ruth Esrig Brinn

In every seder through the years, my family has followed the custom of having the youngest in attendance ask the Four Questions. This particular year, 2009, was different.

My son suggested that the oldest be the one. And so it was that, with some reluctance and much encouragement, my husband recited the “Feer Kashus” in Hebrew with translations in Yiddish as he had learned in his Pittsburgh cheder many years ago.

It was a delightful and memorable first. And sadly, it would be the last; my husband died in Israel some months later as we went to celebrate the bar mitzvah of our grandson. 

Ruth Esrig Brinn lives in Rockville, Md.

A Rocky Start To Yom Tov

Gloria Donen Sosin

In 1966-70 our family lived in Munich, Germany, where my husband, Gene, was senior advisor to the director of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Our teenage son and daughter attended English-speaking schools.

We tried to keep family life as normal as possible, but took advantage of living in a foreign country, traveling in Europe.

Pesach was especially important for us. Only a small handful of American Jews were stationed in Munich — those in the military, the American consulate and the Voice of America, and some businessmen. Aware of what had happened not so long ago at Dachau, less than 10 miles from where we were, in 1969 the VOA chief’s wife and I organized a first time ever community seder at the Officers’ Club.

We invited outside people, including gentile people from my husband’s office. Some of them had never known a Jew before. Haggadahs and kosher Passover food were brought in with the help of the chaplain and the Jewish Welfare Board.

That seder was particularly memorable because the elderly German cook at the club was almost arrested by the police when they found him down at the edge of the Isar river gathering rocks. When they questioned him he said he needed the rocks to “kasher” the ovens for Passover. In pre-war Munich, he worked for a wealthy Jewish family, and he remembered the practice. The police were impressed, the ovens were kosher and the story was the highlight of our well-attended beautiful seder.

Gloria Donen Sosin lives in White Plains.

An Untraditional Seder Menu

Janice Listokin

Over the years, my children and I spent Passover with my parents in their Miami Beach condo. The seders were always very traditional — the recitation of the Haggadah, the menu, the selection of the songs, trying to finish before the light on the timer goes off and facial expressions when consuming the horseradish.

As my parents aged, my Passover responsibilities increased, including additional cleaning, shopping lists, cooking and the covering of the counters. By the mid 1990s, I was replicating the seder my parents had experienced since they were married in 1944. However, since my family and I eat very little meat or poultry, I suggested that our second seder be a dairy meal.

My parents were appalled and shocked; they attempted to negate the idea based on halacha. When preparing the meal that first evening, my mother continued to be skeptical, frequently saying, “Are you sure we can do this?” She finally threw up her hands in disgust when I began to set the table with the dairy dishes. 

My father needed continuous reassurances. He often said to me that he had never heard or seen a dairy seder. “Let’s not tell anyone about this,” he stated. I allayed his trepidation by assuring him that if this did not work out, next year, G-d willing, we would again have a meat seder on the second night.

We survived our first dairy Passover seder with a few raised eyebrows, soft voiced grumbling and a final acceptance with minor disdain.
And so to everyone’s delight, over the next 17 years our second night seder meal has remained a dairy one. We all agreed that at the second seder, often starting later than the first night, dairy rather than meat was far more digestively beneficial. Both my parents have passed away during the past six months — with this upcoming Passover, as I serve the salmon and blintzes at the second seder, I will think of them and recall their initial chagrin and dismay and then smile with a tear in my eye recalling all the dairy meal holidays we spent together.

Janice Listokin lives in the Bronx.

Donna Blanc

An Ecumenical Seder

One year, for reasons I cannot remember, my immediate family was going to be out of town. Instead of spending the holiday alone, I decided to invite two friends one night. One of my friends was Jewish and one is Catholic.

Through the years I have had many people from other religions and faiths at my seders.

My Catholic friend, who had never seen a seder, asked if she could bring her aunt, who also had never seen a seder. Her aunt is a nun.

The nun was fabulous, very enthusiastic. She not only read from the Haggadah, but asked many questions.

I had never had a nun at my seder, and never will again, because I do not know any other nuns.

Donna Blanc lives in Flushing, Queens.

Having A Ball In Cleveland

Steve Lipman

Dad had emergency open-heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic a few weeks before Passover in 1978, and after traveling back and forth from our home in Buffalo on short notice to be at his side in the interim, we — Mom and my two sisters — found ourselves back in Cleveland for yom tov.

We didn’t know anyone there, couldn’t arrange an invitation to someone’s home on short notice, so decided to make Pesach for ourselves. We were renting a room in a residency hotel near the hospital, and had shlepped a trunkful of holiday necessities: boxes of food, Haggadahs, pots and pans and dishes, the works.

We bought some items, including matzah and grape juice, at a supermarket in a Jewish section of Cleveland that stocked kosher goods.

We were all set.

What is Passover without matzah balls?

Since Mom didn’t have time to do her holiday cooking and baking in her Buffalo kitchen, she decided to make some kneidlach in our kitchenette in Cleveland. The room had no stove, just a hot plate; Mom couldn’t use a large pot, as was her custom; instead, she spooned the small balls of dough into a shallow pan that was barely deep enough to cover the kneidlach.

The pan was designed for frying, not boiling. Any matzah ball recipe calls for a large pan. But we had no other choice. Mom finished with her impromptu creations, and stored them in our small refrigerator until seder time.

Come seder night, Dad was recuperating in the hospital, and we sat down at our cramped holiday table in good spirits. We took turns reading from the Maxwell House Haggadah. Then it was time for the meal.

Mom had reheated the matzah balls in the pan. She served them, as usual, in chicken soup, probably soup she had prepared from powdered stock in a bottle.

We grimaced.

What was wrong?

It’s hard to say, hard being the operative word.

We tried to cut the kneidlach with our spoons; the spoons bounced off the matzah balls’ surface, and the kneidlach jumped out of the bowls, onto the floor.

A knife didn’t help. Mom’s matzah balls, I told her to her agreement, could cut diamonds. Jack Nicklaus, I observed, could use the recipe to patent them for golf balls.

We gave up on the matzah balls; we valued our teeth too much.

The next day we attended a community seder at a nearby Jewish senior citizens home. They served standard matzah balls, and we were grateful.

The next year we were back at home for the seders, Dad was back in good health, and Mom was back to making her usual, delicious kneidlach. In a pot.

The first time Mom made matzah balls in a pan was, thankfully, the last.

Steve Lipman is a staff writer at The Jewish Week.

‘NO Why Matzah!’

Helen Marcus

My daughter was verbal at a very early age, so when she was nearly two, I decided she could do an abbreviated version of the Four Questions for the seders. We practiced, and by the first seder she was ready.

She stood on her chair and said, “Why Matzah.” Everyone was enthralled. Next was “Why bitter herbs.” Then, ”Why dip” followed by “Why recline.” She was a big hit.
The next night at a different seder she wasn’t quite so well rested. When her turn came she screwed up her face and cried, “NO why matzah!” I asked her for the second question and she unhappily said “NO why bitter herbs!” By the time she got to “NO why dip” we were all laughing so hard that I don’t think she ever finished.

After that, “No Why Dip” became a family password for unhappiness.

A Seder Star At 8

Renie Tell

When my son, Bruce, was about eight years old, we had a family seder in a large catering hall in Philadelphia near where my relatives lived. There were many families there besides ours in the hall.
Somehow, (to this day, I never knew when or how), Bruce memorized “Chad Gadya” in English and went up to the rabbi to ask if he could sing the song after dinner. He apparently pestered the rabbi enough so that the rabbi finally relented. After dinner, Bruce took the microphone and sang the entire song from memory and when he was finished the whole room applauded.
The following year, we held the seder in the same hall. Only this time, the rabbi came looking for my son, who was only too happy to sing “Chad Gadya” again.

Bruce is now 35 years old; he became a baal teshuvah about 15 years ago while a student at Cornell University.

Renie Tell lives in Forest Hills.

Finding A Seder In Kobe

Lynne Rhodes Mayer

In 1984 my husband Harold and I joined a Directors Guild of America tour to China and Japan. China had just opened up to visits from professional groups.
The first stop was Japan. We discovered that Passover would fall when we were in Kyoto; we had no idea where to go to celebrate. A Tokyo rabbi said forget about Kyoto, they have nothing, but call so-and-so in Kobe, about an hour away from Kyoto.

Kobe had a community seder, open to all, $18 per person. The next day I stood up in the bus to tell the mostly WASPY-looking members of the Guild that they were invited to a seder, please sign up on this pad if you want to come, but be aware that we must leave for Kobe as soon as we arrive in Kyoto. Imagine my amazement when the pad came back signed by 34 of the 38 people.

When I told our “host” in Kobe that 34 of us were coming, I heard him gulp in panic. “Thirty-four?” Then calmly, he welcomed us. We had an exhausting train trip; our clothing was shipped by truck and hadn’t arrived. We followed our guide, a South African professor of Shakespeare at Kobe University, down the subway steps into a maze of small streets, and finally to the Community Center.
We entered a huge room filled with tables and chairs, hundred of people present. We took our seats and were given little blue Hagaddahs — the Maxwell House Hagaddahs of my childhood. Inside was written 1945, U.S. Navy. They were the very Haggadahs used by our boys stationed in Japan at the end of the World War II.

Japanese waitresses in kimonos served us gefilte fish and matzah ball soup. By 1 a.m., we were exhausted and said we must leave. I got up to say goodbye and thank you on behalf of our group. My husband felt a tap on his shoulder. It was the young American consul.

He said, “I’ve never been to a seder in my life. I’m Jewish and I’m from North Carolina. This is my first seder. And now I know why I’m here.” 
 
Lynne Rhodes Mayer and Harold Mayer live in New Milford, Conn., and are retired documentary filmmakers.

The Dynamics Of A Seder

Renee Perles Kaminetzky

My first seder took place in Bensonhurst, as a seven-year-old girl beginning to experience the preparations for that awesome night.

For me it was also the realization of a painful dynamic that turned out to be a family saga of warmth and happiness, pain and disappointment. We lived upstairs from my grandparents in a two-family house in Brooklyn. Because my mother was the child that lived upstairs, much of the preparations for the seder fell on her shoulders. As a young girl I realized that kashering the kitchen, lugging the heavy pots and pans from their hiding places, and getting the whole house ready to begin the cooking was an uneven burden.

When my aunts arrived a few days before Pesach to help with some of the cooking, I remember being very unhappy at the unfairness of my mother Leiku’s burden. But when the cooking got under way — some of the wonderful aromas, the sour Hungarian borscht, the enormous, hand-grated, crusty potato kugels as large as boats, chicken soup boiling on the fire, mounds of fluffy, golden, handmade noodles made from cartons of eggs and potato starch, every kind of sponge cake — all helped to mitigate some of my awakening feelings.

When my numerous aunts, uncles and cousins descended on the house for the holiday, the sheer joy of playing with my cousins for days on end, people sleeping in every crevice of house, was something I will never forget.
And finally, a house transformed and shining, the seder table resplendent in the finest dishes, sparkling glassware and silver, we dressed in our finest, my grandmother regal as royalty, my grandfather at the head of the table, set a dignified tone evocative of the splendor of that special night.

The history of the Jews is a story of pain and triumph, good and evil and everything in-between, family dynamics a small microcosm. Life goes on. I am now the family matriarch, but I still sometimes feel like that little girl in Bensonhurst so many years ago.

Renee Perles Kaminetzky, who lives in Monsey, N.Y., has enjoyed a varied career as a realtor, health care consultant, and special projects director at an adult day health care facility.   

Passover Gains And Losses

Freda Fried

Shortly after my father passed away in 1982, the entire family decided that we would go to Florida rather than have seder at home and look at our father’s empty chair. Mom had never flown in an airplane, but she packed her suitcase and was ready to go.

We all arrived at the airport, boarded the plane, ready to go to Miami Beach … when we were told the plane could not take off due to the SNOW!

We knew it was snowing, but assumed that the airport workers would simply clean the runways. No such luck. We sat there for 17 hours, till the plane was allowed to take off. Good thing we were leaving a day before Pesach.

A few years later we had another Pesach first. Our second son was born a few days before Pesach, and his bris was on the first day of Pesach. He was named after our father. Fourteen years later, my father-in-law passed away in the very early morning. The levaya (funeral) was after Shacharis, and that night we sat down to the first seder that took place without my father-in-law present.

Five years ago my great niece was born erev Pesach.

Just as we see some of my Pesachs had sad feelings, we also see the great happiness in others. I think to myself that Hashem has plans for all of us and we must have faith in Him.

Freda Fried is director of outreach at Gouverneur Healthcare Services in Manhattan.

‘We Are Doing This Together’

Burt Linder

I am approaching my 75th birthday and have celebrated two 25-year anniversaries, in my first marriage, my in-laws were from a very Orthodox background and my father-in-law, whom I loved dearly, basically davened the Haggadah from beginning to end.

Non-observant for years, in my twenties I joined a traditional Conservative synagogue and then a very liberal one. I then became a Reconstructionist about 28 years ago. and have been very active. 

When my present wife and I took up residence together in Manhattan and I began thinking about conducting my first seder, I told my wife that I was quite nervous about it. “Why?” she asked.

I said that I had never done this on my own. She retorted, “What makes you think that you are doing this on your own? We are an egalitarian household and we are doing this together.” That had never occurred to me; I was certainly put in my place.

Twenty-nine years and many seders later, we still plan the seders together and also cook the meal together. We rarely have less than 15 people and rarely end earlier than midnight.
 
Bert Linder is executive vice president of Bollinger, inc., in Manhattan.

First Time Leading The Family’s Seder

Alice Jena

After 27 years of marriage, we — my children and I — had to prepare a seder without our father/husband. He had decided to leave his family and continue to be fully immersed in Scientology, which some people call a cult. We needed to take part in the beautiful ceremony without him being there. We “Passovered-ized” the house. I purchased — overbought — Passover foods,

How did that first seder without him turn out? I barely remember. But I do thank G-d for the strength and for the knowledge we all gained to be aware of the evil of destructive groups.

Alice Jena lives in Richmond Hill, Queens.

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