Friday, April 25, 2008

Pesach - a great occasion for a family gathering

Comes Tu Beshvat (the new year of the trees), the beginning of spring and the first signs of the reawakening in nature I ask my sons where will we celebrate Pesach this year.
For 40 years, as long as my husband was alive and we lived in Haifa, it was self-understood that for the Pesach Seder the whole family gathers in our place to hold the traditional Seder, reading the Hagada from beginning to end. Guests were always present, my sister and brother and their families, friends of the family or students from Africa or Asia. It was up to me to make sure that everything will be just right, as it was my mother’s duty in her time.
I have very vivid memories of Pesach at home, like the anticipation, the preparations, the Seder evening with its melodies, the hiding of the Afikomen, without which the Seder can’t be completed and many other details.
It was the last day of Pesach 1939 that I left home. I have never missed a Seder since. By now I am just an onlooker, the next generation has taken over. We all get together.
This year my children decided to hold the Seder out of doors, under a giant Oak tree. Four generations gathered, all three of my children and their families.
They spread out mats and mattresses to sit upon and everybody contributed and brought some food along. I made a big pot of vegetable soup, as some of the grandchildren are vegetarians and brought a big pile of washed lettuce leaves which were quickly consumed.
My task as a tribe eldest and as in all previous years, was to prepare the traditional Seder Plate with the roasted Bone and roasted Egg in memory of the sacrifice at Temple times, the Petrosilia to dip in Saltwater when saying for the blessing over what the earth brings force, the Charoset (grated apples with blanched and chopped almonds, honey and a drop of wine) in memory of the clay blocks that the children of Israel had to make in Egypt, the Lettuce leaves to hold the Horse-reddish (bitter Herbs) to remind us of the bitterness of slavery. All that sits on three covered Matzot, (unleavened bread quickly backed).
The middle Matze is broken in half early on during the ceremony and sat aside as Afikomen for later. The children quietly steal and hide it. Who ever is the master of ceremony, in order to continue, has to redeem it against a bag of nuts or other presents.
Danny, my son, was the mastermind, let everybody know where and when we would meet and how to get there, informed them as to which part he or she had to play, and started the reading of the Hagada, the tale of the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt, from slavery to freedom.
Each one of us was asked what freedom or to be free means for him or her, what it means to be here or what we wish for our future.
Me feeling of freedom goes back to the day I came on Aliya, that means when I arrived in Erez Israel. Since then I call myself Ester, Ursula I left behind me.
A great joy for me was to be together with all three of my children, many of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. To be part of a four-generation family makes me happy. I see it as a great achievement and gives me a feeling of belonging and continuity.
Today is the last day of Pesach. It is 69 years ago that I left home. On that day my father handed to me a Hagada, which was already read by his great-grandfather and we still read from it year after year.


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