Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Kol B'Seder

I know it’s so last week, but I can’t pass over the chance to tell you about something that happened 5 minutes before the seder, two years ago.

We were at the Jersey shul, living there, breathing the old ghosty air, trying to inject some life.

We were going to have 90 people for the community seder—a whopping achievement in numbers, enthusiasm and hope.

As Rebbetzin, Cook, and Bottlewasher, I had arranged for all the food, and the morning of the seder, I schlepped to the Bergenfield Kosher Deli to pick it up.

You cannot imagine what my Honda Pilot looked like. 


Huge trays of brisket, chicken, tzimmis, and potatoes, big bottles of soda, enormous packages of matzoh, and enough Charoset, horseradish roots and the rest of the stuff to make 20 seder plates. Cases of wine and bottles of grape juice. Cakes, fruit, candies.

And two 5-gallon buckets. One with Matzoh Balls. 

And one with chicken broth.

Upstairs, the social hall and kitchen were a frenzy of nerves. My two besties, Shulamit and Rachel (Hebrew names only to protect the innocent)—who ALWAYS volunteered for EVERYTHING—were in the kitchen accepting the enormous load-in of food, organizing what goes where and when, heating the ovens, cutting veggies, arranging platters and seder plates—you know, the whole geshikhte.

I was doing the last minute table-set-up—the flowers, the bottles of wine, the salt water, Elijah’s Cup. Oh, and helping a beleaguered Rabbi Sruli set up the sound system for our family band.

The twinkies, Johnny (boy) and Charlie (girl) were running around, ecstatic with anticipation, in their cute new outfits. 

I remember Johnny’s new oxford blue button down shirt.

And you remember that in the kitchen there were two 5-gallon buckets. 

One with chicken broth.

I don’t know who screamed. Probably everybody.

I made it into the kitchen, just in time to see the last yellow, greasy wave sweeping over the floor.

The Great Sea, split and standing firm, had crashed down again.

It was horrible.

It was Johnny.


Apparently, the 5-gallon bucket of broth had been placed on the industrial metal counter at exactly blue-eye-level of this three year old.

Who should not, it is true, have been allowed in the kitchen.

He had been poking at it, at first tentatively, and then, when it actually  moved a few millimeters, with determined interest.  A few millimeters. A few millimeters more. Towards the edge of the counter.

Poke, poke, poke, WHAM.

There was no time to absorb the shock. The kitchen goddesses mopped and degreased, mopped and degreased.  I, sheepish as a paschal lamb, called the dour shul president and begged him to stop at Shoprite and buy out every can of Manischewitz chicken broth, with as much haste as our ancestors in ancient Egypt.

And then I went to pick up my trembling little boy, who was hiding, wound up in the velvet curtain on the stage.

Within minutes, the congregants and some of our friends started arriving, When it was time for the Ma Nishtana, the kids all stood in the middle and sang, and many of the grownups (including me) were crying. Despite the shaky start, the seder was magical, and Sruli spoke beautifully and made the Hagaddah come alive.

Zachary and Aaron played fabulously, and Ilana was beautiful and charming.

Most importantly, the chicken soup with matzoh balls was delicious.

Everyone said it was the best seder, ever. Even the president cracked a smile.

And, at the very end, Shulamit and Rachel and I had a fifth cup of wine—just for us. L’shana haba b’spa.

We said that someday we would look back at the chicken soup debacle and laugh.

That day, like the redemption, has not yet come.

Instead, Sruli and I have moved to a better place, a wonderful synagogue where the president herself is in the kitchen before every event, cooking and preparing with many more kitchen goddesses.

There was a Passover committee, and many congregants pitched in. I was not the one who had to schlep to Boston to pick up the food. The seder here merited a real caterer, so no one was allowed in the kitchen. And there were many other kids running around with Johnny and Charlie.

Zachary and Aaron played fabulously, and Ilana, and Aaron’s girlfriend Basia, were beautiful and charming. Sruli brought everyone together with singing, scholarship and laughter.

Most importantly, there was an atmosphere of joy, of warmth and of family. If anything had crashed, I think it would have been ok.

When all the kids all stood up on chairs in front of a packed room of over 150 people to sing the Ma Nishtana, I cried. Some nights are different from all other nights, and sometimes, those different nights are all the same.

And I wished I could have had Shulamit and Rachel here, to sit like free women, with me.

Back last summer, when we had lived here for about two weeks, Johnny, who was five then, took me by the hand.

“We have a good life, in Maine,” he said.

I startled, WHAM.  

I guess the old atmosphere had also spilled over into his little consciousness.

He was appreciative of the contrast.

But was hard to hear, and I picked up my happy little boy, silently crying into his beautiful blond curls.

Had He not brought us out of New Jersey and set us into this happy shul, and provided for us this beautiful house, and given us a wonderful kindergarten, and blessed us with a good life, here, in Maine, Dayenu. 

Dayenu, Dayenu.