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Special Theme Section: A Taste of Home

Family First Contributors

A teacup. A salt shaker. A stockpot. They’re simple objects, but they’re layered with stories. Thirteen accounts

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

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S

altwater Tears

Rifka Junger

“Kinderlach, why do we dip karpas in saltwater tonight?”

Ten pairs of eyes turn to the head of the long table; everyone wants the privilege of replying.

The white-decked table is set for royalty, for tonight my father is king and my mother the queen. And the guests of honor at this imperial table are the children, the focus completely on them. Finest crystals, buffed silver candelabras, Kiddush cups for everyone, the ke’arah, matzah tashen… Tonight we remember. Tonight we pass on timeless messages to the next generation.

“Nu, kinderlach, why the saltwater?” My father points to the crystal bowl with its three legs. It has been the same bowl for decades. The Salzwasserschüssel. This bowl contains our heritage: overcoming suffering, rising triumphant from anguish.

“Because it tastes like sweat and tears!” the children call out in chorus.

As my father launches into a detailed description of the sweat and tears, pain and suffering in Mitzrayim, we see it come alive. We feel those tears on our tongues. And the messages of hope, emunah and bitachon, of never giving up, never giving in, instill in us strength and pride.

When we get to Vehi She’amdah, we hear stories of heroism of our zeides and bubbes — all four grandparents had emerged from the camps, and the crystal bowl is a collection of their tears. Tonight we recall their mesirus nefesh.

In the wee hours of the morning we get to Hallel, singing and thanking Hashem. Then come the 26 verses of “ki le’olam chasdo.” And we wait for the 23rd verse — that special moment. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

Tea for Two?

Raizy Tabakman

The pareve cabinet on Pesach housed an eclectic mix of servingware, heirlooms alongside modern giftware and bargains.

Great-grandmother Sarah’s tureen for the Seder saltwater, purchased in Marienbad, shared space with hand-painted fruit plates gifted to my parents at their wedding and a blue-and-white plastic cake box that never contained cake for more than two minutes.

The crystal occupied the top shelf, and the ice cream bowls the second. Next to these were a motley crew of glasses: three small glasses, each with a painted rooster, from my mother’s childhood; three styles of Duralex tumblers; shot glasses; and the remnants of a few sets of drinking glasses.

I remember a few sets of tea glasses too, but the year that this story takes place was the year that by Chol Hamoed there was one surviving tea glass (with 11 saucers to go underneath).

On Chol Hamoed, my great aunt called to mention two ladies, friends of hers from Liverpool, spending Pesach at a London guesthouse. They had little family, and Auntie thought it would be nice for them to visit over Yom Tov. My mother reached out to invite them for a meal.

“Oh, we wouldn’t want to impose. We’ll be spending the meals at the guesthouse. But we’ll pop in for afternoon tea, on the eighth day.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

My Rose-Tinted Family

Avigail Rabinowitz

Roooooollll ’em out!”

Thus commences the annual storage- box parade, a celebration that declares the kitchen has been kashered. Out roll the crates from the newly opened Pesach storage closet. As unloading begins in my (temporarily) spanking-clean kitchen, I make special place for the silver. All will take their regal place at the Seder before being lovingly repacked. All, that is, but our silver-handled grapefruit knives.

The grapefruit knives get polished with the rest, but they make their annual debut at the first daytime seudah. We start the meal with an appetizer of half a grapefruit, a family tradition that carries even more meaning since my Great-Aunt Rosy’s petirah.

It was one of the times I was “just visiting” Aunt Rosy in her Yerushalayim apartment, when she suddenly said— “Wait, Rabinowitz! Don’t leave yet! I have something especially for you, my niece who starts with R...”

She climbed on a step stool into an attic and returned triumphantly bearing “R”-engraved grapefruit knives. Rosy Roth never had children of her own, so by virtue of our shared final initial, I was gifted with her knives. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

Elephant Mugs

Esther Ilana Rabi

Hot cocoa always tasted best from the elephant mug. What made it even better was that I had the elephant mug this morning. That meant Mom loved me best, didn’t it? At least this morning.

We were four kids with only two Pesachdig elephant mugs. Competition was fierce and unending. Possession of the elephant mug was concrete proof that I was at the top of the heap. For now, anyhow.

As we grew up, moved on, and moved out, the competition subsided… until Devora moved back home. Freshly divorced and holding her newborn daughter, she returned home to lick her wounds and go to law school.

Years of fighting as children hadn’t left us fond of each other, but it was hard not to pity a sister starting life over again at 32.

Until I got her letter.

“My global allocation of human resources and brilliant assets management has left me in sole possession of the elephant mugs this Pesach.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

Endings and Beginnings

Toby Vogel

Pots. Black speckled fish pots. Greasy frying pans. Once-shiny, banged-up stock pots.

Food was the language of nurture my Bobby spoke. She was defined by her cooking and baking; housekeeping wasn’t high on her list of priorities. Talking to every grandchild, connecting with each one, and davening were more important.

Regardless of our fear that she may offer a drink in a tea-stained mug, notwithstanding the thought of re-using a paper towel that was dried on the door of the kitchen cabinet, we grandchildren looked forward to spending time with her.

I loved my grandmother so much that I was even brave enough to take a short shift in the hospital when she was sick. She was delirious and weak. I thought she was asleep when suddenly, she opened her chocolate brown eyes, grabbed onto the bedrail, and tried to lift herself. “Take me home,” she begged. “I wanna go home!” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

Bowls to Call Our Own

Millie Samson

Our first Pesach! We were grown up, travelers in uncharted territory. Our house, with its concrete floors and bright orange kitchen, was sparsely furnished while we saved penny by penny: beds; a dining room table and chairs; a tumble dryer, a present from a doting aunt — the rest, a dream for the future.

Like all young couples we had wedding gifts relegated to Pesach: two ornate tea sets. We still needed something to use for food. After a long day at work, instead of coming straight home, I went to Woolworths — the shop that allowed you to stock your house and come home with some money left in your purse.

They caught my eye, those bowls, solid, reliable, with garish blue and white stripes — and the last two on the shelf. They were slipped into my basket along with two plates and two glasses, to be stored away until the great day.

All those years ago, Pesach was simple. Fresh fruit and vegetables, matzah in square boxes, a choice of two flavors of jam — strawberry and apricot — ground almonds, matzah meal, potato flour, cinnamon, salt, and packet soup. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

Tears to My Eyes

Shoshana Itzkowitz

I have several favorite Pesach items: the tablecloth my sister-in-law bought when she came for Yom Tov; the red soup pot so mammoth I can bathe my nine-year-old in it, Great-Aunt Yetta’s ke’arah (she called it a Seder plate), and the interesting becher I bought Hubby (because I loved it and had to have it).

Unpacking the Pesach boxes is a much-anticipated Event, like your oldest son’s upsheren, your daughter’s first shidduch, or picking up those long-awaited care packages back in seminary (sans the four round-trip bus rides and missed curfew).

We have it down to a science. Music blaring (so everyone must yell to be heard, which adds to the hoopla), kids arguing over who stands on top of the ladder handing down cartons to the lowly commoners, one or two sitting on the kitchen floor trying to replace the weren’t-made-to-be-removed legs back on the table (did we really have to unscrew those? When was the last time we ate on the legs?), at least two kids crying, and three neighbors’ kids at the door collecting.

This year, as always, we follow the script swimmingly. We haul up the Sterilite cartons and open them systematically; no point in unpacking the Haggados before the pots and pans. First things first: the box with peelers, knives, cutting boards.

I know what I’m looking for as I begin to rummage. Not the tablecloth, not the red soup pot, not the gorgeous becher. In this house, nothing screams, “Pesach is HEEEEEERRRRE!!!!!!!” louder than my… where is it… must be here somewhere… ah! ah! I think I feel—Yup! Tada!!! Here they are, my huge, bright green onion goggles! (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

Potluck

Faigy Peritzman

I suppose it was a stockpot. Maybe a canning pot? As a child I didn’t know it had an official name. It was simply The Soup Pot, and it heralded the culmination of cleaning the kitchen for Pesach.

The first piece of cookware brought up from the basement, it was soon filled with chicken, vegetables, and herbs. As the soup simmered for hours, the scent of Pesach wafted through the house — wholesome ingredients, solid, simple, savory.

I remember the pot as enormous — the size of a garbage can. In my memory, it took the entire stovetop — all the burners — to bring it to a boil. As an adult, I suppose it couldn’t have been that big. All I know is that I couldn’t get my child-sized arms around its wide black girth and the white spots that dotted the enamel were far more than I could count.

Year after year we lugged the pot up; year after year my mother doled out gallons of soup into containers, until we washed the pot (a two-man job) and carried it back to the basement to await its mission the following year.

Time goes on and you think nothing will change. But I moved thousands of miles away and started making my own Pesach. As my family grew, I searched the stores for a pot that could fit a week’s worth of soup. But I never found one large enough, and so I resigned myself to several relays of soup-making. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

Badge of Bravery

Chanah Samuels

A Seder plate, in its box. I don’t even know what it looks like. I don’t think I’ve ever opened it. But my throat feels thick and my eyes burn.

On top of the box is a matzah cover. Simple, embroidered with crimson clusters of grapes and wine. To me, it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.

I honestly don’t know how I did it. It was my first year away from home. Moving away from almost-divorced parents was like taking a gasp of oxygen. But so many things were so hard. Like making Pesach.

I bought beautiful dishes. Goblets. A white tablecloth. The dozens of odds and ends you don’t realize you need till you make Pesach the first time.

I didn’t even know how to make Pesach. We hadn’t made Pesach at home since I was 12. And how would I do all the cleaning, buying, cooking… alone?

And then there were the panic attacks. Years of strain had taken their toll, and even when I left, I had daily panic attacks. They drained my batteries. I was functioning in zombie-mode. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

A China Link

Margie Pensak

I’m the proud heir of my paternal bubby’s vintage, flowered, maroon-and-beige Pesach china. Just looking at it conjures up the hakaras hatov I have for my family, along with a gush of childhood memories.

As my family grew, convenience won out over sentimentality: I used disposable dinnerware. Nevertheless, there has never been a Pesach I didn’t insist on bringing out at least some of the carefully packed pieces of Bubby’s china to use on my Yom Tov table.

Just looking at Bubby’s china is a heartening reminder of all the frum relatives I never knew I had on my father’s side. It wasn’t until I was a young adult, attending school in New York, that my father a”h mentioned these relatives. Not only did I have a chance to meet a handful, I even became close to some of them. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

Mr. Matzah and Mr. Pesach

Ahava Ehrenpreis

I
have yet to unpack the three-tiered Seder ke’arah, the silver goblets, the gold-and-burgundy trimmed china, the very beautiful objects that have been at our Seder for so many years.

But here I am, balancing on the top of a four-step ladder, eagerly reaching for the old cardboard box marked “fragile.” I smile with that deep, inner joy that’s almost visceral. I lean over to put it on the counter, gingerly stepping down — ugh, long skirts and ladders. How I’m anticipating opening that old box! This rather squashed, nondescript box has been where Mr. Pesach and Mr. Matzah have spent their decades since I was a child and, I believe, the eons of years since my parents’ and grandparents’ Sedorim.

My dear Mr. Matzah (brown moustache — like crispy matzah), and Mr. Pesach (rather gray-white, like a house all white and shiny for Pesach) were as integral to my perception of Pesach as matzah-and-butter sandwiches for breakfast. Even now, I’m almost surprised to see one little hole on the top of Mr. Pesach’s hat and two on Mr. Matzah’s three-cornered chapeau: Mr. Pesach and Mr. Matzah were never so mundane as salt and pepper shakers. They were friends I could speak to at the Seder table as the adults discussed the deeper meanings of the words and songs of the Haggadah. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

Ah Kosheren Pesach!

Zivia Reischer

When my kitchen was finally turned over last year, I decided to start with potato kugel. I figured I’d start with 25 pounds of potatoes (just for first days).

I lugged five five-pound bags to the counter, calculated that I’d need approximately a million onions, and got to work.

First I peeled (and peeled and peeled) the potatoes. The first two bags took six minutes each. The third bag took nine minutes. The fourth bag took 15 minutes and the last bag took longer than all the others put together. When I was finally done I turned to the onions.

The first year I made Pesach, the store had been out of red- and blue-handled knives, so I had purchased hot pink and neon orange (they also carried gray and black but… so boring). I’d carefully marked each plastic handle in bold black permanent marker: MILCHIG and FLEISHIG. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

The Gift Horse

Peshie Needleman

The first year we were married, I was excited to follow my chassan up the rickety, pull-down stairs to the attic.

A widow for 13 years, his mother had been waiting (im)patiently for her two children to get engaged. As she waited, she’d attend each and every Wednesday Special Deals Sale at the local Caldor. There, she bought cheese board sets for $5, frying pans for $10, and hand mixers for $15. On each box, she scrawled “Lee” or “Scott,” and sent them up to the attic. She didn’t keep track of her inventory, so quite a few cheese boards resided up there.

In the attic, we brushed the dust off the boxes and peered at the names. We opened each box marked “Lee” and gingerly examined the contents. A freshly minted kallah, I wasn’t all that impressed with what I saw. I didn’t want these no-name brand pans without a Teflon coat. I didn’t want cutlery with plastic handles or tacky butterfly platters. And I didn’t fancy myself the cheese-board type.

Still, I thanked my mother-in-law in what I hoped was a genuinely grateful voice, mumbled something vague about coming back to retrieve them someday soon, and left the boxes in the attic. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

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