By Helga Harris (Sarasota, FL)
“Look at David,” Aunt Sophie exclaimed. “It happened again. Remember last year, when he fell asleep at the Seder table and his sweet curly brown hair dipped into the matzo ball soup?”
I remember my earliest Passover Seders. I was five or six, and we sat around a beautifully set table surrounded by many family members at my grandparents’ house. Most memorable was my red-bearded Opa in a flowing white caftan. Reclining on a grand wing chair with a propped up fluffy pillow, he looked like an elderly angel in the light of the silver candelabra, which gently glowed on everything.
Some of the foods on the Seder plate – parsley, horseradish, hard-boiled eggs, onions, and matzo – we children were not anxious to consume. What we hungered for was the golden chicken soup with floating matzo balls. However, we weren’t permitted to eat a morsel before the formal recitation of every word of the first half of the Haggadah was read. It took more than an hour.
Nothing changed except the location when, years later, the Seder was held at my parents’ home. Although older, I wiggled impatiently in my seat. The reading bored me. It was all in Hebrew. Only my father understood the words. But when the Four Questions were asked by the youngest male child, everyone perked up.
Four cups of wine were consumed at the Seder table. A special goblet of wine was filled to the brim and reserved for Elijah, the prophet. The night’s drama took place when a child was assigned the honor of opening the front door to let Elijah enter. It was always nighttime, and my heart raced as I imagined all sorts of frightening images on my way to the entrance. It seemed an eternity until I was permitted to close the door. Everyone looked at the wine. Had a sip been taken? We agreed that the silver goblet was only a bit depleted. The elders explained: “Children, Elijah visits so many homes; he only drinks a little at each house.”
For the past two decades, the Seders have been held at my house. Now that I’m the matriarch, I have radically changed the tradition. At our table we have relatives and guests of varying races and religious persuasions: Jews, Methodists, Catholics, atheists, and one Muslim. The Haggadah has been rewritten in English by my family. The revisions give women recognition, long overdue, for the years of hardships that they endured and for their years of leadership, too.
One year, my 82-year-old sister-in-law, read The Four Questions (instead of the youngest boy). Another time, my 10-year-old granddaughter was chosen to lead the Seder. My father never would have permitted it. We’ve come a long way.
At our Seder we eat gefilte fish and matzo ball soup before reading the Haggadah. The most relevant aspect of our Seder is the homogenous mix of people sitting happily at our table. reminding us that life is good.
Helga Harris was born in Berlin, Germany, and moved with her family to New York City in 1938. Throughout her life Helga has painted and has had numerous art exhibits in New York, Miami and Sarasota. She is the author of Dear Helga, Dear Ruth, a memoir, and has published several articles in The Sarasota Herald Tribune and The Tampa Tribune, as well as stories in several magazines and anthologies, including We Were There, published by the St.Petersburg Holocaust Museum.
This story originally appeared in The Tampa Tribune and online at Tampa Bay Online. It’s reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.
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