From Humiliation to Praise

Look back on your life and you become aware of a collection of memories: some good…some not so good; each an opportunity to deepen your awareness, sometimes to learn a life lesson, sometimes to raise a small chuckle or a tear. As we look back, we can become aware of the thoughts and the feelings which give our lives the value they have. I believe that our greatest sense of happiness or sadness—thanksgiving or regret—are intimately entwined in those memories.

There are times when I like to think that our task at the synagogue is to utilize our understanding of our faith and tradition to create memories that will enrich our members’ lives and contribute to their sense of inner-joy and well-being.
At this moment we are at the onset of one of our traditions which carries with it so many associations of time spent with family and friends. Of course I’m referring to the great festival of Pesach and the Seder.

How many of us can look back on Pesachs come and gone and recollect times with people whose lives touched our own. Many can no longer share this time with us through being physically present, and although the number continues to grow, we still sense their presence with us. It may be on account of some ritual item that they loved and shared with us; it may be through a particular recipe passed down; a melody that they sang or even an interpretation of a part of the haggadah that they discussed. I can look back at my boyhood years in South Africa, growing up with my father as the rabbi of a Reform Congregation in Durban. We only observed one seder which was automatically the congregational seder. I remember the way the tables were laid out, and I can hear my father’s voice and how much he enjoyed the singing. I also remember longing to experience a family seder. One year my close friend, Clive Sinoff, invited me to attend the seder he and his family were celebrating with cousins. I don’t remember too many details, although I suspect it was abbreviated considerably.

In 1971, we all had arrived back in the States and there were seders with my parents at their home in Garden City, NY. I had the opportunity to share them with cousins that I hadn’t seen in years as well as with my older sister, Deborah, and her family.
Since my marriage to Susan, I can look back on the many seders we observed in our home in St. Paul, Canton, and St. Louis. Susan’s mom, Mildred Bayliss, lived with us in St. Paul and for a few years in Canton. She loved Pesach. Every year she would try to find a new item to add to our Passover collection. One year it was some special containers for the salt water and horseradish. Another year it was a whole set of beautiful dishes that Mildred and Susan had seen on a super sale. Every time Pesach rolls around I’m reminded of my wonderful mother-in-law and can feel her unique presence.

Of course there were times when Murphy’s Law was über alles; such as the time we were having over twenty people at our seder and the disposal backed up that morning. (You never realize how important a functioning sink is until you experience this). It seemed to take forever for the plumber to come, but I’m happy to report that complete disaster was avoided.

There was the time we had two families join us who worked for the same company. At the time we had no idea that they didn’t get along! (I think the Seder that night seemed interminable). I think that it was at that same Seder that we discovered an interesting conflict in traditions. My family’s custom—as is the case for many—was for an adult to hide the Afikoman and for children to search for it after the dinner. The one who found it would receive a prize. If there were more than one child, there might be a grab bag and the winner would get first pick.

Apparently, this family had a custom of the child stealing the Afikoman (and demanding ransom to return it). I remember looking on the Matzah plate to take the Afikoman to hide it. It was nowhere to be found! I couldn’t believe that it might have been consumed. When I mentioned my dilemma, the family had to suffer the embarrassment of telling their child to fork it over!
Even more recently, during my first Pesach in Santa Rosa, our oven was in full swing with our Pesach turkey when the electricity went out. By the time the problem was diagnosed and corrected we had lost the turkey and most of the dinner. To make an even longer story short; our Seder was amazingly simple that night—scrambled eggs.

Despite these mishaps, I can think of the many incredible meals Susan’s prepared over the years and the great conversations we’ve had over the Haggadah. There was even the time in St. Louis when we’d invited a Rabbinic Colleague to join us. In this case the discussions were so intense, we didn’t finish the seder until well past midnight!

My family and I join in wishing you a happy, healthy Pesach, and the opportunity to create more unique and treasured memories together with your friends and family.