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Passover memories grow throughout the years

Read this story in Cleveland Jewish News

Since the passing of my stepfather last August, I live alone in my home, and I have been heavily involved in sorting through items in the house in an effort to be more organized. It’s the same house in which I grew up, so it contains many memories.

Recently in my mother’s bedroom, I discovered a Passover guide published by the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization in Washington, D.C., that likely dates to the 1950s. Looking through this guide stimulated memories of celebrating Passover as a child at home with my family.

Preparing for Passover was very involved. I can remember my mother shopping for the various Passover foods, such as matzah, gefilte fish, eggs, macaroons, honey cake, Manischewitz wine and whatever other items and ingredients she needed to prepare the meal for the seder.

Then came the cleaning of the house, which was a major ordeal. Since no leavened bread may be eaten during Passover, we tried our best to remove all the chametz (leavened products) from the home, and that involved cleaning every room on the first floor. My mom would thoroughly scrub the stove, refrigerator and freezer, as well as the sinks, counter tops, tables and floors, and she’d be exhausted when that was all done.

As the first night of Passover approached, I would help my mom prepare for the seder by setting the dining room table for all the family members who were coming – and that was quite a few in those days. I would place the various symbols on the seder plate, such as the hard-boiled egg, the symbol of life; matzah, the “bread of affliction”; moror (bitter herbs), symbolizing the bitterness our people endured in Egypt; and the roasted shankbone, reminiscent of the sacrifices of the young men and women who put their lives on the line fighting for freedom.

I have only vague recollections of reciting the four questions during the seder, but I must have done it because I was the youngest child. What I do remember vividly was how delicious the chicken, matzah ball soup and other food my mother prepared tasted, and then after the meal, singing songs in the living room, accompanied by my Aunt Thelma on the piano. Then we had to clean up – clearing the table, putting away the leftovers in the refrigerator and freezer and washing the dishes – after which my mom would collapse into bed.

The eight days of Passover are always a struggle for me because I never have cared much for the kosher-for-Pesach foods. Matzah tends to make me constipated – my mom used to make a fruit compote, loaded with prunes, especially for me – and the Passover cereal usually tastes like cardboard. I can recall my mom telling someone when I was a child, “Ed really hates the Pesach foods. I hope he learns to overcome that.” It still hasn’t happened.

But I manage to get through it every year, and as this Passover approaches, I reflect back on those days with mostly fond memories.

I wish all of you a happy Pesach, and may you always be blessed with peace, prosperity and togetherness.

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