Kugels are being frozen, matzoh balls rolled, and families are getting ready to gather again for their annual Seder. It’s been a rite of passage for me ever since I married into my husband’s huge Jewish family. Don’t get me wrong, my stepfather was Jewish, but the Irish Flapper didn’t do Passover. This holiday is unlike anything else, it can’t be compared to Easter, because Easter was a direct result of the Last Supper, which was a Passover Seder, if you get the drift. This is more like a Jewish Christmas. Everybody has got to get home for the Seder.
We sit around a large table and tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt and our path to freedom. There are prayers and songs and finally food. Every single Jewish family around the world is going to be doing this in eight days. My specialty, as you all know, is the haroses – a delicious condiment of apples and dried fruit meant to symbolize the bricks and the labor that was used while our people were slaves. It happens to be the star attraction on Grandma Ada’s Seder plate.
I remember my first Seder with the Baby Bride, 1980, like it was yesterday. Driving from the Berkshires back to NJ. All the relatives cooing over her, holding her, giving her presents. A great tradition was being passed down and I knew it was important to pay attention. Bob would one day lead the Seder, recline at the head of the table, and ask questions just to keep us on our toes. Last year the same rituals were repeated, only the Love Bug stole the show.
But this year we’ll be missing our north star. Judith married Ada’s nephew after a long and hard divorce. She brought him back to us, a happier healthy man. She was a counselor, whose smile could light up a room. A devout Jew, her parents had survived the Holocaust with numbers on their arms to prove it. It was the first time I had ever seen that horrific symbol, alive on a real person, not in a history book. And yet, somehow, they raised an angel of light.
Judith, the woman who brought a profound sense of meaning to our gathering every year, died yesterday. Her Hebrew kept Bob on track during the Seder, she would be the one to lead us through long passages, to sing without having to look at the words. Her Judaism was a living breathing tribute to her parents. Her loving spirit a balm to her husband and her son, her stepdaughters and her grandchildren. And I can’t tell you how many times she took me aside at the Seder to reassure me on my road through this long and winding family dynamic – to tell me that everything will be alright. These are just rough passages, we’ll plow through.
She battled cancer with the ferocity of her Biblical namesake. She was too young, too kind, it was too soon. And this Seder, along with all the rest to come when the Love Bug brings her baby to meet the family, Judith will always be remembered.