Around the Seder Table: Special Pesach Story Section

mishpacha image

Every family has a story

Of pristine white tablecloths

And royal dishes, silver bechers, and traditions

Passed down

From generation to generation.

Soon it will be your turn to make the memories

The ones your children will talk about

Around their Seder tables

In the not-so-distant future


A Loaf of Bread

Chevy Kepecs

As a six-year-old, I thought the most exciting part about the days before Pesach was getting to eat meals outside in the hall with all of my neighbors. It was a lot of fun. We’d trade desserts and leave as many crumbs as we wanted. We were given strict instructions, however, to brush off every last bit of crumbs before reentering our chometz-free homes.
I was very proud of all the help I contributed. I had washed all of my toys and even cleaned some shelves. I was the youngest in my family, and while I couldn’t do what my older sisters did, I had my own share of chores. I’d watch in awe as my sisters, who were usually busy studying or chattering on the phone, huffed and puffed through closets and drawers. The kitchen, however, was my mother’s domain, and she seemed to be cleaning it all day and night, especially the fridge and freezer. As the door of our apartment was in the kitchen, I was given repeated instructions not to drag in any chometz.

Finally, Pesach arrived, and I basked in the freedom of being allowed to drag whatever I wanted into our perfectly chometz-free home. I missed eating in the hall, though! On the last day of Pesach, when there was hardly any food left in the house other than a package of lady fingers and a few oranges, I was hungry and bored and rummaged through the freezer to check if there were any of my mother’s cookies left. I frowned — nothing left. Then I saw a black bag on the bottom shelf. I decided to take a peek inside. What I found was a white bag and inside another black bag, and inside… a loaf of whole wheat bread. I felt my heart skip a beat. “Mommy!” I shouted. “There’s chometz in the freezer!” My whole family came running. Their faces were frozen, and then slowly, they all started laughing.

“How could I forget about that bag?!” my mother said, wiping her tears. “I left it there, carefully triple wrapped, so we’d have bread until the last day before Pesach. How did I forget to take it out?”
My mouth hung open. I couldn’t understand how all the adults weren't sad as I was. I brushed off all of my crumbs so many times, I thought. I washed all of my toys. Had it all been for nothing? After all that, we had chometz — bread! — in our house!

Now, many years later, I can understand why my family wasn't as sad as I. Because it hadn’t all been for nothing. We scrubbed. We washed. We sweated. We tried our best. Because the truth is, all we can do in this world is try. It’s Hashem who determines the outcome. Now, whenever I look back at that Pesach, I think about that loaf of bread and the little girl who learned a big truth.

Miracles Then & Now

Chavi Brody

Round, dimpled, brown speckled matzah. Pristine white cloth. Luminous silver bechers. Can’t you just picture the Seder table? Well, when I was 12, I had to observe it from a horizontal position, or to be more precise, from the living room sofa, due to my achy throat, feverish head, and general weakness. My mother thoughtfully tucked me in with pillows, a warm blanket, and a steaming cup of hot tea, but I wasn’t a happy camper.

I longed to recline like a princess, dressed in my Yom Tov finery, with my own silver becher in front of me.
Too weak to make a fuss, I listened to the familiar recital, “Dam, tzefardeia, kinim…” I heard my siblings’ questions, my father’s answers. I watched how they refilled the goblets with purple liquid. Against my will, the chanting lulled me into a restless sleep.

All of the sudden I was woken up to shouts, coughing, and general panic. What was going on? With great effort, I lifted up my head and observed five-year-old Shmuel coughing nonstop while his face was turning blue! He was choking on a chicken bone! Oh no, Hashem save him! I couldn’t look. My own throat began to feel constricted as I prayed.

“What about the Heimlich maneuver?” my mother yelled.

“Do it now!” said my father urgently.

What was my mother talking about? Some kind of medicine? Before I could ask, my mother stood behind Shmuel, balled one of her hands into a fist, and placed it under Shmuel’s small rib cage. Her other hand prepared to come on top of it with a strong thrust, and POP! The chicken bone came flying out!

Hodu l’Hashem ki tov! Shmuel’s face resumed normal color, and he was alright.

Everybody breathed a sigh of relief and took their places back at the table. It was time to sing, praise, and exalt the One Above for his tremendous kindnesses, to remember the miracles that happened then and now, to revel in this night of watching.

It wasn’t so earth-shattering to be sick anymore. That Seder night, miracles took on a new meaning.

Seder at Home

Chaya Rosen

Sparkling wine glasses and a crisp, white tablecloth stood at the ready on our dining room table. Our regal, three-tiered Seder plate stood waiting, proudly holding the matzos. The silver kos shel Eliyahu gleamed.

My family gathered around the table, ready to begin. The first ragged chorus of “Kadeish, Urchatz” was just beginning when a small click came from the living room, and the nebulizer turned on.
Immediately I left the table and headed over to the machine and the shelf next to it where the various medications were kept. With quick, experienced movements, I measured out all the appropriate medications and prepared my little brother’s treatment. Mommy brought him over, all warm and sweet-smelling, and I settled on the couch with him in my arms. His new Yom Tov vest was soft and I gently brought the misting mask to his face, covering his nose and mouth with the softly spraying, life-giving medications.

As I watched my family proceed with the Seder, I cuddled my brother tighter, remembering Pesach of last year. We’d spent it in the hospital, my brother and I, alone in an isolation room in the pediatrics ward. I was with him for the Seder. I had begged my parents to allow me to spend Yom Tov with him in the hospital. My little brother’s chronic lung disease meant I was no stranger to the ward, and by that point, I knew many of the nurses by name. As his oldest sister, 17 years old, I was an integral part of his team and medical care; I’d often stay with him overnight during his lengthy hospital stays. My parents, busy not only with the baby but also with my other younger siblings, needed help — and I was able, and honored, to provide it.

The little guy in my arms looked up at me and smiled through the mask. As the medicine turned into a fine mist that enveloped us both, I smiled back at him. I knew that he, too, was grateful for the opportunity to be spending Yom Tov with the rest of our family this year. Despite the oxygen concentrator humming in the background and the tubes that snaked into his nose, despite the never-ceasing, round-the-clock nebulizer treatments and the oral medications, we were home, and we were together.

I held him tighter and again thought back to last year’s hospital stay. This year, our Seder table beckoned, and I knew that in a few minutes, this treatment would be over and we’d be back at the table. But I knew that all over the world, there were other kids who couldn’t join their families for the Seder that night. They’d be in hospital beds in sterile wards, in hospitals across the globe. I thought about them, whispered a tefillah for them, and thanked Hashem that this year, we were home.

When the timer clicked off, and the nebulizer went silent, I gathered up my little brother, and we went to join our family at the majestic table.

Tonight, we were free.

A Beautiful Stain

Malka Winner

The idea was a crazy one, but I didn’t really think about that. All I thought about was the excitement and adventure. I was going to go away for Pesach, even if that meant going by myself. After all, as I explained to my parents, it was a great opportunity to get to know our distant cousins a bit better. And somehow, probably because I was very persistent, they let me go. Off I went to the big, exciting borough called Brooklyn. And yes, coming from my small hometown, that was quite exciting.

I only started to really think about what my little (er, big!) plan meant as I walked down my cousin’s block. Suddenly every crack in that Flatbush sidewalk became verrrrry interesting. I slowed my pace, listening to my little bag’s wheels bump over the pavement. What was I thinking? I barely know these people and now I’m going to be with them for Leil HaSeder! I was filled with longing for my own family, our Seder table, and our Erev Pesach hubbub. But it was too late.

With my heart thumping as loud as my suitcase, I bumped up their front walk and knocked on the door. It swung open, and I was greeted by their kids, looking rather confused and curious. The mother of the family called a greeting from the kitchen, and one of the girls showed me to my room. I put my stuff down and sat on the frilly floral bedspread and cried. It wasn’t one of my proudest moments.

When we were finally seated around the Seder table, I was so relieved — until I knocked over my very first kos with an unwieldy elbow. Dark purple grape juice made its unsightly way across the starched white tablecloth. My cheeks must have been as bright as the rapidly spreading stain as I jumped up and looked for napkins to wipe away the juice — and my shame. There were huge splatters in my (their) Haggadah, too.

The father of the family motioned for me to sit. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” he said, smiling warmly. “It’s not just okay. It’s good. It’s perfect! With a tablecloth this white, it looks like we’ve never spent any time at this table! We want our table to look used and loved, and the same goes for the Haggados. Grape juice stains are the number one sign of a successful Seder!” he declared. “So thank you.”
His words were so caring and genuine, and his eyes so kind, that I instantly felt comfortable. He somehow managed to make me feel like I’d even done them a favor. The stain couldn’t be wiped away, but my embarrassment was.

I’ve been waiting many years to use that line on a guest at our table, but we’ve yet to have a clumsy guest. Care to come spill some grape juice at our Seder table?

Shards of Beautiful Memories

Devorah Grant

It was Seder night, and everything gleamed. She always thought things looked extra-shiny on Pesach, as if all the hard work had polished even the mundane until it sparkled. And then there was the Pesach china, proudly taken out each year, part of the family tradition from way back when. She was a big girl, she knew, and a small smile appeared on her face as she thought of all the help she’d given during the pre-Pesach rush. Mommy had been pleased and proud, and it felt good to say she had helped “make Pesach.”

Someone asked her to pass the salt. With a start, she came back to the present and realized that Shulchan Oreich was finishing and her father was looking at his watch — they needed to start on afikomen! Hurriedly, she began collecting plates and bowls, stacking them up into a high tower. Mommy looked at her then, the tiniest twinge of concern in her eyes, but she brushed it away. She could manage it. And in fact, she almost did. She was just a few inches away from the kitchen counter when it happened — when the ceiling became the ground and the floor turned into the heavens and… CRASH. Shattered. Plates and bowls and little plates — that delicate gold rim, the memories and feelings, and so many years of use... all broken. Broken into hundreds, hundreds, of tiny white shards spread around the kitchen floor like a carpet of stars. It had all happened so fast.

The whole family came dashing in and were rendered speechless by the total chaos on the floor before them. She looked at their shocked faces and wondered, miserably, if the mouth of the earth could swallow, or at least grab all the shards and hide them far, far beneath the green kitchen tiles.

Mommy appeared. Wordlessly she surveyed the scene, checked faces anxiously for signs of cuts or bangs or bruises, and then did a slow panoramic sweep of the utter destruction. Everyone watched. Not a breath. And then, Mommy smiled. Picked up a broom. Gave orders and issued commands and restored normality. It’s okay, she said. Okay.

The little girl thought about that scene a lot as she grew older, especially on Pesach. She’d see the new china and think of the old, watch her siblings make mistakes and think of the greatest gift her mother had given her all those years before.

Pesach is about mesorah, about tradition, about passing things down, one generation to the next. And as she makes Pesach in her own home now, deals with spills and breaks and the noise and mess of a family, she thinks to herself how mesorah can take all shapes and forms… even that of broken shards.

Seder Sacrifice

Roizy Baum

I was vacuuming the fifth pocket of my brother’s suit jacket, turning them inside out (seriously, how many pockets does one jacket need?) when I noticed my mother hovering over me. It was obvious she wanted something.

She cleared her throat, a sure sign of hesitation. I pressed down on the power button of the vacuum. Blessed silence reigned.

“Umm, Chany just called. She’s organizing who should eat the Seder with Zaidy and Bobby this year. Instead of having an entire family go down, we figured it will be more practical if one of the older girls go alone.”

My beloved grandmother, an intelligent, beautiful human being, was imprisoned in an immobile body due to the Multiple Sclerosis ravaging her body. Her condition was progressively worsening, and there were many reasons as to why I was the ideal choice to be my grandparent’s Seder-mate.

My mother continued, “Rifky is getting married soon, Rani needs to help Sury with her new baby, and Leah Dina will be in Eretz Yisrael for Yom Tov. Basically, out of all the teenage grandchildren, that leaves you.”

The mere thought of Pesach in our household filled me with the fondest of memories — it was the light at the end of the tunnel after all the elbow grease and vacuuming preceding the chag. We would recline around a beautifully bedecked Seder table replete with the finest of the finest, all of us dressed to the nines, chanting the melodious tunes of the Haggadah. With my father’s vivid portrayal, every single one of us felt as if we personally merited the redemption.

I twirled the wire of the vacuum cleaner around my finger. “Ma, count me in. I’ll do it.”

My mother patted my cheek and visibly relaxed.

For me, though, it was a level of personal sacrifice.

Instead of spending the night surrounded by grape juice spills, dramatic Makkos performances and chubby thumbs doing the dipping, I would be turning the pages of my grandmother’s Haggadah and holding the cup of wine for her to sip from during a very boring Seder. A boring set of dishes, no oohs and aahs over everyone’s new Yom Tov clothing, and no vivid portrayal of the Haggadah. My grandfather, a Holocaust survivor and revered talmid chacham, would race through the pages of the Haggadah and skip all the expounding in order to return to his precious seforim right after Nirtzah. Would all this really be the extent of my Seder this year?

Or so I thought.

As I flipped the pages of the Haggadah and dipped my grandmother’s pinky in a pool of purple wine, I was overcome with admiration. These are two people who had endured so much in their lives, yet with stalwart emunah, they were singing and praising Hashem. They had a million excuses to surrender and succumb to the hardships that life had served them, but instead, they spent the night exalting the name of Hashem.

How could I have thought it would be boring? It was one of the most uplifting Sedorim I have ever experienced.

(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 757)

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