Beit Midrash: Pesach
1960 – Montreal
My father is carrying heavy, worn boxes of dishes, pots, pans and silverware back and forth from some deep back room closet in our flat. Both of my grandmothers and my mother are battling for their territory in the kitchen. An enormous silver thing gets clamped onto the counter top that morphs fish into gefilte fish in one grind. “Don’t get near it, you’ll hurt yourself!”
Not to worry.
The smell of Bon Ami and Mr. Clean mingle with the heady smells of chicken soup simmering, chicken livers broiling, brisket roasting and carp with lots of garlic baking in the oven.
Newspapers are everywhere, covering freshly waxed floors and wooden boards cover the counters.
“Don’t even think of opening that cabinet!” (How did she know?)
A mysterious pot on a foil-lined shelf in the fridge covered with a lid and a towel.
I’m home from school watching the chaos of my family get ready for Passover and I am clearly in the way.
I am bored.
I have already broken in my new Pesach patent leather shoes with the strap that goes in the front and can swivel to the back so when my mother isn’t looking I can look more sophisticated. I have already eaten an entire box of Horowitz-Margareten chocolate covered matzah secretly in my bedroom and Pesach hasn’t even begun – wait till they find out. I have already finished my library books that were supposed to last for eight days. My mother wants me to clean chometz out of my room and I am not interested.
I need to know everything.
I open the refrigerator and lift the lid and see this horrible stuff.
I shriek, drop the lid on the floor and my Bubby comes running with that worried, irritated, what have you gotten into now look on her face.
“What is this?!” I holler in English. “Lingen un layber” she answers in Yiddish….like I am foolish. “What are you doing with lungs and liver?”
She explains that once they’re all broiled, chopped up, sautéed with onions and garlic this is what goes inside the Pesach knishes. I am traumatized and vow to her that I will never eat another Pesach knish. Bubby looks like I’ve injured her personally.
Soon the house will be gleaming, aunts and cousins will arrive in dresses bought for yontif bearing flowers, wine and family gossip. The men return from shul, they look longingly at the radio wondering what the score is in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The table is set with the same yellow and red Haggadah (which I learn years later is simultaneously being read even in The United States!). I ask my grandparents how they ever knew when yontif began if they had no bank calendar in Rumania and Poland. They shrug “we just knew.”
The sun sets, the familiar sets in, dusted up from a year ago, carefully taken out of a treasured place. The songs and tunes we all know, the usual fight about who’s the youngest – it’s always my sister, the contest about whose horseradish is stronger, the chance for my Zaideh [the foreman in a paper box company] to shine…and for my Bubby to occasionally correct him. She can’t help it.
Maror..koraych…shulchan oraych…then we eat.
My vow I made is long forgotten – Pesach knishes are part of the whole experience, but I still close my eyes while eating them.