In a tradition they are proud of, all four generations of the Zippan family will be gathering from across North America for its 19th family seder on Erev Pesach, April 14.
“Invitations go out to more than 40 families, comprising over 100 people. Attendance is usually 50 to 70 people. This year’s seder has 63 confirmed guests,” said family member Jonathan Gladstone.
Zelig Tsipaniuk (Zane Zippan) and Chifra Klara had seven children, all born in or near Brosilow, in what’s now Ukraine, between 1894 and 1915. One of their children, Baruch, died in 1917 of a fever, while fighting in the Russian Revolution. The other six Tsipaniuk children survived to immigrate to Canada with their parents in 1926 and ultimately simplified the spelling of their name – some used Zippan, but others chose to use Zippin. Those who came to Canada were Chaya Sura (married Abe Cutler), Ben Zippan (married Sarah Goldman), Tybel (Tilly) Zippan (married Max Gladstone),
Sam Zippin (married Fay Noble), Tsipura (Sylvia) Zippan (married Joe Cohen) and Jack Zippan (married Rose Klein).
They were among the early members of Toronto’s Kiever Congregation, where many of the family are still members today. All six children, and later their spouses, children and grandchildren, remained close over the years. The Zippan children have all passed away, but left their children with a sense of the importance of family. The last of the six, Yankel, or Jack, the youngest, died a few years ago. His widow, Rose, died just recently.
“We have photos and stories from family seders going back to the 1940s. There’s one photo in which my father, Norman Gladstone, is about 13 years old, which means it was during World War Two,” Jonathan said.
Miriam Freedman is a granddaughter of Zelig and Chifra, through her late mother, Sylvia. She’s also one of the two main organizers, along with her cousin, Beverly Freedman, who is a great-grandaughter – her mother’s parents were Chaya Sura and Abe. Beverly’s mother, Betty, married Murray Freedman.
Jonathan Gladstone is a great-grandson. “My father Norman’s parents were Tilly and Max,” he explained. “The original children’s generation is now all gone. But most of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren survive, and the first of the great-great-grandchildren [Beverly’s granddaughter, Lea] is a toddler now, along with the youngest of the great-grandchildren. And there are more of those likely yet to come!” Jonathan said.
“My mother, Sylvia Cohen, was the one that kept the family together. She held the seders every year and the entire family came. As she got older, she wasn’t well and we broke up into groups,” Miriam Freedman said.
“In 1995, my cousin, Ruchel Gladstone, whose mother was a sister of my mother, decided that nobody was happy with this arrangement as we all loved being together. From then on, we started having the seder at my aunt’s apartment party room.”
Making sure everyone knows about the seder takes careful organization.
“Jonathan sends out a notice to everyone months before – a save-the-date – and then he sends out an email as to when and where,” Miriam said. “Beverly and I go down the list and decide what everybody should make. Jonathan designs the most beautiful place cards with some kind of symbol for Pesach on it. Cousins come in from California, Florida and Montreal – nobody wants to miss out.”
They will miss having Rose Zippan at the seder this year, Miriam said.
“My aunt, Rose Zippan, was the only living original member at the seder. We would do a little tribute to her and tell her how happy we were that she was here with us. She recently passed away at the age of 99. I remember with fondness at seders past every generation, young and old, came over to talk to Auntie Rose.
“My son-in-law, Jeffrey Hoffman, now runs the seder. We have a portable microphone that gets passed around, everybody reads from the Haggadah while ‘together aloud’ the children recite the four questions and we all sing songs.”
Arranging food for so many people is also a challenge, but, in addition to deciding what people should bring, the cousins have developed a system for ensuring that there is enough food and some traditional dishes are served.
“My daughter Karen, cousin Beverley and I make 20 pounds of gefilte fish for the seder, using a recipe that dates back to when my mother still held her seders. Everybody has a comment to make about our gefilte fish, such as, ‘it’s better than last year,’ and most all the comments are favourable,” Miriam said laughing.
Miriam and Beverly document exactly what they serve at the seder, and afterward, they go through the list and make notes, such as “fantastic,” or “let’s not make this next year,” “too much food,” or “not enough.”
“When we go through the menu the next year, we have everything written down with comments. It’s a lot of shlepping, but well worth the effort.
“My mother taught my brother and I that family is the most important thing. Seeing everybody come to the seder hugging, kissing and so happy to see each other – it’s very special.
“That’s what my mother taught us, and we’re passing it on,” Miriam said with a tear in her eye.