It happens in every family. Sometimes it comes naturally, sometimes it has to be forced. The politics can be brutal. It happened in my family years ago, and now it has finally happened in my husband’s family. Yes, of course it’s complicated.
For the first year in as long as anyone can remember, my husband’s family seder will not be held at his 98-year-old grandmother’s home. A shifting of the family’s tectonic (and seder) plates has begun.
The passing off of the seder is kind of like a Passover tzimmes – it can be very simple, or it can be emotionally complex. Cost, physical space, and family politics all come into play. As a child, I never thought about how much time, effort and money went into hosting a seder, nor did I ponder the underlying issues that sometimes prompted bursts of raised voices in the kitchen.
How did my grandmother feel about taking a backseat in her daughter’s home? Did my aunt, the older sister, feel slighted for being “passed-over” in the hosting department? Did my father’s mother miss the sight of the entire family huddled around her small dining room table? And what about my mother? Sure, she enjoyed hosting despite all the work, but did she resent her guests who waltzed in 20 minutes late and empty handed?
Of course, none of those questions ever occurred to me until it became my turn to host. In my family, the shift started slowly. My father passed away and my mother’s rheumatoid arthritis continued to take its toll. The work of pulling it all together was becoming more and more difficult. After many discussions among my three siblings and me, we decided to break it to her: we were taking over the seder. She was not happy, but she gave in. The torch (or should I say the ladle?) had been passed.
For the first few years my mother insisted on continuing to cook a main course – “you all love my veal chops” – but we finally found the right balance. Cooking the traditional seder dishes has become a family event itself, and I think my mother is secretly thrilled to have the seders off her plate (even if she’ll never admit it).
As for my husband’s family, the seder was always held at his grandparents’ home because they were the most observant. The men read from the haggadah while the women and children quietly (or not so quietly) listened. As the years went on, Bubbe’s recipes were being made by her caregivers and the rest was being catered, but the entire family would still gather.
Zayde passed two years ago, and Bubbe’s health has declined to the point where she can’t really comprehend or communicate anymore. And so it was finally decided that having the seder in her home was just going to be too much of a burden for her and her caregivers. We have come to the end of an era.
I am so sorry for the reason, but secretly thrilled that we will be starting a new tradition. Because the truth is that it really doesn’t matter what you serve or who cooks the food – it’s about getting together with the family, continuing the traditions and celebrating freedom from slavery. Of course, I’m curious to see what we will be eating, and how all 27 of us will all fit in the dining room. But the important thing is that we will be together.
Who will lead the seder? Will we stop to sing? Will we skip pages? What new traditions might we add? A bar or bat mitzvah may signify becoming an adult in the eyes of Jewish law, but I think hosting your first Passover seder is really more of a marker. Moses may have split the sea open, but he didn’t have to cook for 30 people while keeping track of nut and fish allergies and who won’t eat what based on how it was raised.