Passing on the Passover

by Rhonda Jacobs Kahn

Passover in my house really began the day after Purim when my mother would kasher the small kitchen in the basement and begin to cook kugels, soups, pot roast… whatever could be made ahead and frozen. Things really heated up a few weeks later when she began cleaning the rest of the house. For my mother, cleanliness was godliness, so I was never sure what needed to be cleaned, but clean she did, and always with the unenthusiastic assistance of her children.

But she did have a more willing partner. My father was the shlepper, the driver, the pot washer, the taster. At some point, he would lug the cabinet with all the Passover pots, pans, dishes and silver up the stairs and into the kitchen. He also would drive into the Fulton Street Fish Market to collect the makings of gefilte fish and baked carp (something I wouldn’t touch) from my uncle’s shop. My brothers and I tried to stay out of the house when it came time to cook the fish as well as when my father grated the horseradish.

Among my mother’s prize possessions were her mother’s Passover pots and a green ceramic bowl that probably came from Woolworth’s, but I like to think had made its way to New Jersey via Brooklyn from Poland.

Seders were special. The table was set beautifully, usually for between 20 and 30 people, with dishes that had belonged to grandmothers on both sides. My father would lead the seder, reading every word of the Haggadah, in his droning monotone. Unfortunately we are all blessed with his voice, so it was a treat when my brother married someone who could actually carry a tune.

Then, in January, just two weeks after he held my first child as sandek at his bris, my father got sick and passed away only a few weeks later. We got up from shiva just in time for the first seder. I think the cooking and cleaning helped my mother get through those very difficult days. I don’t remember now if friends provided some of the food. It’s been so long my son already has a son of his own. What I do remember, vividly, is on the very last night of that Passover, my doorbell rang, and there was my mother pointing to her station wagon, which was filled with three generations’ worth of Pesach supplies, saying, “There is Passover. It’s yours now.”

And that is how I took over the reins of our family holidays. I didn’t have a basement kitchen, so my Passover attack plan doesn’t look anything like my mother’s. And, while I love him dearly, my husband is not from the big kitchen assistants (although he will gladly taste anything and he can carry a tune). Yet every year when I take out the huge pots (you need a big pot for soup for 30) and the green ceramic bowl, I remember my mother’s manic holiday preparations, more fondly with the passing of the years.

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