Imagining My Ancestors’ Passover Helps Me To Prepare For My Own | TC Jewfolk
Two years ago on erev Passover, my mother’s first cousin emailed us an amazing surprise: he’d received an audio recording of an extended family seder from the late 1950s from another cousin. Seder guests included my great-grandparents — who had died long before my birth, my grandparents and various great-aunts and uncles. My Mom was likely away at college that year because she wasn’t mentioned; I couldn’t ask her about it because she had passed away two years before. She fills one of the metaphorical empty chairs as I prepare for Passover now, though I feel her spirit close to me.
The sound quality of the digitized clip wasn’t great — no surprise there — but I listened attentively to the prayers and rituals — the singing of the Kiddush over wine, the hiding of the middle matzah, the dipping of parsley into salt water to represent the tears of the Hebrew slaves, and an off key and hurried singing of ‘ — a song that captures the essence of the Jewish spirit. Dayenu means ‘it would have been enough’ — if the Holy One had only led us out of Egypt, Dayenu! But we go on to sing of more blessings and then cheer — Dayenu!
I had hoped to hear my great-grandparents’ voices, but they were blended into the cacophony of the group’s collective voice. Dayenu, I thought instead, it was enough to know that they were part of this seder and that listening to the singing was a way that I could connect with them.
What would they feel, I wondered, if they could come join our seder table? In our home, we’ve added an orange to the traditional seder plate as many contemporary families to honor feminist and LGBTQ+ contributions to the Jewish tradition. We use creative art materials for guests to create their responses to the Exodus story and we pause in the middle of the meal to act out the story with costumes and props.
I hope that despite these updated rituals that they would feel right at home — recognizing that even though we may interact with and interpret the Haggadah, the book that guides the seder, differently than they did, we are taking our place in a great chain of seders going back in time. We wouldn’t be gathering for Passover had it not been for their courage to leave the pain and pogroms of the Old Country in search of a better…