Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Sedarim of my childhood...

I spoke last week to a group of parents about the issues I discussed in a previous blog post. I couldn't help but bring up what Pesach was like as I grew up. I suppose that on some level I have always known and appreciated that they were truly exceptional. Here's why:

  1. My parent's policy was to invite anyone who otherwise would not have access to a traditional seder. People with pretty marginal connections to the Unterbergs would find themselves in that packed living room/dining room. (Of course, there was the now legendary time that my cousins brought along African royalty, who read the Ma Nishtana in Swahili. He also ended up with glass fragments in his afro when my cousin Maury's seltzer bottle squirt went wild and caromed out of his glass and exploded the chandelier. But that was sort of unusual) Relatives and friends from all sides of the family would come. Some of them we would see periodically threoughout the year, some were special just for Pesach. And the numbers were pretty wild. I'm pretty sure that we peaked around 30.
  2. Did you read that last sentence? My mother basically went beyond baala busta and into the range of caterer. Believe me, the food was endless. How did she do it? How did we afford it? I have no idea. But those meals were epic.
  3. I am amazed in retrospect how dynamic, fun and exciting the conversations were. And they really focused on the haggada! My Dad was able to somehow find a balance between Maury's philosophical meanderings and the length of the children's attention span. Not to mention somehow assuaging the nagging of the hungrier participants. Honestly, I just sit back in awe. How did he do it? He managed it like an MC, a ringmaster and talk show host all rolled into one. It seemed to effortless and natural, and maybe it even was. I sure wish I could ask him about it. Of course, I'd much rather just watch him keep doing it.
  4. Two words: Bubby and Zaydie. I think that having them there was the part I probably took the most for granted. Just by being a presence there, they created a living link to the past. You felt that you were the next link in a chain stretching back for ages. But they also made such a strong impact as personalities. Zaydie made everything come alive not only with the big song renditions, (always ending with the dramatic bass “Thank You!”) but even the more casual sing song reading of the more mumble worthy parts of the hagada. I just can't do it. It wasn't all fun and games, once he got into a solid sing-song, it was rough for my Dad to hit the breaks for a question. But that was part of the fun of the show. Bubby, of course, was a larger than life personality at any time. At the seder she wandered, cleaned, cooked, served, shmoozed, laughed, sang, cheered, clapped and basically just filled the whole preceding with joy and love. She was the dynamo from Muzsyna, and we all basked in that love.

Are the things that made these seders unique more special than the things that make other people's seders unique? (How is this unigue night different from all the other unique nights?) Probably not. I'm not arguing that ours were better. I'm saying that they were ours, that they were wonderful, and they make up an important part not only of how I experience Pesach, but of who I am as a person and a Jew.

How do you thank your parents for that?

1 comment:

Neil Parks said...

Here's a treat guaranteed to enliven any seder!