Passover Reminiscence

by Janice L. Booker (Malibu, CA)

We bought spring clothes for Passover and fall clothes for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the high holidays.  The weather seemed always too cold for the new Passover clothes and too hot for the new fall clothes.  It took a long time and a lot of explanation for me to understand that the dates of the holidays didn’t change but the relationship between the Gregorian calendar and the Hebrew calendar did.

Holidays punctuated the sameness of days, the continuing emphasis on getting things done, going to school, shopping, playing; in general, our daily routine.  Preparation for the holiday of Passover was frenzied.

I don’t know how our grandmothers and mothers did it.   No dishwashers, no prepared foods, certainly no outside help – and yet, somehow it got done.  I hope it wasn’t the holiday that contributed to a shortened life span for that generation of women.   Yet, the expectation of repetition of the preparations, and the ceremony of the seder, were comforting in their continuity.  Before so many contemporary creative Haggadahs  with their inventive writings and improvisations were popular, we used the old Maxwell House Haggadah, a text familiar to me since early childhood.  Maybe the company’s distribution of these brand name Haggadahs was to give the subtle suggestion that Maxwell House coffee was kosher.  When my grandfather was alive, my parents, little brother and I went to their house on Wharton Street for the ritual meal.  I can still see my grandfather, imposing in a white kimono-like caftan, leaning on pillows as prescribed in the Haggadah, intoning the familiar story of the exodus.  My brother was too young to participate in the ceremony, but I, a Hebrew school student, asked the centuries- old Four Questions.

We learned to say them in Hebrew School in two languages, Hebrew and Yiddish, and I dutifully asked them in both languages, intoning the singsong liturgy learned in Hebrew School.  I remember being given sips of the sweet Passover wine, feeling indoctrinated in a world of grownups.  I also felt very important, with all attention focused on me; also, nervous, fearful I would make a mistake.  I didn’t realize that family indulgence was part of the game and all would smile gently if I slipped up.  Passover was  celebrated for its full eight days with ritual foods.  On the eighth day I was sent to the nearest bakery to buy the first bread.  My mother always grumbled that the bakery opened too soon which elicited a discussion of whether the holiday was over before lunch or before dinner, an argument still unresolved.  When we children came home for lunch in elementary school and junior high, Passover foods awaited us.

We all had two Seders on two successive nights and spent the next part of the holiday eating fried matzoh, gefilte fish and the special holiday dishes which, for some unexplained reason, certainly not sacred, we never prepared the rest of the year.  Nuts were a part of the Passover table, walnuts and almonds and particularly filberts.  These were the perfect shape for marbles, and we could be seen, in our new Passover clothes,  kneeling on the sidewalk using those  nuts for a game of marbles

Janice L. Booker is the author of The Jewish American Princess and Other Myths, Philly Firsts, and Across from the Alley Next Door to the Pool Room, from which this reminiscence is excerpted with permission of the authorFor more information about her work, visit:

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Filed under American Jewry, Family history, Jewish identity, Passover

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