Passing Over…

By: Laurelei Ballard (Watch “Passing Over…” as performed at SermonSlamPVD here).

Warm, fond childhood memories of Passovers past…

The table laid out before us, candles lit…
the Pesach china, the matzo, the antique Seder Plate…
Sensing and feeling that unseen force… that power… that knowing that we were all
connected across the globe…
Celebrating our history in unity…
Reliving our heroic journey together…
Our victories, both earthly and spiritual…
Retelling our past… claiming our futures… teaching our tale to yet another generation.
The most elevated of all evenings.

Or…
You were at OUR seder!

First glass of wine…
No, we haven’t started yet,
The Haggadot still closed and on the plates…
This is an aperitif… when 4 glasses just won’t do.

My mother, shuffling name cards like some deranged dealer in Atlantic City…
Placing them strategically about the seats…
Keep the Italians away from the Russians…
The children away from the Seder plate…
And EVERYONE away from the cupboard where all the chametz is hiding.
My Paternal Grandmother (who had no English pass her lips, but plenty in her ears)
Following behind and moving each seating card as swiftly as it was dropped.

Second glass of wine…
Nope, not sitting yet!
There was the Cold War over whose recipe for charoset was “real” and “right”…
I liked the one with bananas… yep, bananas.
That mixture was heady, aromatic notes punctuated with chew against soft, tart against
sweet…
A curious blend somewhat illustrative of my tribe… nuts, fruits, flakes… bananas!

My father, who began each night of Passover by walking…
Not to shul…
To the hamburger joint around the corner.
He gave up being kosher when he learned two words… Filet Mignon!
Deciding then that no Righteous G-d would keep his children from such heavenly meat.
The other 613 mitzvot sloughed off his life, dead, I suspect for want of schmaltz.
Anyway…
My father was not one to run a Seder… he was more one to run a stop watch.

Sit…NOW!
Down another glass of wine.
This one counts.

It begins… a flurry of directions to lean and eat…
To gag down, at rapid pace, the homemade matzo the women had so meticulously
toiled over days ago.

Dipping things in water soiled with salt…

Someone leaves the table with a secret stash of shattered matzo in a bag.

And so it goes… a frenzy of story…
A Reader’s Digest condensation of Tribal History…
Vague memories now…
The plagues all running together like one MegaPlague… some wild illness that causes
frogs to burst out of you… Alien-style…
More unleavened bread… truly now, I understand the “affliction” part.

Kids chosen to read the 4 questions based on their speed, not comprehension.

More wine!
Drink!

The competition to eat the most horseradish without vomiting or passing out.
More matzo.

And finally… FOOD!

My Great Aunt’s somewhat famous (infamous?) Brisket Surprise…
The surprise being it was not, in fact, brisket…
Her quirky Italian Sephardic traditions peaking through a rather bizarre melange of
braised meats…
Many of them lamb (?)…
A few of them better left to speculation.

There were my Bubbie’s unctuous, uncannily fluffy Matzo buns…
Ethereal, light, lifting high into the air like some Siegfried & Roy assistant…
Supported by belief.. by magic… by invisible wires… by Hashem himself…
or…
She lied and used yeast and flour!
But…like all things mystical…
There is no knowing, no certainty… a little darkness…
And some ominous warnings to the uninitiated.

More wine…
Nope, not the third glass,
No Pascal Lamb present…
No Blessings uttered…
Elijah is not yet at the door (although Ilan drank his wine)
This is just a beverage aimed at inducing a sort of comatose peace…

Did I mention we did not offer grape juice?
Children chugging wine, like Koolaid (which truth be told is what it tasted like).
Small wonder each Seder seemed like the first.
Temporal damage…
Memory loss…
Pesach Blackout!

Plates are cleared… the ritual returns…
Somehow, my cousin staggers off to locate the afikomen…
Another dry bit of matzo (cracker, thy name is constipation!!!)…
A Blessing said for surviving the meal…

More wine…
DRINK!
3 down… one to go!

Next is Hallel… Cup of Praise.
Praise be to G-d who has delivered us from this family gathering without incident.
No stabbings with the sterling butter knives…
No women tearing off their wigs and scarves in rebellion…
Praise Him, lest those plagues return tomorrow.

Tip the glass one last time!
and…whew…
Next year, in Jerusalem!

Somehow, though…
It snuck in.
Past the in-fighting and discomfort…
Past the broken laws and twisted traditions…
Over the heads of the drooling drunks…
It showed up.
Who knows how or when.
Maybe when we cracked the door ajar for Elijah, it tiptoed in.
Perhaps, when the candles choked out and whiffs of smoke rose to the chandelier, it
appeared.
It is possible it rode in on a wave of wine or a sea of song.
Or…
Maybe it happened when my father forgot what he forgot…
And remembered what he remembered…
Redemption.
Freedom from slaveries… both real and imagined.
Relief from tortures and bondage… from outside and within.
Deliverance from prisons… of brick and of our own making.
The memory of a just G-d who, though we sometimes get stuck in an awful, lost, and
lonely place, will not leave us there forever.
Next year, in Jerusalem!

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