When does it start, and when does it end? That’s the kind of question that makes sense to ask on many different situations, occasions, and opportunities. What I have in mind at this moment is fairly specific, to wit, the timing of the holiday seasons here in The Land. (I specify in The Land, because here all of us at least share the same calendar, and when someone says acharei hahagim, we all agree on which hagim are being discussed, even if we don’t all observe them in the same way.) The fall season begins with Rosh Hashana and lasts through Shemini Adzeret. Easy. Some more mystical types might go back to the day after Tisha B’Av or the first day of Elul for Opening Day, but we’ll let that pass.
But what about this time of year, when March glides into April and turns into May? When do we hear the starting gun? It seems to me that the spring version of the Hagim starts back at Purim. Even as we sit down to our seudah, somewhere in the back of our minds there is the realization, which even copious quantities of alcohol cannot blot out, that all the madness associated with Pesach is just around the corner. And five weeks later, after the chametz has been expunged from our lives and then returned to its former place of honor, within days it’s Yom Hashoah – a day of universal tribute that can only have meaning in a Jewish State. And when the sirens are wailing as a tribute to the Martyrs of the Holocaust, that means in another week or so, they will go off on Yom Hazicharon in memory of others who have died so the State may live.
Is that the end of the cycle? Or does it conclude, not with a bang but a whimper? What about Lag B’Omer (the 33rd day in the counting), the day when our local youth make a valiant attempt to blow a hole in the ozone layer? Or a real day of significance, Yom Yerushalayim, which acknowledges the current borders of our country – including our little enclave in Ma’ale Adumim? And there are those who want to go all the way to Shavuot, which makes sense from an agricultural point of view – although most of us are not harvesting or winnowing any of the five species. Anyway, you may decide for yourself when to stop celebrating.
This year, to save wear and tear on Barbara’s always problematic back, I gently discouraged her from rolling the dough to make her own hamantaschen. Let’s do a taste test of everything I can find in or near the shuk. You know what? Nobody, least of all me, complained about the substitution.
What I couldn’t do was put the kibosh on Barbara’s plans to clean every single cabinet in the kitchen, which we do compulsively every year, even though we wind up sealing all of them before Pesach. (All our Pesach gear is in a separate set of shelves and all our food is stored in bins we assemble once a year.) Even though I pitch in to take out and return everything in the cabinets, Barbara does the bulk of the cleaning for this project. (I’m the one who cleans out the refrigerator and kashers the oven.) Why was I not surprised when, after the work was done, Barbara started having back spasms that would last through Pesach and then some? Try getting hold of a doctor before or during the Hagim.
Of course, I’m not one to talk. We have a window directly above the stovetop in our kitchen. While we (read, Barbara) are scrupulous in keeping the window, the walls, and the area around the burners clean, we are somewhat (?) lax in doing the same for the metal window frame, until the sight of the grime accumulated over the years would haunt me as I lay in bed at night. If we’re cleaning everything else in sight – even the curtains and the clock on the wall – why not bite the bullet and clean the window frame as well? Which I proceeded to do, perched on the countertop on my hands and knees, until I tried to shift my position, whereupon I lost my balance and tumbled off the countertop, landing flat on my back. Either God is being exceedingly good to me or I’m just too dumb to hurt myself, but after lying there for a minute or two to catch my breath, I slowly and carefully got to my feet, uninjured except for a bruise on my back that healed in a day or two.
I recounted this incident to Natania and Gil when they arrived the Friday afternoon before Pesach (bringing Liel with them). WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO DO, KILL YOURSELF????? Those weren’t their exact words, but you get the idea. You don’t have to be as smart as my daughter and son-in-law to figure out that an 80-year-old geezer shouldn’t be climbing on countertops. To put his money where his mouth is, Gil, taller than many, reached up and, without leaving the ground, hung the recently washed curtain back where it belongs.
We were going from famine to feast. After a year with minimal occupancy, we would be at full capacity. Miri-tal, Natania’s friend from early days at the Yavneh Academy, had arrived, along with boyfriend, the previous night. They had come to help Miri-tal’s sister Tzippy prepare for the Seder at her place – a fifteen-minute walk away. (OK, Natania and Gil in Natania’s room, Miri-tal and Liel in the middle room, and Michael on the sofa bed in my office. We can handle it!)
This year, as we all were aware, Pesach was to start Saturday night, which made matters even more complicated than usual, although you can make things easier or harder on yourself, depending on how you approach it. In our household, the go-to word in this situation is……..EGG MATZOH!!!! By the time our ‘guests’ arrived, our apartment had been chametz-free for several days. No morsels of challah squirrelled away to oh-so-carefully consume Friday night and Shabbat morning – after an even-earlier-than-usual davening so you can have a main meal in the middle of the morning. (Did I mention that we had just changed the clocks two days before, so while the minyan was called for 7:30, my body was insisting it was only 6:30.) No remind-me-how-I’m-supposed-to-dispose-of-the-remaining-crumbs-on-Shabbat. We hate to see you go, we hate to see you go…..
Seder for the newly enlarged Casden clan meant heading down the hill to Ron and Esther’s house, where we have been – except for COVID – every year since we all arrived in 2007. There are times when all of us have a hankering for something a little different in our way of doing things, but I dare say that the Pesach Seder may not be one of them. Ron has his routine, and I, for one, am happy to settle into it, all of us taking turns reading from the Haggadah in whatever language we are comfortable with. Thoughts and insights on the text are welcome but hardly mandatory. We are a perfect example of ‘with all deliberate speed.’ None of that we didn’t finish until 3:30 stuff. The-longer-the-better doesn’t cut it with our crowd.
As with every year, part of our contribution to the festivities involved my trotting over to ‘The Matzoh Man’ to procure a kilo of hand-made shemurah matzoh. (He has ‘all the best hechshers’; I, however, am looking for the best price, which, even so, has always struck me as a tad inflated.) I do this, knowing full well that Ron spent a good part of Fri. morning ‘rolling his own,’ taking his especially purchased floor and turning it into soft matzohs, ostensibly the kind Hillel used in the eponymous sandwich featured at the Seder. May I confess? I find these soft creations unbearably unappetizing. The hem-stitched cardboard (as Barbara’s mother was wont to say) that many of us are used to are not much on taste, but they do have a certain crunch. Plus, they are made to last; they don’t get stale after a day or so. But we have both kinds on the table, just as we have a wide selection of wine – even a local equivalent of Manischewitz for Ron’s 90+ year old mother.
There’s one tradition that I heartily approve of. After we finish proclaiming Hashana habaa in a rebuilt Jerusalem, the remainder of the activities are optional. Those who wish to may remain to sing Had Gadya, but I’d rather go with one pillow than one goat. The Casden clan prepared to depart; it has been a long night for seven-year-old Liel, who did manage to recite the first question with minimal assistance from her elders.
After two days of festivities, including lunches for all our guests, (it could have been worse; some of you are stuck with three) it was checkout time at our hotel on Hakeren. Change the sheets and the towels and get ready for our next arrivals the following morning – none other than The Levines, for another round of wine, coffee, and pontification. Who’s excited!
(Then there’s this. A few weeks later, we in Nachum’s gemara shiur were engrossed in the middle of chapter six of Brachot, which is where the discussion revolves around actually making brachot over food: when, where, and which bracha to make. Nachum is quick to remind us that a lot of what the Sages did was simply what everybody did back then, things we no longer do, some of which are immortalized in the Haggadah. Like dipping our food. (OK, we dip our French fries in ketchup and sushi in soy sauce – just not at a Seder.) Or reclining while we eat. (Did your mother every yell at you about your posture at the dinner table?) For a thousand years or more, our rabbis have pondered what to do with Questions that seem less than relevant. If we need replacements so we’re left with four, how about: (and you can do it any sing-song you want) Why on any OTHER night, we make kiddush only o-once, but on THIS night, we make it four ti-imes? Keep this in mind for next year.)