In every life, there are moments which will never be forgotten – for good or for bad, they shape the people we become and change the course of our personal histories. One of those for me was Pesach in 1996.
From the time I was in preschool, I spent the days (or at least afternoons when Spring Break timing didn’t work out right) before seder with my grandparents helping to cook, clean, and get everything ready for the family to celebrate together. I learned how to cook and what being Jewish meant on these days. The time I was able to spend learning about my family history is in and of itself a wonderful thing. Beyond that, it made for a lifelong love of Pesach and the seders. So while the cleaning and cooking are always a daunting task, I always have fond memories of the days as a kid in my grandparents condo.
However, in 1996, my grandfather was in the hospital the day of preparation so it was just me and my grandma. His absence was definitely felt in their condo that day. My uncle and I led seder without him for the first time in our family’s history. We breezed through it, making sure to keep grandpa in our hearts, but without his physical presence it was hard to keep the focus on the haggadah as it should have been. He was released the following morning and told he had about another six months to live.
We readied the house for seder as usual and enjoyed our time together. Grandma and I cooked, and Grandpa teased me and helped me ready the seder plate. His seder plate (pictured above) only had the words in Hebrew – no vowels or symbols even to help out – so every year, he and I would sit down and he would help me read the words and figure out which items went in each divot. Grandpa and I had a special bond and having the time together to prepare for seder was one of our special Grandfather-Granddaughter things.
Grandpa was back in his seat at the head of the table that night. His first great-grandchild had been born just months before. His wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandson were all there to celebrate his return home and his love of celebrating holidays as a family. He was his jovial self, teasing and praying with the same fervor he always had. Three days later, he had finished eating lunch and sat down in his chair. Moments later he died.
I don’t think anyone in my family will ever forget that final seder we spent together. I know that while 14 years have passed, I remember it as though it has been a mere 14 days. Every year at Pesach I remember the phenomenal man that he was, the living example of being a mensch, the man who inspired me to live a more passionate (and observant) Jewish life. Thank you Grandpa. I love you. Zichron Livracha, may your memory always be for a blessing.