Board games at my cousins’ house became bored games when the call to the Passover table was made and my uncle’s stepfather Ben began leading a very, very long Seder service.
The popular “Are we there yet?” refrain heard from my brother and me in the family station wagon on the drive to my cousins was replaced during the service by whispers of “Is it over yet?” We whispered because none of us were brave enough to let Ben hear us.
I was used to quick Seders at home, when my parents would skip pages in the Hagaddah so as to hold the “When do we eat?” whining to a minimum. There was no skipping in Ben’s Seder world, so the service would go on and on and on while the kids fidgeted and for a long time had to survive on parsley, matzas and horseradish.
I don’t recall what my aunt served for dinner, although it was probably turkey (and the turkey no doubt tasted better than the raw turkey another aunt once served for Thanksgiving when she forgot to put it in the oven).
When we had finished dinner, the cousins were anxious to get back to the board games, but Ben would say in his deep, stern voice, “Come back here. We are going to finish the service.” An hour or so later, we were finished, but it was then time to go home so the Chutes and Ladders champion would have to be crowned another day.
I didn’t think I would ever experience such a long service again until my wife served as cantor at a temple in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and a congregant invited us to his home for a very traditional Seder.
But by then, several of our friends were creating their own Hagaddahs that allowed the turkey to be eaten much earlier in the evening.
Now each spring I look forward to our trip to the Jewel-Osco in Deerfield, Illinois, to buy Passover food and take a side trip to Max and Benny’s deli for the kind of corned beef sandwich we haven’t found in Milwaukee and matza ball soup made with floaters, not sinkers. It was at Jewel-Osco that we first bought whitefish salad, something we enjoy on matzas as much as charoset.
And we always buy extra boxes of matzas so my wife can make matza brei for breakfast all year.
During Passover, I would bring matzas to the office. Whenever a co-worker asked what I was eating, I offered to share. Most took me up on the offer, but most gave the taste a thumbs down. One said, “Is there enough butter in the world to make this taste good?” “That’s gross” was the general response when told we put horseradish and not butter on our matzas. The first bite into a matza might have had a gentile thinking, “Haven’t Jews suffered enough?”
One of my favorite Passover memories was at our first community Seder at Congregation Sinai and watching ageless Rabbi Jay Brickman having as much fun as the kids as he went from table to table leading the singing of “Who Knows One?”
By the time Rabbi Brickman was finished, everyone knew that One is our God in heaven and earth.
I never wanted to be at table 13 because there was so much more I needed to know at that table.
Lee Fensin is a regular contributor to the Chronicle and a retired sports editor of The Freeman, a daily newspaper in Waukesha. He has been married for 51 years, with two children and five grandchildren.