Seder at Bubbie’s
Mah Nishtanah Ha Lila HaZeh Mikol HaLeilot?
Why is this night different from all other nights?
On all other nights I’m required to act like a 25-year-old
adult, but on this first night — being the youngest person at my seder table —
I get to be a kid.
For the last seven years, I have flown to Chicago to enjoy
the first night of seder with my Mom, Bubbie, Zayde and Uncle Brad. Yes, this
seder is small, but cozy. And knowing that Bubbie’s kremslach (potato pancakes
with shmaltz) are waiting for me, makes the four-hour flight worth it.Â
During my family’s traditional first-night seder, my Zayde,
who was born in Eastern Europe and lost his parents and sister in the camps,
dons his kittel, the traditional white robe worn on Passover, to preside over
the seder. While we all read out of the same ’50s-looking hardcover hagaddah
(we are not Maxwell House people), there are an assortment scattered around,
from “The Open Door” (my choice) to the Artscroll (my Mom’s) to the several
Hebrew-filled commentaries used by Zayde and Uncle Brad. Everyone has a chance
to chant the “Kiddush” (something my Zayde taught me when I was a teenager as a
surprise for my Bubbie). I sing the Four Questions in Hebrew and my Bubbie then
says it in Yiddish (as her mother, my Big Bubbie, used to), with some help from
Two Passovers ago, I introduced my family to the Miriam’s
Cup, which is filled with water in honor of Moses’ sister Miriam, who led the
women in song as the Israelis left Egypt. Needless to say, this move was met
with a couple of raised eyebrows, but I’ve got favored-grandchild status. My
mother, on the other hand, doesn’t fare so well. Every time we reach the four
children (gender equality), she always, without fail, ends up with the part of
the wicked child — regardless of where she sits. But every year she grins and
bears it, wearing the title as a badge of honor.
The subterfuge starts after Zayde breaks the middle matzah
for the afikomen. In our family, it is my job to steal the afikomen from my
Zayde. I figure as long as I have to ask the Four Questions, I should reap the
rewards usually reserved for the kiddies. He wraps it up in a white napkin and
puts it on the server near his seat at the head of the table. As soon as he
goes to the kitchen to wash his hands I pounce. I grab the Afikomen and put a
folded-up napkin in its place before he comes back.
When afikomen time hits, I negotiate with Zayde — provided
Uncle Brad hasn’t taken it from where I put it. (Note: When someone asks if you
are 100 percent positive you have something, double check before you say yes.)
When I was younger, I would ask for books or toys; when I was a teen I asked
for my Zayde to stop smoking. Now I don’t ask for anything — it’s all about the
thrill of being able to grab and hide.
The thrills continue as we sail throughout the rest of the
seder. “Who Knows One?” becomes an exercise in lung power as my mother and I
compete to see who can say “I Know Thirteen” in one breath. We sing the verses
of “Chad Gadya” in the same manner and contemplate how much a zuzim would be
worth in today’s economy.
When our seder is over, it’s almost like the last day of
camp: you couldn’t wait for it to come and now you are sorry to see it go.
One day, I know, I will no longer be able to go to Bubbie’s
house for Pesach. But even when I have my own seder, with my own youngest child
— and even grandchild? — to say the Four Questions, I will still want to sing
them out loud, as if I were still sitting at Bubbie’s table. Â