Pesach Reflections — The Seder then and now … ‘We do it our way!’

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By Irma Chait

This year 2018/5788 will be the 50th Pesach the Chaits have shared since moving to our family home in Highlands Estate, where all but one or two of the seders have been enjoyed at our 55 year-old dining table — prepared in our 50 year-old kitchen!

Of course, the basic traditional format has been constant. For various reasons the ‘cast’ of those participating in the Haggadah’s dramatic, miraculous narrative has changed somewhat over the years. Many of you readers may be nodding your heads, recalling those early days when you battled to get enough trestle tables and chairs to seat your 20 or 30 ‘players’. Gradually the numbers diminished as people moved on or away… in this world or to the next.

In earlier days Noah (not the original) would open the proceedings in the traditional way, with all moving on pretty smoothly, other than his having to control the chattering … of children and adults! To keep people on their toes — children and adults — he would call on individuals randomly to read the various sections: some in the Hebrew, and those likely to battle and delay the narration, in the English. The problem was that owing to the numbers of readers, we would at times need about three different haggadot. So there’d be repeated calls of “What page are we on?” from all sides, readers included. Much conferring. Glares from the boss.
For the kids, as still today, Ma Nishtana they handled very well, with unsought assistance from their elders. For this, and generally, one could give much credit to Herzlia for its input. Other kids’ special moments have always included the Dayenus and the big search for the Afikomen (“Not in my linen cupboard!”)

And the range of ages at the tables? Young, growing-ups, fully grown and some over-grown, like my Dad, Oupa Jay, (from PE) who was with us till into his 90s. He would rattle off his special part, Lefichach, at breakneck speed, ending with a resoundingly triumphant Halleluyah! After he’d reached 85 or so, he’d then retire to an armchair in the lounge, demanding, “When are we going to eat?”

Another highlight, for us all, then and now, was The Plagues, everyone additions to the list, like Verwoerd or Hitler or latterly, Trump. Whatever rascal we felt required dipping, with me on spillage alert, ready to shout, “The salt! Pass the salt!” A couple of seders ago, to my shame, it was I who knocked that glass of Noah’s wonderful home-made wine all over the tablecloth!
Eventually, the Big Feed. The first item, charoshet and matzoh aside – even to this day – was the eggs in salt water, which some people actually love. Here I always draw the line, limiting the quantity. We didn’t slave in the kitchen to produce a plentiful repast for them to start filling their bellies with egg and salt water.

There was a lot of food! Produced by a team of two — Sarah Hesselman and me. All your traditional fare, with chicken soup and kneidels (my Mom’s ‘infallible’ recipe of 1985) top favourite. When they didn’t flop. However, the dish preceding this and a huge drawcard had to be Sarah’s world famous gefilte fish (with very hot chrain). Having worked for my mother-in-law since Noah was 9, Sarah was a Yiddish food expert and at time of writing she’s had 29,758 hits on the Internet. (Google: Sarah Hesselman gefilte queen).

Over the years, whatever the numbers and even Sarah-less, we’ve always felt most comfortable ‘sedering’ at home with our Cape Town children and grandchildren, as decreed, B’chol dor va’dor, and with friends. In fact, a good while ago the Herzlians largely took over the direction of proceedings. And two years ago we were blessed to have nearly all of our children and grandchildren with us for Pesach when we hired a house in Struisbaai, all organised by our daughter Lisa. She insisted on — and assisted in — having us dress up for the seder in appropriate gear, to cover the good guys and the bad. It was truly wonderful, and hilarious too.

Hopefully we’ll be doing something similar this year. But, whatever happens we will still be doing it our way!

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