This is my grandmother’s pesah bowl.
In it she made matza balls, some “hard like a rock,” as she would say, for those who preferred them dense, and some so light and fluffy you almost weren’t sure you were eating them at all.
Then there were the other other-worldly delicacies that emanated from this spell-bound bowl: the “pesah bagels,” the matza brei, and the taiglach (small knotted pastries boiled in honey). It has been 24 years since my grandmother passed away. My mother kept this bowl, which she brought out every year on pesah.
Last year, as we were cleaning up after the holiday, I somehow ended up with the bowl. There is something about its smoothness, and its robin’s egg color that is just enchanting. Magical. It is hard to make something bad in this bowl.
Which is to say: much of the meaning of Passover comes in the preparations. Before the seder, before the dinner, before the matza comes the planning, the cleaning, the shopping, the cooking, the invitations. And its essence.
It is in these rituals, both those passed on from generation to generation and those created anew, that make the holiday. As in so many of life’s most precious rituals, it is in its anticipation that its drama, tension and meaning take flight.
Switching over the foods, utensils and routines of the kitchen hold much of the power of the holiday. Holding the bowls and plates and wooden spoons that span 3 and 4 generations releases the memories of the holiday.
Some people I know keep records in the backs of their haggadot of who attended their seder and who sat where. I keep menus in my computer of what I meant to cook (things always turn out differently in the end!) and who we thought would come (people always come and go at the last minute).
Families have fought over lesser issues than what exactly goes into the haroset.
And one of life’s most unheralded rites-of-passage is deciding when the seder should move from a parent’s home to a siblings - and then who will be the one to inherit it.
The seder, the story, the retelling, the gathering, the eating, the songs and the family jokes all build shared memories. But for many of us, much of the power in the holiday is found in its run-up, in the quiet but far from lonely scraping the carrot, peeling the egg, sauteeing the onions. For it is in standing by the stove, handling the pans, the knives, the bowls that we stand where our grandmothers did, see what they saw. It is through these acts that we are joined to our ancestors in this most basic of human tasks.
And as we are joined to those of the past, so those of the future will be joined to us.
Even, then, when we are alone in our kitchen, wondering if the sponge cake will fall or not, we know who we are, and “whose” we are.
Have a wonderful Passover.