I love the model seders we do at TRT, but they also present me with a dilemma. I think there is something magical and wonderful in rediscovering holiday foods only when it is appropriate to eat them. I eat hamentashen on Purim, latkes during Hanukkah, blintzes on Shavuot and yes, matzah on Pesach.
That first bite that we taste just before the meal takes me back as surely as a trip in a time machine. I can see the Egyptians bearing down on us as we run for our lives toward the Sea of Reeds. I can feel the dough baking in the hot sun. I can hear the resonance of a frightened people who think they will die in the desert, with just manna to sustain them. I can taste our communal story in every single bite of matzah.
But preparing for Pesach also brings me back to when our boys were small, and they wondered why we were turning the house upside down, changing dishes, boiling silverware, scrubbing the cupboards and throwing out their favorite cereals. I would tempt them with “matzah pizza” and “matzah lasagna,” allowing each one to choose a favorite layer of vegetable. We would make sheets of chocolate-covered matzah and roll dozens of matzah balls for the soup.
When we did this together, it didn’t matter that we had exhausted ourselves: in the end, we had woven memory into every smell, every taste, every texture. Family memory with a Jewish theme.
Sure, anyone can make “matzah pizza” in June, but it doesn’t taste the same. And it doesn’t feel right to me to recall why the food is tied to a specific holiday in a specific season, when we are months away from celebrating it and the story underlying the holiday hasn’t unfolded yet this year.
Our students learn that there is a time and place for everything, and we reinforce the message when we look forward to the smells and tastes and rituals of each Jewish holiday. It actually makes the relatively short period of eating festive foods special, or sacred. And sacred time is worth preserving - within families and generations of families.
This March (!), as you prepare for the holiday that marks our journey from slavery to freedom, whether you are doing so with children young or grown, let your taste buds be surprised by that first delicious bite. If your grandmother made gefilte fish that was extraordinary and you remember her smile as she saw your first taste, find a recipe that will elicit a similar reaction in your children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews. Years from now, when they first sip a soup with knaidlach whose special recipe you thought up, they will not only relive the journey from Egypt into freedom, they will bring you with them.