Today I decided to go down memory lane with the elderly people I work with. Pessach really leaves its mark and I wanted to prompt people to share their Pessach memories.
It was fascinating.
One man – a lovely man who survived the Holocaust and doesn’t like to talk about it, though he often does in a round-about way – said, “Let me say mine first and then everyone else can speak.”
He told of his experiences on Pessach one year in Auschwitz. He recalls this Passover day as the most brutal day in Auschwitz (can anyone tell me which day this was?). He recalled the blood pouring down a hill, flowing over the snow.
“That is my Pessach memory.”
I asked him if he’s ever been able to enjoy Pessach since then. He laughed and said, “No. I enjoy the family. I do not enjoy Pessach.”
The next woman recalled Passover in a large Jewish orphanage in Winnipeg, Canada. She was around 11 and had arrived in Canada from Europe at the age of nine.
“Imagine 150 children singing Ma Nishtana [the four questions asked at the seder].” That was her answer when asked if it was enjoyable.
A South African woman said that when she was a kid (she was not from Europe), one time her family had a very important rabbi stay with them for Passover. Her and all her siblings sat around the seder table, waiting to hear what this rabbi would say.
With his strong accent the rabbi said, “At de sheder you musht shit and lean.” Her and her siblings were hysterical and her parents were ready to kill them.
A French woman who survived the Holocaust has no recollection of Pessach before the war. Only once arriving in Canada, and after waiting a few years to let the anger towards God subside a bit, did she become more traditional.
A Jamaican man remembers communal seders which were conducted mostly in English with a little Hebrew, in a tent outside of the shul.
The memory I shared was a few years ago when I went to Moscow for Passover. I spent my time there in a Jewish girls’ school. I remember opening the door for Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet). We all agreed, today, that it’s a spooky thing, opening that door on seder night. And I remember standing by the open door in Moscow, feeling as I would if I were at my family’s apartment door in Jerusalem.
I think that the specialness of that memory for me is exactly that fact, that you are doing something that Jews all over the world do.
Pessach has lots of strange customs but they definitely make for vivid memories even for, and maybe especially for, those who befell the horrors of the Holocaust and any other horrors before that or since then that have prevented Jews from fulfilling all the customs.