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Kitchens

Thursday, 19 March, 2015 - 11:35 pm

If you want to gage an American Jewish community, Ben Gurion is purported to have said, don’t bother checking out their synagogues and centers.  See if they have a kosher restaurant.  He could have been talking about Pesach.  Forget about what’s going on in shul or who is going to shul.  Forget about the dining rooms. You want to see Pesach?  Look in the kitchen.

Growing up, the mark for me between the haves and the have-nots of who has a real Pesach and who does not was all wrapped up in aluminum foil.  If the countertops, refrigerators, sinks and even the faucets – especially the faucets – having been exposed to non-Pesach cooking the year long, now for Pesach were plastered and enveloped in layers of protective aluminum foil, creating a virtual, new, above–level surface to create and celebrate a Pesach,  then this home had a full Pesach. 

A Pesach complete with sleepless nights (she was up ‘til four in the morning!).  Of cleaning underneath the mattresses, emptying every closet, oversized grocery lists (the check-out girl took one look at my three carts and you know what she said?) family from out-of-town and visitors or friends all getting around a long, extended table, probably with  a folding table or two added to the end with rented chairs and. . . all of this was visible in the folds of the aluminum foil around the faucets and the edges of the countertops.

My sister from Brazil once showed me an advertisement that caught her eye – that caught her imagination.  A picture of a home library with leather-bound classics, museum-quality art and a single, well-place antique.  The caption read, “You don’t have to look in the kitchen to know they own a Cuisinart.”

Pesach cannot be known from the prayers recited in shul(even though I love the tune for Pesach morning davening and feel cheated that it is squeezed between two seder nights).  Pesach cannot be known from four questions or sweet wine or even from Maxwell House haggadahs.  Pesach can’t even be known from Pesach.

Pesach in a child’s mind, the place where memories are made, where memories are solidified, jelled, preserved, slow-roasted and developed into full-bodied palates – that Pesach is made in the preparations.

It was once, I couldn’t have been more than ten, when a new family from Persia had moved to Nashville and discovered us just before Pesach.  They came to my parents’ home to get shmurah matzah.  Like everyone they instinctively came to the kitchen door (few people even know where our front door was).  They walked in to the kitchen, saw the foil and, ”Ahhhh! Just like in Iran!”  I was surprised only because I couldn’t imagine Iran having anything so advanced as our aluminum foil.  But I knew that this family knew, really knew what Pesach is.  I knew also that they felt at home.

Nothing grows outside of its environment.  And when that environment must be created, nurtured for a specific life to spring forth therefrom, then the preparations become that much more necessary.  You can go out and order in soup and roasted chicken.  You cannot go out and order in a family focus that brings all these forces together and from them creates a something out of relative nothing.  Like prayer, davening, you can’t put nothing in and expect to take something out.  If you don’t sweat for it than how can it ever get into your blood?

Close your eyes and see the rows of tables with men, women and children finding place around the dining room.  Hear the singing that you love and inhale the distinctively Pesach smells.  You will be awed by the sanctity of the simple acts we do: washing, reciting, eating, drinking.  What binds this all together is wrapped up in silver foil.

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