Traditions to pass on and to pass over

So here I am preparing for Passover and I am imagining the reasons behind all this cleaning.  O.K., O.K., I know about getting rid of the chametz but I think we can go overboard.    This is really an excuse for spring cleaning.  My uncle told me that when he was young they used to clean out the mattresses.  In his day that meant they took out the old straw and put in the new.


When I myself was a boy, I recall my mother organizing cleaning squads.   The members of the squads were her, my brother and myself and, occasionally, even my father, although he was often sent off because he wasn’t doing a good enough job.  It felt like he was going to the penalty box.  We had to do the house from top to bottom:  the floors, the walls, the ceilings, the light fixtures, every nook and cranny in the place.  The whole house smelled of turpentine and ammonia.  This is an aroma I seldom smell nowadays.  In those days, we knew how to CLEAN!


Some years, just for extra amusement, we repainted the place.   Then both my father and I got sent to the penalty box because neither of us was particularly good with a paint brush or a roller.


As if preparing for Passover wasn’t hard enough.   I got to rub the horse radish on the grate, which had the effect of giving me watery eyes and exposing little slices on my knuckles.  As my mother got older, I also got to turn the handle on the meat grinder as my mother pushed the meat into the top.  During the year, we always put in a bit of bread at the end to push the last bit of meat through but not for Passover.


And then there was the big night, the Seder.  What a production!  So many dishes!  So many courses what with the dipping and the tasting and the passing around.  My brother, my cousin and I were sitting on shpilkes.  Inevitably it would be the Stanley Cup Playoffs, usually the finals or semi-finals when I was younger and who else but the Leafs or the Habs would be playing?


In those days, my parents, uncle and aunt did most of the reading of the Haggadah and we were just trotted out for selected parts like the four questions.   I went to a religious afternoon school and when I asked the questions I did it trilingually: Hebrew, English and Yiddish, in that order.   Afterwards I would receive compliments and feel warm in the face.   Is it any wonder Jews have an affinity for performing?


Then as we knew, Pharaoh let the people go and we hunkered down in expectation of our own liberation, which came soon enough as we rushed out to watch hockey on T.V.  This was apparently not part of Halachah everywhere but it became part of the custom in many households in Canada.


Today I have a completely different way of preparing for Passover.   My wife and I close up the house, pack our bags and move to Toronto for a week where we get to tell tall tales to our children and grandchildren about how we did when we were young.   Each of us tries to relate to the liberation in our own way.  My grandson wants to know particularly how the Jews cleaned up all the dirt in the desert when they were preparing for the Passover meal.  “They used to have giant vacuum cleaners,”  I say and realize that I too, am contributing to the development of Haggadah.


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