But that perspective didn't stop her from being a stickler as to how we prepared. She was incredibly organized and masterminded the operation, which began right after Purim and continued for the four weeks until Passover began. She had a box of Passover information, inherited from her mother, with schedules, shopping lists, timelines and menus that were decades old; every year, she opened the box, and spent hours revising and updating things for that particular year's needs. (I'm planning to visit this box of inherited insanity later today when I arrive at the ancestral home in New Jersey for our first Passover since my mother's passing in May 2011.)
My mother was the general, and we were the army of footsoldiers at her disposal. Every year, we sequestered the "chametzdik" dishes and pots and pans in boxes and replaced them with their finally-ready-for-prime-time counterparts, which had waited in the wings in the basement for nearly a year, tensing for their moment in the sun. We washed and cleaned and vacuumed and cooked, and straightened rooms and made sure everything was ready for the big show.
The climate in the house also grew tense, and usually, especially after my mother's movement became more difficult and I inherited the bulk of the seder prep, there was always one day that was so stressful and exhausting that I couldn't take it anymore and simply disintegrated into sobs. Luckily, we could just catch those tears as they fell and recycle them at the seder as salt water. (We didn't, but we could have.)
Decades before, my mother had written a Haggadah designed for children, to answer the questions that kids like me might have about such a holiday. (A new copy of this book is inexplicably for sale at Amazon for $127) But she had taken to joking that she could write a great book about how to make Pesach, but who had the time?
A PRAYER , by Shulamith E. Kustanowitz (2011)
Now that everyone has taken their places in the synagogue and at the table, let’s take a moment to honor all those who have worked to make this holiday possible, especially the women who did most of the work. Today’s men do a lot of the chores, but in the past, generations of women shouldered nearly all of the responsibility that kept our tradition and history alive for the Jewish people during the year, but especially on Pesach. And they did it one year after another, one generation after another, one century after another, one millennium after another.
A Pesach Prayer
Blessed be all those who attended to the logistics that make a Seder possible.
Especially, the women who, for centuries, did it all by themselves:
Cleaning the house, including closets and windows;
Getting clothes for everyone in the family and making sure they were ready;
Buying what was needed – the food for meals and for brachot, the wine for ceremonies and for pleasure, the utensils for serving ease and for beauty;
Watching the prices so nothing would cost more than it really had to;
Changing the dishes, silverware and pots;
Kashering what needed it;
Polishing what needed it;
Cooking what was wanted;
Preparing the soups, meat, side dishes, cakes and snacks;
Getting treats for the fussy eaters and distractions for difficult guests;
Working no matter how tired they were;
Getting to shul anyway;
Smiling when people told them they were unreasonable to think it was all so hard that they would need a lot of help,
Being told that no one else complains.
Enable us to appreciate good help when it’s offered and to get through this holiday in good spirits toward each other so we can value the miracle that the Exodus from Egypt truly was and the amazing things that the world has witnessed since then.
And be grateful for the good that has been done for all of us, whether we all helped or not.