Passover is a “crummy” holiday.  By that I mean matzos make lots of crumbs! Growing up, Passover was observed strictly in my family, crumbs and all.  This tradition was passed down from generation to generation.

While my mother’s family was supposedly not religious, they did hold joint Seders in a hotel or hall with my Grandma Minnie’s siblings and half siblings. I was told this continued until the beginning of WWII when the men started leaving to serve in the armed forces.

Leber Family Seder, 1942

My father’s family attended Seders at my Aunt Reve’s apartment in Brooklyn.  She did this until 1949 when her older son, Arnold, died from polio.

To keep the tradition going, my Aunt Mildred would host the Seders in her Stuyvesant Town apartment in New York City. I loved going to my Aunt Mildred’s apartment because I got to play with her cat and my cousins, Harvey and Alice.  However, on Seder nights there was no time for playing and a long table took up most of the living room.  I still remember the potato kugel my aunt made.  It was so delicious.  To this day, I cannot recreate it. I always made a fuss when my father said it was time to leave.  It always seemed like we were the first to go and I wanted to stay until everyone else was leaving. However, with 2 or 3 young children depending upon the year, I guess they wanted to get us home and put us to bed.

I remember getting a new spring outfit and hat.  One year I even got a real straw “Easter” bonnet.  I loved my hats.  The new spring outfits, without hats, continued until I went away to college. 

My father was also very strict about what we were allowed to eat during {Passover week.  We could only have food that was kosher for Passover. That meant no chips or cookies or ice cream.  From a child’s point of view there was not much to eat during that week and as soon as Passover was over, I would eat an entire big bag of potato chips.

Tara in a new hat with my mother –>

However, if we were lucky enough to see Aunt Reve and Uncle Harry Bricker during Passover, they always brought the children a box of Bartons Chocolate Lollicones. Now that was a real treat since, normally, we were not allowed to eat candy.

Barton's Passover Lollipops

In 1951, we did not attend any Seder, as my brother Ira was born on April 20th, the first night of Passover. My mother was waiting for my father to arrive home from work before going to the hospital. However, she could not wait long enough and had to call a taxi. She barely made it out of the taxi, when Ira arrived. Pop had gotten stuck in traffic and could not get home fast enough.

Once we moved to Teaneck, NJ, my Aunt Lois and Uncle Arthur started hosting the Seders.  My Aunt always made it look so easy, but now I understand all the preparation that went into the traditional meal.  To accommodate all the invited guests, they often moved the living room furniture into the dining room and moved the dining room table into their long living room.  That allowed additional tables to be added to the dining room table to create one very long table.

Besides their family, my family, my Aunt Mildred’s family, my Aunt Reve’s family, and Grandma Gussie, there were always other guests invited. I remember meeting Bea Ames.  Her father had been Grandma Gussie’s brother, so Bea was a first cousin to Pop, Uncle Arthur, and Aunt Mildred.  Over the years, Lillian Blieden Ianora and her husband, Tony, were frequent guests.  Lillian had been a patient of my Uncle Arthur, and because she was a Blieden, she became a regular at his home.  Back then, we knew she had been born a Blieden, but we did now know how she was related.  Now I can tell you that Lillian descends from Abraham, son of Zundel, son of Morkekhl. That would make Lillian a 4th cousin to Uncle Arthur, my father, and to Aunt Mildred.

The Teaneck Seders started once Uncle Arthur returned from Services.  Since the Teaneck Jewish Community Center was diagonally across the street from his house at least he did not have far to go to get home.  However, the Services ended around 8:00 PM.  By then, most of us waiting for the start were tired and very hungry.  The beginning of the Service was all in Hebrew, and it took about one hour to get to any “dipping” of greens or anything else to eat.  We were not allowed to touch any food before that.  A favorite part of the Seder was the singing of Dayenu, especially because we realized that the food would come soon after that.

Once we were ready to eat, Uncle Arthur carved the turkey.  Being an orthopedic surgeon, he always did an excellent job at getting all the meat off the bones. No one in the family can compare to how he did it. A day or so before the Seder, Uncle Arthur would go to the Lower East Side and get fresh barrel pickles, sauerkraut and pickled green tomatoes.  One of his patients had a barrel pickle shop there and his stuff was always so fresh, crunchy and delicious. Sometimes the whole family would go with Uncle Arthur to do other Passover shopping, too, while on the Lower East Side.

After the meal, us kids would run around or get ready to leave, but at the end of the table, Uncle Arthur, my father, Aunt Mildred and Grandma Gussie and some other adults, would sit back down, finish the Seder, and sing. I always thought that was so touching even though, back then, I had no interest in joining them.

Once or twice cousins Ruth and Jud Bricker made the Seders at their home.  n 1973, we were told that Ruth’s father, who was a chef, would be preparing the turkey.  We were all excited. However, Ruth’s family was not Jewish, and her father did not know understand how to baste a turkey without butter since it needed to be kosher-style, or how to make gravy without flour.  It was the driest turkey we ever tasted, and we could hardly swallow it. Other than that, we all had a wonderful time, but the “dry” turkey was the butt of jokes for many years. On a sad note, it was the last Seder my father would ever attend as he passed away that summer of 1973.

Uncle Arthur and Brad, circa 1977

Above – Uncle Arthur and his great-nephew, Brad, circa 1976

At some point after I had children, I started hosting the Seders at my home in Cheshire, CT. When my boys were small, I started making changes to the Seder. To start with, I bought a set of Reformed Haggadahs.  There was more English so we could understand better what was going on and there were also beautiful illustrations.

Reformed Passover Haggadah

 Around that time, I had a friend whose father was a reformed Rabbi.  Their Seders were held at times that were convenient for little children. After years of driving to NJ after school and work, waiting until after 8:00 PM for the start, and having to leave the Seder early to make it home before midnight, the idea of changing the time was appealing. At first our Rothman seders were traditional. Aunt Mildred would always come by bus from NYC and Stan would pick her up at the Waterbury bus station which was at least a 15 minute drive each way.  Unfortunately, my cousin Alice refused to come at the same time as her mother, so Stan would have to make a separate trip to the bus station to pick her up.  We tried really hard to be accommodating.

As the years went on, we started picking a date during Passover that was more convenient than a weekday.  On the traditional Seder nights, my family attended Seders at friends’ homes and even at one of the Rabbi’s homes.  I then started incorporating ideas from all these Seders.

Once the Internet was available, I even downloaded famous songs with Passover lyrics.  One example is “There’s No Seder Like Our Seder” sung to the tune of “There’s No Business Like Show Business”.

Rather than reading the entire Passover story in the Haggadah, I would read a children’s book telling the story.  It was shorter and more engaging.

Tara Reading the Passobver Story from a Children's Book

The party stores started carrying 10 Plagues masks and finger puppets and I decided to put plastic frogs on the table for decorations and for the little ones to play with.

The 10 {lagues

We added new things to the Seder plate like an orange and scallions, and we added another glass of water on the table to represent Miriam’s Well.

The orange shows that women can lead a Seder. Miriam’s Well talks about the important role that she had sustaining everyone in the desert. The scallions represent the whips that were used on the slaves building the pyramids.

The cup of salt water on the Seder plate was made by my grqndson, Carter, in nursery school. –>

For the first few years, I improvised and made the Seder plate on whatever dishes I had.  Then my sisters bought me a beautiful Seder Plate from a store on Cedar Lane in Teaneck, NJ, that I have used ever since.  My candlesticks were a wedding present from cousins Mickey and Allen Spira, and the kiddush cup we use for Elijah was Stanley’s that he got for his Bar Mitzvah.

Our Seder Plate

After the meal, the children searched for the afikomen.  Growing up, my uncle would hide one piece of matzoh and whoever found it got a dollar.  I never found it.  I decided to hide a little piece of matzoh for each child in attendance so that each child would get a little gift.  I learned to put each piece in a little plastic baggie to eliminate crumbs all over the entire house.  Most years, I hid the pieces in the downstairs family room.

Cameron finding the Afikomen, circa 2015 –>

Cameron finding the Afikomen, circa 2015

After the afikomen was found, we could finish the Seder.  We started doing this in memory of our parents and grandmother sitting at the end of the table and singing at the end of the Seder.

At our Rothman Seder, our favorite songs became Chad Gadya and Who knows One. In both songs, there was a lot of participation and laughs.  Our good friends, the Celestes, joined us for many years.  When they retired to FL, we called them up on Passover and made them sing Chad Gadya with us.  Vinnie became know as the “Ox” since he made the best ox sound.  After that first year, it became a tradition, and we called them every year for about 20 years until Vinnie passed away in 2022.

Once the guests arrived, I had good helpers helping to prepare the individual Seder plates, which was a tradition from my Aunt Lois and Uncle Arthur’s Seders.

Also, in memory of their Seders we always have pickles on the table, but it is hard to find fresh sauerkraut or pickled green tomatoes in CT!

Christina and Cameron help make the Seder Plates –>

setting up the Seder Plates

When I first started hosting the Seders, I did all the cooking, but as the years went by, everyone pitched in to help. People brought  brought the charosets, the hard-boiled eggs, and cooked sweet potatoes that would be used in another recipe, vegetarian chopped liver, a tray of mashed potatoes, wine, a beautiful tray of cut fruit, and the peach kugel. Of course, that varied over the years depending upon who was coming. 

I cooked the chicken soup, matzoh balls, baked matzoh farfel ( a tradition we keep from Stanley’s mother, Lillian) and the main dish among other things. 

Sweet Potatoes with wholeberry cranberry sauce on pineapple

As the years went by, some of us developed dairy allergies and celiac disease, others had always been vegetarians, or insisted on other food restrictions like no refined sugar. I also kept it kosher-style in memory of my father who was strictly kosher. Planning the meal got complicated.  It got so complicated that I started sending out surveys to figure out how much of what to make. 

I bet we were the only house with four pots of soup on the stove:  chicken soup with matzoh balls, chicken soup without matzoh balls, vegetarian soup with matzoh balls and vegetarian soup without matzoh balls!

Passover 4 pots of soup

The Passover Survey

No matter what, when we started the meal, we traditionally started with gefillte fish and horseradish, then the egg.  I had to eat mine in the tradition of Grandma Gussie and my father. I mashed my egg into a bowl of salt water and added cinnamon and pepper. It is so good; I don’t know why I only eat it that way once a year.

Since no one else wanted to join me in eating their egg this way, they had to wait until I finished so they would nosh on more charosets, vegetarian chopped liver, pickles and whatever else was on the table. 

Then came the chicken or vegetarian soup, and then finally the main meal.

Passover hard-boilded egg with cinammon and pepper

In 2019, COVID struck, and we could not have our Seder.  I decided to try to get everyone together on Zoom and promised a short 20-minute service and then we could all chat.  It worked and we were able to be together with cousins and friends from all over the country. We kept that up during the pandemic and it might just become another tradition.

Tara running the Zoom Seder 2019
Michael is read yfor the Zoom Seder
Amy on the Zoom Passover Seder
Cameron and Carter on the Zoom Passover Seder
Our Zoom Seder Guests
Our Zoom Seder Guests

In 2023, I had my first post-pandemic Seder with guests.  There were only 9 of us, which was down from the usual 22 or more, but it was special being all together again.  My 12-year-old grandson, Cameron, was so happy.  He said it was much better to have a Seder in person than on Zoom.

In 1998, when my son Brad was working in Washington, DC, after graduate school, he attended an Orthodox Seder with Cousin Robin Spira who lived in MD.  He called me the next day and said “Ma, I don’t think we have real Seders”.  “Why not, Brad? Of course, we do!”  “Well at the Seder I went to, no one was speaking English.  They just mumbled in Hebrew all night”.  That is exactly what I was trying to avoid all these years.  I wanted the Seder to be understood and enjoyed so that the tradition would keep on going.

As Rabbi Silver used to say, children are a necessary part of the Seder to keep the tradition alive for future generations. They make the Seder “kosher”.   It certainly worked in my family as we always honored our parents and grandparents’ memories and had fun reminiscing about the long and tedious Seders we sat through. I hope future generations will reminisce about the laughter and fun they had at the Rothman Seders and keep the tradition going in their own way.

I hope you enjoyed my memories and I hope you will add your own Passover memories in the comments!

Post Author: trothman

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