Freedom and Strawberries
Passover is a wonderful holiday but it involves extreme changes to routine including switching utensils, closing off cabinets, and buying special kosher for Passover foods. A nightmare for anyone, let alone someone with memory issues.
Each day this week when I called my parents to say hello, Daddy kindly asked me to remind Mom that it was still Passover and not to open the cupboards that had been closed. Mom was absolutely furious that each time she tried to take out a cup or dish she was scolded. “He’s starving me,” she yelled, as if withholding the utensils meant she wasn’t eating. I tried to make a joke out of it. “It’s still Passover in my house, how about in yours?” I asked. “Of course it’s still Passover,” she replied. Yes, she knew it was Passover, but her freedoms were being restricted, and she couldn’t figure out why.
Passover is the ultimate celebration of freedom. In fact, one of its names is Zman Herutanu, the time of our freedom. Freedom here is not the colloquial Hebrew word for freedom, hofesh. Hofesh is like liberty, something we fight for that will throw off constraints and shackles and allow us personal growth and autonomy. The word hofesh does not appear anywhere in the story of the Exodus. But there is a word that appears in various forms at least 67 times—the root for work or service. Moses says to Pharaoh, “let my people go, that they may serve God.” Herut, in contrast to hofesh, comes from a connection to the word horin or nobility. It implies that “freedom is not only something to be gained but also something to be earned.” It is connected to service, to constraints, to choosing a life that is not free. As one insightful article suggests, “hofshiut establishes the framework for a meaningful life, and herut supplies its content.”
Taking care of an Alzheimer’s sufferer is anything but liberating. What govern your actions are the continually narrowing abilities of your loved one to navigate her surroundings. It is hard not to think of it as a burden, though once you find a way—through humor and love—it makes the caring much more fulfilling.
We went on several fun day trips over Passover, but much of my time was spent in the kitchen preparing for Shabbat and the last day of the holiday. True freedom, let me tell you. What made it worthwhile is that the meals I cooked were appreciated. When I spoke to Mom after the holiday, she was very happy to have her cupboards open again so that she could make tea in familiar cups.
After eating so many rich meat-and-potato-filled meals, dessert was a challenge. My husband Jeff baked amazing chocolate chip cookies that tasted (almost) like the real thing. But it was the strawberries dipped in chocolate that really caught our imagination. One second they were there, and the next, gobbled up.
Strawberries Dipped in Chocolate
I always leave a few strawberries chocolate free for my daughter who doesn’t like chocolate. I’m not sure how she can be my daughter….
1 container fresh whole strawberries (approximately 250 grams)
½ cup chocolate chips
2 tsp water
1 tsp vanilla
Wash strawberries in cold water being careful to leave the green stem attached. Dry on a paper towel. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine chocolate chips, water and vanilla. Heat on high for 33 seconds. Stir. If chocolate is not melted, heat for an additional 22 seconds and stir again. Holding on to the stems, dip strawberries individually into the chocolate and place on a sheet of baking paper. (Note: chocolate will not stick to wet strawberries.) When the chocolate has hardened, arrange strawberries in a decorative pattern on a plate or serving dish. Refrigerate until time to eat.
Thanks to my son Hillel for talking about herut at our Seder, and to “The Philology of Freedom: A Diachronic Analysis of Herut and Hofshiut" by Alex Maged, that appeared in the April 18, 2014, Kol Hamevaser, the Jewish Thought magazine of the Yeshiva University student body.