How do we mark the passage of time? Yes, there is the calendar with its cycle of seasons, holidays, and birthdays. And yes, we are by nature different from one year to the next, from one specific date in the year—let’s say our birthday—to the same date the following year; we have aged, lived through additional experiences, come to some truths (hopefully) about whom we are and how the world functions.
Somehow, that doesn’t do it for me. I get all muddled when I try and remember how we celebrated, say, Passover last year, or the year before, or the year before that. Who was that guest we invited at the last minute? How many were we around the table? Did we eat roast chicken and sweet and sour meatballs, or only roast chicken? One year merges into another.
What does anchor me to specific celebrations—though I can’t place them by year—are the memories that stand out from the routine. When I sort through my Passover memories, here’s what surfaces: as a young girl, my brother and I sat down on a couch at the hosts’ house and crushed the afikoman* they had already hidden; making a sea out of billowing blue material for my kids to act out it’s crossing; the shock on my niece’s face when we poured water into a glass with red coloring at the bottom so that it looked like blood; learning about the terrorist bombing at the Park Hotel in Netanya, a place we’d walked by hundreds of times. More recently, there was the hilarious Seder when my youngest got drunk on wine for the first time and fell off his chair. Or last year—ah, I remember—when my daughter, just back from Canada, told us movingly about her visit and her mature perspectives on the multifaceted nature of Jews from various backgrounds.
My parents have been a constant at our Seders. They’ve joined us every year since they moved to Israel in 1994. When my grandmother was mobile and my grandfather was alive, we often had four generations around the table. That was amazing. We look forward to Mom’s singular rendition of Ha Lachma Anya, a haunting tune she remembers vividly, as she does most music.
Passover is a complicated holiday to prepare for at the best of times. How much more so when your memory is non-existent. Not only is everything in a different place, but there are different plates and utensils to use, strange foods to eat, and so much busy work. I am praying we have the time and wisdom to keep Mom occupied with simple tasks that make her feel productive.
We spent Israel’s Election Day at home cleaning for Passover. To get us into the mood, and to reward ourselves for voting in this amazing democracy of ours, we played some of our favorite Israeli music, a two-disc set called simply, “The Collection.” Suddenly, the language switched from Hebrew to Yiddish, and the warm, deep voice of Shoshana Damari filled our house. I didn’t remember that this woman of Yemenite origin also sang in Yiddish.
By the time she’d finished singing Rozhinkes mit Mandlen (Raisins and Almonds), I was in tears. I was struck by the idea that time is more than a passive element; it is also a destructive force. And it is erasing our memories, relegating them to history’s garbage heap.
Soon, I will be the only one who remembers how my grandfather would have loved this song, how Mom, if she heard it, would start singing along. My new role is to be the memory keeper in Mom’s life, the amalgamation of her past. When I’m with Mom, I can’t remind her of those past memories, though. She only has the ability to live in the present. Preserve your memories; they’re all that’s left you.
I am trying to use all the open bags of rice in my cupboard before Passover actually starts. Not that rice is chametz, but it would be nice to use it up. Daddy asked me to make him some rice pudding. He told us that one summer, as a young man, when he was staying at a boarding house in Welwyn Garden City in England, he ate rice pudding every day. After that, he couldn’t stand to even look at it. Now that he’s over his aversion to it, he finds that it’s a gentle dish to digest.
This is an easy dish to make from scratch, but you can also use left-over rice to create this sweet dessert. It is surprisingly delicious and satisfying. Serve it in small bowls or even tea cups.
1 cup short-grained rice
2 cups water
2 cups milk
2 Tbsp cream
1 Tbsp butter
Pinch of salt
½ cup raisins soaked in brandy
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg (optional)
¼ cup maple syrup (or brown sugar)
1 tsp vanilla
Soak raisins in a little brandy or other liquor (I used Amaretto) before you start cooking the rice. Set aside. Melt butter in a small pan and add rice. Stir to coat. Add milk, water, cream and salt and bring to a gentle boil. Turn flame to low and simmer for about 20 minutes. Not all the liquid will absorb, and that’s good. When rice is done, turn off heat. Add raisins, cinnamon, maple syrup, and vanilla and stir well. In a separate glass, break and beat egg. Add the egg to the pan while continuing to stir. The heat of the rice will cook the egg and create a custard-like consistency. Serve warm sprinkled with cinnamon and a few more raisins.
*Afikoman is a Greek word meaning dessert. It is traditional to hide a portion of matza during the Seder for the kids to find and “negotiate” prizes for its return. The afikoman is the last thing eaten at the Seder.