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Childhood Seder

The following is a poem from the book "Medicine, Metaphor, Memory: Collected Poems, 1987-2007" By Stan Schuman, MD, DrPH, Pastor Daniel Schuman's father. 

 

Childhood Seder 

Pre-passover, a Jewish child was in for a household transformation. My East European mother plunged into a springtime house-cleaning to rid every particle of dust, grime, and non-passover food (leavened bread, etc. called by the nasty-sounding name "chumetz" or "forbidden food") from her kitchen and pantry, according to mandates which were beyond me. The bustle and frenetic preparations for the ritual Seder meal can only be imagined in the eyes of a preschooler, as recipes, menus, shopping, cooking, linens, candlesticks, place settings, and Haggadah prayerbooks were organized by the matriarch as aggressively as a quartermaster before battle. Most unusual in our home was the supply of bottles and stemware for what seemed to be an inordinate volume of grape-like liquid, called "wine", a beverage I had little acquaintance with, until my first seder. When all the preparations and delicious cooking odors had reached a crescendo of excitement and anticipation, with phone calls from guests on the way, when all the silver was polished and glassware sparkled, Manischevitz matzos everywhere, and the mysterious seder plate of ritual symbols was the centerpiece (no Easter basket with candy eggs) with one bouquet of spring flowers...even the dullest child began to suspect that something important was underway. No wonder he was scrubbed, brushed, and taught to recite the four questions...it was "Pesach!"...but not until sundown, which seemed to take chocolate potato-flour cake, and marzipan, tart jellies, and coconut macaroons. As a small child, I recall the first crunch of hard, baked matzos, scraping the palate, hardly able to swallow, the brine of watercress, the shock of horseradish, the bitter herb, evoking real tears, the sweet relief of moror, the mixture of apple, nut and honey, the suspense of watchful waiting for the holy ghost of beloved Elijah to enter our home in the evening darkness to actually drink our Passover wine from his special cup. 

Passing on the seder tradition

To our eight children and their cohorts

Of guests and friends, over decades

Fills me with nostalgia each spring, 

The glow of ever similar, but ever changing 

Family reunions, nostalgia 

With one exception: the unforgettable night 

At my Aunt Sarah's, when I witnessed, 

For the first time, close-up, 

Inebriation of an adult that I knew. 

Cousin Morris, a teenage son of my aunt, 

Who loomed at the table, tall and strong, above me, 

Began to quench his thirst with huge gulps 

Of the abundant wine, with each prayer and chant 

Until, before my very eyes, I beheld a man-child

Progress from cheerfulness, to giddiness, to incoordination, 

To belligerence, to loud laughter, and finally

To slumping from his unsteady chair. 

Wide-eyed, incredulous, I witnessed, 

What the beautiful sweet purple liquid could do, 

In a mere matter of an hour or so, 

Reduce a strong, strapping youth, 

To helplessness, requiring three men

To carry him, child-like, still babbling, 

Down the hall, to his bed, while 

Aunt Sarah, the matriarch, 

Appeared to be unperturbed, 

Giving a hint of a smile

As if mission accomplished, her son 

Would have learned, the lesson of Exodus, 

And the power of the "fruit of the vine". 

Daniel Schuman Comment