MARCH 29, 2018 – In our Jewish neighborhood in Mattapan, some brave little flowers would begin to pop up in the small green areas allotted to each triple-decker. Daylight lasted longer and spring was in the air. We all knew that Passover wasn’t far behind.
Of course the first part of the preparation was giving our apartment the same kind of cleaning it had undergone in the fall. You certainly can’t welcome such a special holiday with any schmutz around.
For my mother, the most difficult holiday to prepare for was Passover. It meant that the two sets of dishes we used every day, one set for milchig (dairy) and the other for fleishig (meat), had to be stored in the cellar. After all the dishes were individually wrapped and placed into boxes, it was my father’s job to carry the boxes carefully down the three flights of stairs and put them into our cellar woodshed. Everyday silverware also had to be bundled up and stored in the same place.
Pots and pans, cooking utensils, and everything related to regular daily meal preparation disappeared the same way. And it sure wasn’t over yet. Once all those things were removed, every shelf had to be washed down, and new white shelf paper gave them a fresh holiday look. Chametz products were out, half empty boxes of crackers and cookies either went to the birds, were given away, or tossed before anything Pesadich arrived.
Once everything was deemed Passover-perfect, it was time to bring in the order from the back hall. It had been sitting there where the kosher market delivery boy had left it. I used to feel sorry for the poor guy who had to carry those big orders up the stairs. The heaviest boxes had to be the ones with the large Cott soda bottles, their “Kosher for Passover” labels prominently placed.
In addition to all the matzah products, I would find Joyva candies, sugar-covered jelly fruit slices; Swee-Touch-Nee tea in its little red tin treasure chest with gold trim; and a jar of cherry preserves that always made the tea taste better. In my grandmother’s house, you could have a glass of tea with a sugar cube. “Have a glossele tay,” she would say.
I don’t know how she did it, but my mother made the most delicious sponge cakes by hand. OK, so they may not have been pretty, but they were good. When I was a little older, I sometimes spelled her but it took a long time for me to achieve the right motion with a large wooden spoon. I recall one year we gave her dispensation to use her mixer after we bought a new bowl and beaters to be taken out only on Pesach.
I never said it, but there was really something special about those hand-mixed sponge cakes, especially the 12-egg one with nuts that always had a wet bottom. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a labor of love.
Sending me off to school with a filled lunch bag wasn’t easy. Fortunately, there was no gefilte fish in my lunch, which would have freaked everyone out. Instead, there was a piece of the wet-bottom cake wrapped in wax paper along with my hard-boiled egg, a tomato, and a couple of pieces of matzah, broken by then.
Thank goodness for water bubblers in school since no one had a thermos and I certainly wasn’t going to drink the non-Passover milk. Did I ever want to break Passover? I couldn’t, not really. I was indoctrinated with Jewish guilt, which can be pretty powerful.
Mine goes back to the time when I was a little girl and we spent Passover week in Lynn at my Bubbe’s house. One morning, Bubbe saw the little girl from across the street playing alone and she sent me over. What a nice kid; she even offered me some of her Easter jelly beans.
“Take them, they’re good,” I recall her saying, and she put several in my hand. I told her I was going to save them and I would eat them later. I never did, but not without a mental struggle. I couldn’t keep them, I couldn’t eat them, and I couldn’t bring them into Bubbe’s house so I threw them away.
Although I haven’t seen jelly beans for Passover yet, it is a lot easier to keep the holiday today with so many more things kosher for Passover. My late father-in-law used to say, “If we wait long enough, I’m sure someday they will have bread for Passover.” He may yet be right.
Myrna Fearer writes from Danvers.