LYNN – The large Zimman clan, after two wistful years of holding pandemic seders via Zoom, will finally gather in person again this year in their customary location: the second floor of Zimman’s, the family’s massive fourth-generation decorative fabric and home decor store in Lynn.
They call it “Seder Over Store,” and this year it will be on the second night of Passover, atop Floor One which holds the bulk of its 50,000 bolts of fabrics, and above the Zimman’s Famous Basement level with threads and other notions. There they will break matzoh and read from the Hagaddah.
They’ll have pushed aside the sofas, chairs, end tables, rugs, mirrors, and assorted storage units and set up long tables arranged in the shape of a letter “E” (to maximize seating), dodging low-hanging chandeliers to take their seats.
There will be about 45 guests from as far away as California, ranging in age from 2 to 77.
The Seder, as always, will be led by Jon Zimman – aka “Sergeant Seder” – who lives in San Francisco and is one of four brothers of the store’s third generation owner, Michael Zimman. (Michael’s son, Daniel, is the fourth generation owner.)
“I commandeer the crowd,” Jon said. “I lead them to the Promised Land of getting through the Seder, to the end.”
The Zimmans have observed Passover as a family for more than a century and – with the exception of the Zoom pandemic years – have always gathered in person. There have been no other exceptions, not even in 1995 when matriarch Phyllis Zimman – Michael’s mother – was critically ill with cancer and spent part of the Seder in bed, famously stating: “I don’t care if we eat popcorn, we’re having Passover,” recalled Ellen Rovner, her daughter-in-law and Michael’s wife.
In those days, the Seder was held at Phyllis’s home. She and her husband Barry, the store’s second generation owner, had a large home in Marblehead, big enough to accommodate a Seder with their five sons and their growing families, as well as aunts, uncles, and cousins. Sometimes the guest list was as high as 50.
Phyllis started cooking three weeks before the holiday and her menu never varied, according to Rovner. It featured chicken soup, gefilte fish, brisket, two capons, tzimmes, asparagus, and chopped salted eggs. “The meat was always kosher,” she said, “from Larry Levine’s in Peabody.”
After Phyllis died, they continued to have the Seder at the house, staying faithful to her menu. Even after Barry moved to senior living, the family kept the house, using it only twice a year – on Passover and Thanksgiving.
Barry died in 2013 and with the sale of the house, they had a problem. A nephew took on Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t the same. “So in 2015, I said, ‘Why don’t we have the Seder over the store?” said Rovner. “That’s what people did in [earlier] generations. So many people lived over the store, behind the store.”
It seemed to fit. Zimman’s, which sits on the site of the old Goddard’s Department Store built in 1909, was founded by earlier generations of the family. Morris Zimman, an immigrant from Lithuania, started the company as a dry goods shop on River Street, dedicated to offering great bargains. (He was true to his word, at one point purchasing the entire contents of a sunken ship and selling soggy muslin on the sidewalk for 15 cents a yard.)
Morris moved the business to larger quarters on Market Street in Lynn in 1948, and in 1957 it moved again to the former Goddard’s store. There are still traces of its vintage grandeur on the floor where the Seder will be held, with its old tin ceiling and elegant railings. Family members will prop up old family photos, including a large blow-up of a black-and-white photo, taken around 1918, of Morris and his family. As expected, the kids will run around and jump on the sofas and rugs, though they’re obliged to take their shoes off.
“It’s extra sweet this year because it’s been two years,” said Daniel Zimman. “A lot has changed.”
Since Zimman’s has no kitchen, the event will be catered, though it will stay true to Phyllis’s original menu, even incorporating her tzimmes recipe. “It is a real l’dor v’dor” [from generation to generation], Rovner said.
As always, Jon Zimman will introduce newer traditions “to make it more engaging and more fun,” he said. In past years, they have acted out the plagues by throwing mini-marshmallows at each other, and passed around scallions to evoke slavery. “Everyone was instructed to whip their neighbor with the scallions.”
A music buff, he’ll also include Passover parody songs by Barbara Sharshik, whose compositions include “Sweet Kosher Wine,” sung to the tune of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” and “Fifty Ways to Leave Mitzrayim,” adapted from Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.”
And as ever, Sergeant Seder will wear his matzah tie. Alas, it will be polyester, though it seems appropriate for a fabric store. “I don’t know how many polyesters died to make it, but I have never seen a silk matzoh tie,” he said.
Linda Matchan can be reached at email@example.com