One year ago, three weeks before Passover, my mother lay dying in her bedroom. An intense whirlwind of a woman, a judge and a chef and the convener of her large extended family, she had been reduced by pain drugs, not sleeping and not eating, to a wisp who barely spoke and shuffled along the plush carpet and polished wooden floors. Cancer was having its final ways with her. But that Saturday morning, she got out of bed, put on a dry-cleaned pair of chic, gray wool pants, a crisp orange blouse, gold hoop earrings, combed what was left of her hair and went to the kitchen.
She had a brisket lesson to give.
For Jews, Passover is the Super Bowl of food ritual holidays. Eight days follow a backdrop of intense dietary restrictions — which can include no bread, pasta, beans, rice, corn, nothing that could rise — meant to remind Jews of fleeing Egypt. And we sit down for the big ritual meal, a Seder, which, like a play, is one dramatic reenactment after another of ancient history through weird food items like salted herbs and roasted shank bones.
Holiday food rituals have always felt so deeply comforting, some kugel or sponge cake that connected me like an endless line of plates into my memories and deeper, into my family’s past.
To my mother, one’s history and traditions were to be deeply honored and guarded. She was a child of the World War II era, and she agonized her entire life over how her faith and culture would be passed down — or if it would.
by Michelle Boorstein