Someone needs to make a feature film about a family's Passover Seder. I'll bet Steven Spielberg could make a rollicking Indiana Jones-style adventure simply based on the search for the afikomen. We reached out to some prominent Chicagoans who consider Passover to be the most wonderful time of the Jewish year and asked them to share a favorite holiday memory or tradition.
Scott Turow, author:
"Passover is the one Jewish holiday I have enjoyed without reservation since childhood. I love everything about it-the story of the Exodus, whether or not it's historically accurate, celebrates the yearning for freedom among all peoples. I've always thought it was wonderful that a religious ceremony of significance is celebrated at home. And I love the food--leaving aside gefilte fish.
I remember one year when I was about 10, we were invited to celebrate with beloved neighbors, the Feinbergs. Our hostess's mother, Mrs. Kaplan, was making her famous gefilte fish and before we left for the Seder, my mother told me, no matter how much I hated it, I was eating a piece. When the course came out, I cut the fish ball into four large pieces and swallowed each one of them whole; no chewing. At that point, Mrs. Kaplan came by. "Oy, you loved the fish," she said, and promptly slapped another huge piece down on my plate."
Andy Hochberg, Chairman of the JUF Board of Directors:
"I had an Aunt Rose on my father's side, who I believe was a performer. At Seders when I was very young, she would sing ' Dayenu ' with memorable passion. My Uncle Av, on my mother's side, would sing ' Chad Gadya .' We didn't really see this part of the family more than once or twice a year. To this day, we still try to replicate their renditions of those songs."
Larry Rand, folk musician and journalist:
"I used to attend Seders with friends in Rockford. It often would be 34 degrees in lakeside Chicago and 72 in Rockford, 90 miles away. Two years in a row, when the time came to open the door for Elijah, there was a person standing there! In both cases, the people at the door were gentiles who just happened to have a reason to knock on the door at that particular time and wondered how we knew they were there before they rang the bell. They probably didn't get the joke even after our lengthy explanations. The first time it happened it was funny, but the second year, it was hysterical!"
Nell Minow, writer and film reviewer:
"I've been lucky enough to attend and even occasionally host many perfect Seders, one with nearly 100 people, one with just two (because he is seven months younger than I am, my husband had to ask the four questions). But the ones I remember even more fondly are the ones where things went wrong. There was the time I rashly agreed to host even though we had moved just two weeks prior. Because some of our things did not arrive in time, I had just one pot and one pan.
But my favorite memory was when my sisters and I were little, and my mother gave us some pointers so we would know what to expect because she wanted us to impress the relatives with our understanding of the holiday. One of my sisters found the afikomen and was very excited. She ran over to my mother yelling, "I found the pizza!" One of the deepest joys of Passover is that in celebrating the traditions of our people, we create and celebrate the traditions of our families."
Stacey Ballis, author :
"As a writer of culinary fiction, the intersection of storytelling and food is right in my sweet spot. I have hosted our family Passover celebrations since I was in my 20s, and I look forward to doing it every year. A cherished memory is of the Passover when my husband's family, who are not Jewish, flew up to join us for our Seder. If you have a chance to get a Southern preacher at your Passover table, I highly recommend it. My father-in-love [sic], a retired Methodist minister, gave some of the most mellifluous readings of any Seder we have ever had! One of the things I love most about being Jewish is this sense of continual growth, exploration, and openness to the new while celebrating the ancient."
Emma Pope, Second City cast member:
"I must've been around 9 or 10 years old and my parents were holding the Seder at our house (not a regular event). We had been cooking for days, and had family coming in from different parts of the East Coast. Unbeknownst to me, the main course of dinner was also making the trip. My grandmother flew from West Palm Beach, Fla., to Washington D.C. holding an entire cooked brisket in her lap. She showed up at our door with an enormous pot and a huge grin. She knew no one else could've done the meat justice. It makes me laugh to think about trying to get that thing through security these days, I'm fairly certain it was over 3 ounces."
Rabbi Shaanan Gelman,Kehilat Chovevei Tzion:
"The Passover Seder reanimates us. My grandfather-Dr. Abraham Gelman-was king of the castle; the head of the family, running the Seder despite the fact that he suffered for many years with Parkinson's disease. As the disease progressed, he was not physically capable of leading the Seder, but we would place him at the front of the table out of respect. My grandmother dressed him up in regal clothing and finely polished shoes. One time toward the end of his life, he couldn't move or stand up on his own at the Seder table. We began singing the words " V'nomar le'fanav shira chadasha " (and we will recite a new song before You) with great fervor.
Suddenly my grandfather opened his eyes and rocked himself back and forth. Struggling, he stood up. We continued singing in ecstatic joy as my grandfather slowly made his way around the Seder table. It took about 10 minutes, and then he collapsed into his seat, immobile once again. This is the magic of Seder night; we transition from slavery to freedom. Not only the Jews of ancient Egypt but we, even those who are imprisoned in body or in spirit-are released on Passover."
Donald Liebenson is a Chicago writer who writes for VanityFair.com , LA Times , Chicago Tribune , and other outlets.