Thursday, March 27, 2008

Clarifying the Deprivation Posting

In my post "A Little Word About Deprivation" I wondered aloud at the huge variety of kosher for Passover products that is produced each year. I also wondered aloud as to whether we really needed to have that many products available for Pesach. Some commenters very much disagreed with me on this. Fair enough. But in reading through the posting and the comments I saw where perhaps some of the differences might be coming from.

First let me state that I am an unabashed sentimentalist. I get unashamedly teary-eyed when I see some of the things I own, when I think of some of the things that were done in my family, when I hear tunes from my childhood, when I look at family photographs, when I meet people I haven't seen in years who were part of those growing up years. And yet, I am an enthusiastic modernist. I'm "boki b'computers" and make no bones about how important this "new" invention is in what I do. If an appliance truly will save me lots of back breaking labor, I'm going to buy it. I do not hanker after washing my clothes by the side of the cold water running stream by beating them on a stone. I like the advances in science and medicine that we have now. I like knowing that the advances in the world mean that I'll be around longer to enjoy them. I love cooking and baking and I like to try out new recipes.

My sentimentalism comes to the forefront when it comes to yom tov. Changes to the way that we make yom tov come slowly, if at all. I, and my family, know what to expect from yom tov, and look forward to things being the same. I see a connectedness between what I do today and what I did many years ago, and that pleases me. I see a connectedness to what I do and what my mother does and did, and that pleases me. And it pleases me to know that my mother was doing what her mother and grandmother did before her. And I have hopes that my children will take from my home to their home the minhagim and the ideas that they have seen here.

For Pesach, we recite the Hagaddah using the niggunim that have been passed down through our family for generations. Has an occasional new niggun crept in? A few, but they have been around for so long they are no longer newcomers. The charoses I make is the same one my great grandmother made. I don't cook a straight chicken soup the rest of the year, but I do for Pesach, along with homemade lokshen. For Pesach my family's reaction is "Oh boy, Pesach soup! Yum!" It doesn't have the same cachet if it's not Pesach. For 31 years I have been making the same erev Pesach afternoon meal, and every one stands around eagerly waiting for it. For 31 years I have been making the same meal for Achron shel Pesach, and every one awaits it eagerly. The forspeisin (appetizers) for Pesach are traditional and absolutely no one wants to change them.

Have I changed some of my cooking over the years? Yes. Some of the changes were for health and nutrition reasons. I always used to make pareve borsht and milchig potato soup, but the method, brought from Europe, has certain health hazards and I'm not taking any chances now that I know that. These soups were made "inter-geshologgen." You beat up raw eggs, strained the hot soup into a bowl and beat the eggs into the soup. The soup couldn't be too hot or it would cook the eggs in pieces. But unless the soup is boiling throughout when you do this you run the real risk of salmonella. One of my mother's grand children in law spent Pesach in the hospital all because she tasted while cooking a dish with undercooked eggs and which had the salmonella. Have I added any new dishes? A few. But why tamper with a formula that works?

Because our Pesach sounds the same and tastes the same, and because there is a long history of it, and because my mother is at our table, everything comes together to discuss the "I remember when" moments. Some of these are happy retellings of stories we all know well, and still appreciate. Some are a jiggling of memories as new stories come out. We remember those who are no longer around, those whom we actually knew and those whom we were not zocheh to know in person. And you bet I get all mushy and yes proud when my mother tells me that my father would have loved the way we make Pesach.

Many years ago a fourth grade morah taught one of my daughters a Chad Gad Yah d'var Torah. She repeated it the next year, and the year after that and has repeated it every year since then. And despite her being a fully grown adult woman there is glee in her voice and a smile in her eyes when she announces that it is time for the d'var Torah yet again. And we all smile along with her.

Our Kos Shel Eliyahu is the same becher that was used under our chupah and was a gift to us from my Tante Libby, who is no longer living. And you bet that that kos sparks a lot of memories and a lot of wonderful stories. It got a slight dent a few years ago. Does that mean I should trade it in for a new model, because there are plenty of new ones to choose from? Not in this lifetime!

So yes, in my opinion, and it is my opinion, I don't need 12 varieties of chicken sauce to make Pesach special or "fancy"; I need 12 remembrances of times past. For me it is not 7 varieties of balsamic vinegar that make Pesach special; it is minhag and custom and longevity of those customs that make Pesach special. For me, as a child born in Europe of Holocaust survivors, that my Pesach echoes the Pesach of my grandparents is an excellent thumbing of the nose at those who tried to destroy us all and failed. I received a family yerusha, a family mesorah, and it's my job to pass it on as intact as possible. It's my desire to do so.

Does anyone really believe that 20 years from now anyone will remember or care whether there were 18 varieties of salad dressing available for Pesach? What I am recommending is less emphasis on the things we buy to cook with and more emphasis on the memories made when we sit down together for Pesach.


Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful post. I totally agree with you, and I'll be sending friends and family to read it. Thank you.

Commenter Abbi said...

These are all valid feelings, but the way you phrased it in the previous post didn't really communicate that this is your personal issue about your own sentimental feelings for Pesach.

I think the point is, each family has their own sentimental feelings about Pesach. You might not need 12 sauces to make the chag mehudar, but there might be families that do, and I don't think that says anything about the value of the emotional connection a family feels about Pesach. Because my mother always made her roasted chicken with Gold's duck sauce, suddenly, she's a shallow Jew with no real connection to Yiddishkeit? Eh, I don't really buy it.

I just think it's interesting that you were very quick to say "We shouldn't judge people who go away to a hotel for Pesach" yet people who stay home and make their own Pesach rolls are suddenly objects for shaming.

You sound like you have lovely family memories of Pesach, but I'm not sure why every other family must have the same ones you do. (Also, as the grandchild of survivors, i don't think it's very fair to play the survivor card, while passing judgment on others.)

Anonymous said...

I'm fairly new to reading this blog but from the other postings I have read it's pretty clear that Profk doesn't like the overspending that goes on in the jewish community. I'm pretty much in agreement with her on this. Those who don't have the money spend just as much and more as those who do have the money. Why are either of them spending like crazy? The companies that put out passover products aren't doing it to provide a service to Jews. They are doing it to make money--that's why they are in business. We are the target audience for what they are pushing. If the posting reminds people that they can still have a beautiful Pesach without buying every product out there then it should be said.

No one is saying Abbi that there was anything wrong with your mother putting sauce on her chicken and Golds has been around for ages. I think the point was that does one person really need to have 20 different sauces for Pesach and 20 different cakes and 20 different of everything? No, they don't need it, but they may want it. Big difference between wanting something and needing something.

Shoot me if you want to but I also don't understnd the rolls on Pesach. What ever happened to eating matzah?

Anonymous said...

Nothing like waking up early and finding some controversy on a blog, as if that is something new. "You sound like you have lovely family memories of Pesach, but I'm not sure why every other family must have the same ones you do" Abbi I didn't get the feeling that the post was saying "this way or no way at all". Or even that Prof K's way is better then anyone elses. "(Also, as the grandchild of survivors, i don't think it's very fair to play the survivor card, while passing judgment on others.)" I'm puzzled. What survivor card was being played? I've heard millions of times from family members who were in the HOlocaust the same thing that was said in the posting. How is that playing a survivor card? And since when is having a personal opinion passing judgment on somebody else.

Leora said...

One of my mother's grand children in law spent Pesach in the hospital all because she tasted while cooking a dish with undercooked eggs and which had the salmonella.
Thanks for this...I am always telling my kids not to eat X dish because the eggs aren't cooked. Here's proof that the precaution is warranted.


A different Leora than the one above

Anonymous said...

Hey people, this is a blog. Blog's are about people's personal opinions. It's facts that need to be clearly labeled not opinion. In her classes ProfK stressed consistency. No surprise that she would consider yom tov to be something that should be consistent and connected across the years.

Anonymous said...

IMHO it's usually the people who have a long family history of something that don't always see the value of it. My husband and I are BT and we had no family minhagim to take into our marriage. We've looked at what other people do and taken some of their customs for our own. We've made up a few of our own. We try to celebrat every chag the same every year so that our children will have what we didn't have growing up--family traditions. I liked this post because the writer isn't ashamed to say that tradition is important, more important then trying something new just because it is there.

Anonymous said...

If you like using the computer and you clearly like making lists then you may enjoy what my sister did. She made up a family "hagaddah" on how Pesach is made in our parents home and where all the different things we do came from. Was it from a grandfather or a great grandfather? There are recipes for the dishes we traditionally make and some tips on where and how to clean. There are also some stories in there that have been passed down in our family. I guess you would call it a personal journal of Pesach in our family. We're big on traditions in our family and this is a way to make sure that nothing gets lost in our minds.

Anonymous said...

Could a man put in his two cents worth here? My friends and I are basically meat and potato people. Maybe add a few vegetables or a salad and we're perfectly happy. My wife figured this out and for yom tov she feeds us what she knows we like and will eat. She leaves the experimentation for when there is lots of company at the table, not on yom tov. I don't think I have ever eaten balsamic vinegar but it sounds nasty. I always thought that balsam was that stuff that oozed out of pine trees or maybe the tree itself, but I could be wrong.

Commenter Abbi said...

"The companies that put out passover products aren't doing it to provide a service to Jews. They are doing it to make money--that's why they are in business. We are the target audience for what they are pushing."

Exactly. And everyone can choose to buy or not to depending on how they like to cook, what there budgets are and what their minhagim are. Believe me, Pesach salad dressing is not what's breaking people's budgets. You know the old saw about no one holding a gun to your head...

You can turn this on its head and say "Wow, mah rabu maasecha that 60 years after the Holocaust, the Jewish community is so robust that so many companies think it's worth it to shell out the money for a Pesach hashgacha to sell to it. That's pretty miraculous"

I guess i just have to laugh, because here in Israel all the major food manufacturers produce KP foods. Entire full service supermarkets provide wall to wall KP food (most of it kitniyot, but still, KP) (Imagine if your local Stop &Shop became completely wall to wall KP). That makes your 12 chicken sauces look like nothing in comparison.

I felt profk was being judgemental of people who make Pesach in different ways- whether it's spending extra on special ingredients that are now, miracle of miracles, KP and weren't around in her grandmother's time ("Does anyone really believe that 20 years from now anyone will remember or care whether there were 18 varieties of salad dressing available for Pesach?") or maybe for them it's about creating new minhagim because the ones they received weren't so great to begin with. (My mother had no interest in maintaining her mother's endless Shabbat/chag rotation of boiled chicken/flanken that usually came with some form of food poisoning. She is also a child of survivors. As a matter of fact, my mother's greatest pleasure on any chag is getting take out/catering!)

As I said previously, profk's memories sound really beautiful and I'm glad she and her family enjoy them. However, other families might find more meaning in creating new minhagim, that yes, might include a variety of salad dressings, sauces, and even Pesach Cheerios. I just felt that "Why can't we go back to the good old days when we are all more deprived" was judgmental. She's certainly entitled to her opinion and, as long as she has comments open, I'm entitled to opine in return, in a reasonable fashion.

And really, as long as Jews are making some kind of effort to celebrate, isn't that what's important?

Anonymous said...

Don't want to be non PC here but I think the difference of opinion between profK and Abbi is one of age. I'm guessing that profK is in my grandparents age group somewhere and that Abbi is in my parents age group. My grandparents want everything to stay just the same from year to year. They want things to be like they saw their parents do. My parents are more into adding in new things into making a yom tov personally their own rather then being 100% what was in their parents homes. Funny thing is though that my mom got her feelings hurt when I didn't follow her way when I got married but did it my own way, which included a lot of what my grandmother does.

You know there is no right or wrong here, just different.

Anonymous said...

"I always used to make pareve borsht..."

Do you still make it, just not the same way, or have you ditched it entirely ?

There is a Jewish continuity crisis. Young Jews are not consuming borscht to the degree of their ancestors. Ditto, even worse I think, with pitchah and some other stuff.

What can be done ???

Anonymous said...

Somewhere around the fifth yom tov meal my family starts groaning that they can't eat one more big meal and please no more fleishigs. I've lightened up my cooking and cut way down on the number of dishes I prepare because no one seems to enjoy them after the first two days. In that sense I agree with this blog's writer. Just because all that stuff is out there to cook with doesn't mean we have to use it. Ever notice how the outfits purchased before Pesach never seem to fit right at the end of Pesach? Maybe a little too much indulgence in everything that is available to eat?

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean about war breaking out. It almost happened with us. But we worked it out with our kids in laws. The kids go to them for the whole Pesach and they come to us for the whole Sukkos. Doesn't hurt that his parents live on one coast, we live on the other coast and the kids live in a third place. With all the traveling to do this is the most practical solution. Worked so far for 11 years.