No, no, that title does not mean to set up a parallel to The Last Supper, though Passover and Easter celebrations often follow one another. What I wanted to share is my decision not to spend an entire week planning, shopping and cooking a special dinner for guests who may savor the meal but roll their eyes at the yearly repetition of the Exodus story. It's a magnificent story told in a book called the Haggadah, a proud recall of the struggle for freedom emphasized in the words, "Once we were slaves in Egypt."
There's a part of the Haggadah that gives a dramatic recitation of the many plagues visited upon the Egyptians when the Pharaoh would not let the Israelites leave. As the plagues are enumerated, we spill a drop of wine from our cups, symbolizing both the pain of slavery and the sadness that Pharaoh brought upon his own people. Also in the service is the word "dayenu," meaning for that alone we are grateful, and I feel the need to say the word in honor of all the family celebrations of Passover that stay alive in my album out of the past.
The table no longer rings with the many voices I hear reading the Haggadah, as years ago in Brooklyn my uncles chanted in Hebrew, each at his own pace in blissful disunion. My grandmother sat in quiet joy, surrounded by her children and her grandchildren, all hungering and impatient for the feast to follow, but restrained by respect for tradition. Only once do I remember my father's family joining us in the Bronx with my father's brother singing the prayers in his mellifluous voice.
When we relocated to California, Passover meant traveling to Walnut Creek where dear friends celebrated in the time-revered fashion, an hour of chanting before we could touch the delicious food that perfumed the entire house. My sons repeated the old struggle to "be good" as they and the other children tried not to look at each other.
Year after year, we gathered, adding loving parents and eventually Ron and his family. With the addition of little Jeremy, the reading of the Haggadah took less and less time. By then, we were missing two beloved sons and their father. My brother tried to lighten the serious mood, and his somewhat strange readings created struggles for decorum.
This year, burdened by physical problems that made preparation of the dinner and the symbolic presentation of the Passover story difficult, I made the decision that this was indeed the last seder that I would undertake. It was wonderful to be with Ron, my brother, my dear old friend, May, and, of course, Howard, but all heaved a sigh of relief when I announced there would be no reading of the Haggadah. "Dayenu," it really was enough.
We discovered that our small group of five enjoyed the occasion just as much as we had in previous years, perhaps more since we took the time to share our past experiences. My last seder was different - but memorable.