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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Passover Polaroids in Two Parts

Here we are in January and we are full into the sources for Passover. Parshat Bo gives us the commandment to remember the exodus from Egypt.

With a mighty hand, with miracles, with a strong arm did the Hebrews leave Egypt.

Here is the blueprint for the Hagaddah, the book of our story still re-lived each year.

Here we are, so long after that night of blood and escape. We remember this time with the work of our hands, with our preparation, with our excitement and with the stained haggadot we have used for so many years.

This series of snapshots (Polaroids!) runs in a series point/counterpoint.



"....and that you may recount in the hearing of your child and of your child’s child how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them—in order that you may know that I am the LORD.”

Two weeks before the Eve of Remembering the Exodus from Egypt, a family piles into their mini van early one Sunday morning to drive from New Hampshire to Brookline to purchase a sizable brisket they can only find at a certain store in Brookline. The trip takes the whole morning. When the family enters the store, it is steamy and crowded. People crowd the aisles, their carriages brimming. The children walk along with their parents and wonder where all of the people come from. Each child is allowed a treat to eat in the car on their way home.


" shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD throughout the ages; you shall celebrate it as an institution for all time."

Ten days before the holiday of spring, a couple who live far from home, FaceTime her parents and ask for her grandmother's recipe for brisket as they prepare for their first seder far from their families



"Speak to the whole community of Israel and say that on the tenth of this month each of them shall take a lamb to a household."

A week before Chag hamatzot, a woman in jeans and a rumpled sweatshirt climbs the stairs to the attic. She checks the box marked "Passover Dishes" and carefully carries it down two floors to her dining table, where the old dishes await their yearly home, in a pine cupboard covered in paper towels. She opens the box and finds a note that she wrote to herself the year before as she wrapped and returned dishes. She smiles and remembers.



"...on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses,"

Four days before the holiday of the telling, a child clip clops down the hall to the coat closet and carefully empties her jacket pockets of crumbs into the kitchen trash.



"They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they are to eat it."

Two nights before the holiday of freedom the lights of the kitchen are on until the wee hours of the night. A person stands with a piece of rough steel wool in his hands and scrubs the burners until his fingers bleed.



"You shall observe the [Feast of] Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt;"

On the night before the holiday of redemption the kitchen counters gleam like polished onyx. The refrigerator is spotless and each container is new and unblemished. There are products not seen there all year; they inhabit the refrigerator for the 8 days of Passover.



"They shall eat the flesh that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs."

At 5:30 AM on the eve of Passover a woman enters her silent kitchen and boils the first of the eggs in a pot that is used for that reason every year. She takes the well wrapped shank bones and puts them into a small square baking pan splattered with the remnants of many previous Passovers into the oven and the endless day begins.



"You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your settlements you shall eat unleavened bread."

On the morning of the eve of Passover, a man wearing boots, gloves and a winter hat goes down to his garden and digs in the half frozen early spring soil to find horseradish root to grate so he can make chryan like his grandfather did.



"You shall observe this as an institution for all time, for you and for your descendants."

He reaches up onto the top shelf for the box of Haggadot. There are the ancient Maxwell House Hagaddot and an assortment of others. He opens one before the noise begins and pauses on a page about how it could never be enough. Miracles....Dayeinu.



"This day shall be to you one of remembrance:"

The candles are lit, the table is set. The woman in the sweatshirt now wears the apron that her aunt wore sixty years ago. The house smells of soup and chicken, the aromas of Passover.

There is a knock on the door. The children run to the door and fling it open to greet their cousins.



"And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this rite?’ you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the LORD, because He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses."

On the evening that we remember that we were once slaves in Egypt, we settle on kitchen and dining room chairs crowded together, along with millions of others around the world. We collectively open a page to a wine stained Haggadah and we read, we sing and with each bite of matzah and each sip of wine, we remember.



"And you shall explain to your child on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I went free from Egypt."

And so it was

And so it is

And so it will be.


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