I was small and felt this was a big and important task. I unlocked the brass piece and turned the handle, swinging the colonial-style wood panel as wide as I could. Leaving it that way, I ran back into the dining room to peer into a sterling goblet filled with red liquid. Of course some wine was missing, and I was delighted. Going back into the hallway, I shut out the street and secured the deadbolt. There was more anticipation for the afikoman, and I so wanted to be the one to find it rather than either of my sisters. Bragging rights seemed very important and not just the tiny finder’s gift since I knew we three Greene girls were going to get something no matter who found the matzo.
Gradually, the honor of welcoming Elijah was granted to younger first-cousins; I began to do more reading at my parent’s table which was filled with as many relatives as wanted to attend. The crumbling matzo pieces grew larger, and I knew I’d hear the Electrolux motor whir after the guests left. Each year the story was the same, the ritual unchanged, and the past and present merged. I was restless for the rite to conclude, as my teen years were ending, thinking ‘it’s always the same’.
My mother’s mahogany dining room table had my father absent before my 21st Seder; life had left his body. My older sister’s husband leaned and conducted the service and his tiny daughter eagerly listened. By the time I had children, strangers occupied that private house; my mother followed her eldest to the west coast where my sister’s family had decided to settle so my brother-in-law and his also-holocaust-surviving siblings could work and be together.
Wherever I was living during medical residency and armed service requirements of my husband, he led the readings, and the Seder was now my responsibility. Only the place and people had changed; the ceremony was the same. Elijah now sipped out of the sterling goblet that was first used during my marriage. I polished every part of it carefully for him.
My children exhibited the same wonder when one was assigned to open the door, frantically search for the afikoman, also for being able to brag (as I’d once done) as each also got a tiny gift and not just the finder. Did they listen to the sound of the vacuum cleaner once everyone had left and I needed to remove the matzo crumbs? During their college semesters, they, too, seemed restless as they’d been through the identical ritual for many-many years. “It’s always the same.”
The three my body ushered into life continued this with their children. Only my youngest remained in their childhood town. A Seder at that son’s house once did have a change: his son opened the front door to allow the stranger who might be there to enter; a non-Jewish boyhood friend of his father’s had been ready to ring the doorbell. The ‘stranger’ was welcomed and did join us at the table.
“It’s always the same” is a link to the generations before and those yet to come. My oldest great-grandchild will watch his father lean and conduct, again say what gets repeated yearly, and that little boy will open the door and know Elijah will sip from the sterling goblet at his house. Will a vacuum whir as sounds of matzo crumbs are being lifted from the floor? Will, as he and his siblings grow, get restless… until it’s their turn to be leaders and prepare the special meal? “It’s always the same.” How lovely.