Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Nissan 5760 - April 12, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Attic Cleaning
by Chani Katz, London

She had known all along that it would be difficult. Yet this spring, after pushing off the unpleasant task for many years, pragmatism had finally overrun her emotions and here she was, in the attic, rummaging through what seemed the fiber of her own being.

Shonny felt herself becoming ice-cold one moment, as if the March chill outside, which seeped through the cracks in the oblique window frame overhead, had taken possession of her. But the next, she would be feeling comfortable and warm, as if basking again in the warmth of the precious memories which the dishes lying in front of her so poignantly evoked. This job was not only hard, it was confusing as well.

It was already almost four years since her Eli had left her. Four times Pesach had passed and the worn out boxes had not been taken down, but remained, forlorn and abandoned, in their place in the attic. Yet as she sorted through the familiar objects, it seemed as if only yesterday she had been an exhausted but happy housewife, taking down those precious objects, as the climax of weeks of cleaning and preparing finally dawned. How the fatigue had seem to disintegrate the moment the kitchen gleamed in its aluminum Yom Tov attire and the familiar crates came into sight.

Even in the later years, when Eli's illness prevented him from lending a helping hand, and progressing age took its toll on her too, she had still persisted in bringing the Yom Tov in. It certainly had not been easy, and the children had repeatedly tried to convince them to move in with one of their families instead. Yet, somehow, she had persevered, and looking back, she did not regret it. She had had a forboding that Eli's days were numbered and had wanted to savor as long as possible the special atmosphere of their own Seder table, together with all the familiar objects they had accumulated over the years.

But now Eli was gone, and those very same heirlooms had become the last vestiges of a beloved past, a sole link with a world that was no more. Strange how an inanimate object could at the same time caress and hurt. One part of her longed to close a door on this part of her life, resigned to the fact that what had once been would never be again. But fighting with that sentiment was a conflicting emotion, one that was not yet ready to part with the past.

A small formation of birds passed the window overhead, casting a flitting shadow on the wall. Their melodious chirping lifted her spirits for a moment until it faded again in the distance.

If only the children would have understood the various indications she had given them over the last few months, to clear out the attic, once and for all. What a relief it would have been to come home one day to find the place sorted out, the various boxes allocated to different families and charities, without her having to dig into history. Or had they perhaps, felt wary to intrude into this private domain of hers?

The old, discarded grandfather clock in the corner kept ticking steadily, and suddenly, as she recognized how cold she had become sitting here, motionless, amidst the dusty crates, she realized that several hours had already gone by and she still had not tackled the job at hand. Her thoughts had taken her to days long gone by, and revisted many different Pesachs of the past. The setting had always been the same, the pleasant homey dining room downstairs, but the celebrants had changed over the years, like actors in a play. First there had been just Eli and herself, a young refugee couple observing Pesach all on their own. They had felt then as if they were just playing house, and silently yearned for the bustling Sedorim with their respective families back home. Such a far cry their unassuming Yom Yov table had been, with its mismatched crockery and silverware, from the gleaming silver and crystal goblets that had graced the tables of their memories. But when they made an unspoken agreement between them to replace what had been lost, they did not have the precious artifacts in mind. Sole survivors, they sensed themselves a delicate, fragile link in an uninterrupted chain of tradition, and those first Sedorim together had echoed with a promise of continuation.

Subsequent Pesachs had seen more incongruous pieces of tableware added to the motley collection, as the family grew, and the little boys and girls fulfilled the solemn promise of perpetuity. With Eli's business in its beginning stages, the budget had been tight, but somehow, it had not mattered. In their eyes, the various designs and colors never seemed to clash, bound together as they were by abundant love and complemented by gratitude. Slowly, the small cooking pots, too, needed replacement by larger, sturdier ones, as little children became teenagers with growing appetites. Whoever thought in those days of acquiring matching sets of pots and pans? As the need presented itself, they were bought, one at a time, in whichever shop just happened to have the cheapest offer. Thus, the present accumulation of heavyweight black and orange cast iron, flowery enamel in various shapes and sizes and dull, but practical aluminum. Looking at it now, through eyes which had, despite themselves, become used to the nineties, she suddenly had an inkling why the children had shown so little interest in sorting out the variegated collection. Where she saw, nostalgically, loving toil and tireless dedication, interwoven with family togetherness, the children could only discern an assortment of old fashioned utensils, none the better for wear and tear.

Downstairs, she could hear the telephone ringing. Whoever was calling would hopefully ring again, because by the time she could make it downstairs, the caller would surely have put down the receiver.

A grateful smile played on her lips as she recalled in her mind's eye how the family had further expanded over the years, as the children had each, in turn, introduced their spouses to the family Seder table. New sons and daughters-in- law had each added their own spice and flavor to the atmosphere and the menus. One did eat gebrokst, one did not. One would only use hand baked matza, while the other was just as adamant to partake only of the machine produced ones. Pots of soup with matza balls; pots of soup without matza balls. Unlike many of her friends, who complained at length about the extra burden imposed on them, she took it all in stride, smiling. The only thing that really mattered was to have a family to share the Yom Tov with, be it with or without gebrokst.

The later additions to the Pesach equipment were a different story altogether. Nelly had repeatedly hinted that the food processor, presented to Shonny by Eli for their fortieth anniversary, would come in handy, and Chaya, her daughter-in- law, seemed to have more than a passing interest for the mixer, ditto for the forty-fifth anniversary. But strangely enough, she did not find it hard to part with those newfangled accessories, even though their monetary value by far surpassed everything else. Resolutely, she attached little stickers to the boxes and placed them neatly in a corner.

As she got up, her eye caught sight of a crumpled piece of paper, haphazardly stuck to one of the large cardboard boxes. Even from far, she recognized Eli's elegant handwriting. Over the years, it had become something of a family tradition to leave little messages between the Pesach dishes for the next year. Sometimes, they just contained practical tips: "Get at least three boxes of Dutch cocoa" or "Do not use brand X - packaging uneconomical." Others were inspired by that special mood that always seemed to prevail when packing away the equipment on motzoei Yom Tov late at night, at once humorous and sentimental. Relief and gratitude for a job well done would mix with a silent prayer that one would be able to unpack those same vessels next year once again, in good health and joy, together with all one's loved ones.

The telephone started ringing again. With a start, she realized that the latest technology had actually eliminated the need for going down those difficult stairs and with a sense of purpose, she reached for the portable lying on top of a dusty armoire.

"Yes?" the sound of her own voice startled her after the profound silence of the last hours. It almost seemed to echo from the past.

"Mrs. Kirsch?" The voice on the other side of the line was articulate and confident.


"I'm calling from the Committee for the Welfare of Russian Immigrants. We urgently need kitchen utensils and the like for the upcoming Passover holiday. Might you perhaps be able to donate something?"

There was a short silence. The unfazed, competent secretary of the Welfare Committee was not sure whether she heard a chuckle or a sob. But the friendly voice on the other end quickly put her at ease again.

"Certainly," said the voice slowly. "You can have ten crates, everything labeled meat or dairy. But on one condition: they must be collected immediately. I am waiting for you."

As Mrs. Kirsch got up to descend the stairs to wait for the Committee's truck, a little snip of paper landed on the floor.

"Dear Shonny," it read. "Thank you for making our Yom Tov memorable once again."


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