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