We started Passover preparations with a panic at my mother’s house last year. We couldn’t find my grandfather’s sugar bowl, which graced the table on Passover for all those years. It finally turned up when my brother scoured the cellar and found it in a box with the crystal candy dish.
My 95-year-old mother’s eyes sparkled like the dish when she gleaned its shine. “That’s crystal,” she said. She told me to take it home with the sugar bowl.
It wasn’t the monetary value of the crystal candy dish that excited me. It was the fact that it was my grandfather’s sugar bowl, steeped in my memories of Passover — like the green, clear, Depression-era dairy dishes off of which I ate handmade, salty matza meal latkes every Passover.
I am the youngest of four children, and my parents were in their seventies when I had children. One of my goals was to have my children wake up to the smell of Passover at their grandparents’ house. I knew the coffee would be perking and it would be served with farfel. It was a true Passover treat (I didn’t and still don’t normally drink coffee), sweetened with the sugar from the special sugar bowl. I had made a point of telling my children to notice the sugar bowl, which belonged to their great-grandfather.
Known to us as Papa, Harry Friedman, widowed twice, worked as an ice and coal dealer in Roselle and Linden, in Union County, while raising 11 children from his two marriages and davening twice a day at the shul across from his home. Ironically, or maybe fittingly, he passed away on the last day of Passover, 1955, a few months before I turned two.
I have documented information on over 2,000 relatives in my children’s ancestry. I have researched back to my husband’s great-great grandparents. I found his late mother’s maternal grandfather is interred in New York and I was able to retrieve records showing the names of his parents. His mother was Lillie Cohen, and she and her husband had a son born in Slonim, in present-day Belarus, in 1836; they were both probably born around 1810.
I have been sending yearly newsletters to five different branches of our family for eight years, updating information from the original five family tree books I wrote, adding more and more stories, photos, and memorabilia to each. Some are now 35 pages and more. One of the jewels I share is stories about our grandparents connecting us to our Judaism.
The further we get from the days of Moses, the more we drift from the Jewish teachings and values. I want to remind all my relatives there are things we teach for a reason and what the reasons are.
Seeing the sugar bowl while preparing for Passover again this year, I immediately visited my mother. I wanted to ask more questions — about things my rabbi’s thirtysomething wife discussed in our women’s Torah study class, things in our Jewish heritage that teach us not to open other’s mail and not to re-boil water on Shabbat. During those discussed I, in my mid-50s, would gasp, “My mother always said that, and that!”
I wondered if my mother even knew why she taught us those things. Were they handed down to her? Do my children know these things? They are sure to show up in this year’s family newsletter.