Rabbi’s Corner

Wooden bowl sparks priceless memories

Rabbi Robert Eisen

My first apartment was decorated in “early attic.” My grandmother was moving into a skilled nursing facility and her house needed to be cleaned out and sold. I was granted first pick of the contents of the attic. There were a number of little things that I quickly scooped up as my own. And there were the dishes neatly packed in well labeled boxes against one of the walls. Passover dishes — silver, crystal, fine china — service for 30 (the same exact set-up that my mother had in our house). So, I asked, “What about the dishes?” They were mine!

As I went through the boxes that first year I was in my apartment and took out what I needed (service for one!), I came across a wooden bowl and a chopper —perfect for making the charoset (a mixture of chopped fruit and nuts meant to resemble mortar). I took the items out of the box and wondered about their origins. And this is where the story gets complicated. For some reason I always believed that those items were ones that my grandmother brought with her from Russia, which invested them with much more value than their primary use alone. I do not know where this belief began and at this point I cannot verify the story one way or another. But, in some ways, it does not matter.

Over time, and once my children were old enough, I created a little ritual every year for the making of the charoset. The night before the first seder, immediately after the search for the chametz (any product made of or containing leaven or any leavening agent), we would clear off the counter, pull out the bowl and chopper, and, as I reminded myself and my kids of their origin, we would chop the apples and the nuts, pour in the wine and the cinnamon, and package it up for the seder.

The origins story was always meaningful to us. It gave us a sense of belonging, of being part of something greater than ourselves. Then one year, shortly after my mother’s house was sold, I “inherited” a few more Passover goods, including another wooden bowl and chopper. That next year was when I began to question the origins story. I couldn’t remember which bowl was which.

Since that time I have repeatedly asked myself whether or not the story is true. Were the bowl and chopper from my grandmother really a remnant of a world that is a world away? Did I make it up?

The truth of the matter is I really no longer care if the origins story is literally true or not. The truth that it provides me is that we are linked to something greater than ourselves … that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before … that we are dreaming the same dreams for health and happiness, renewal and redemption. This truth is what makes my observance of Passover what it is. Even if my grandmother did pick that bowl up in Cleveland before getting married and moving to Syracuse, that she touched it as she did, investing it with so many years of her own hopes and prayers, is good enough for me. And if I cannot remember which was my grandmother’s and which was my mother’s, “how much the more so.” We are taught: “In every generation we are to see ourselves as if we were among those that were redeemed from Egypt.” As long as we add our chapter to that story, we will have accomplished that goal.

So I wish everyone a Kosher and Happy Passover … a holiday filled with your own stories of chopping bowls and cobwebbed attics … stories that will continue into the next generations … stories that provide us with the truths we need to make life so much more worth living.