This Passover We Have What Our Ancestors Didn't: Time

For once we have time for the bread to rise, even if we'll be eating the unleavened variety.

Seder Plate for Passover
Photo: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

It's typically late February when the matzo stockpile starts. With limited supplies of matzo in local grocery stores, my family starts buying up matzo meal, potato starch, and the works a solid month in advance of the Passover holiday. It's as much of a tradition as hiding the afikoman in the same spot under the tv or the haphazard way my uncle fumbles through the Haggadah even though he's led the family service for decades.

Passover is a holiday full of preparation, and buying up matzo is just the first step. Folding tables come down from the attic to extend the dining room in every possible direction. Charoset, brisket, and Kosher-for-Passover essentials are prepared in bulk and in advance; we can't last the whole week without a Passover-friendly brownie recipe, and the best Seder recipes are those that require a little sweat equity and schmaltz. The good china is used in the dining room, but back-of-the-cabinet dishes get dusted off to fill the kids' table and beyond. And, when you've finally made it to Seder, squeezed into the extra spot straddling a table leg, it's worth every effort.

It's all in the name of family and honoring the story of our ancestors–of opening our homes to "all who are hungry" as we say each Seder. But this year, as we tell the story of the plagues that helped rescue the Jewish people from persecution, a modern-day plague holds us firmly in place, isolated from the overflowing Seder tables of years past.

Though local shelter in place orders amidst the outbreak of novel coronavirus compel us to sing Dayenu at a distance, it's also forced time on our hands: not time that we rush away preparing for a house filled with guests; meaningful time we can invest bringing traditions and tastes to the forefront in ways we never could before. Unlike our ancestors, we have time for the bread to rise, even if we'll be eating the unleavened variety.

For me, that means investing time into one tradition that feels like home no matter the holiday: my mom's matzo ball soup. I've watched her simmer a chicken stock and skim schmaltz from the top before holidays for decades, but her process wasn't written down until two days ago when I called her for the recipe.

Now it's scribbled next to my stovetop, waiting for me to take refuge in slowly simmering a stock myself. Even though it's just for my husband and me to enjoy, if my matzo balls turn out as fluffy and flavorful as hers, it may feel like my family is with us, even just for a few bites.

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