Rabbi Kim Blumenthal | Special to WJW
Songs. Food. Stories. The Passover seder holds traditions, both intimately personal and universally shared. My earliest memories include seders at my grandparents’ home. As the recounting of the exodus turned to the sharing of the meal, my grandfather would relate the tale of the Passover dishes.
As a soldier in Germany at the end of World War II, my grandfather had purchased dinnerware in Bavaria, directing it to be sent home to his young wife in Philadelphia. The dishes never arrived.
After serving for years overseas, returning safely to the comfort and familiarity of home was a much-appreciated blessing, and the dishes became a distant memory. Imagine his surprise, almost a decade later, when a phone call came relaying the message that a package had arrived for him New York. Here were the long-lost dishes, and they became the family’s Passover plates. Their place on our table served as a multi-layered symbol of freedom, recounting not only my grandfather’s small role as a liberator in Europe, but our people’s liberation, recalled in the annual experience of the Passover seder.
In imparting the tale to his guests, my grandfather would get stuck, unable to remember the name of the place that he had bought the dishes.
He called out to my grandmother, usually in the kitchen, “Ann, what’s the name of that town?” Dutifully, my grandmother would reply, “Windischeschenbach,” having committed this detail of my grandfather’s time abroad to memory.
This element of our familial Passover seder became codified into the experience, existing until this day. Indeed, despite the fact that the dishes have been retired, and my grandparents are long gone from this earth, a seder cannot pass without reference to Windischeschenbach.
The story of the Passover dishes was my introduction to the realities of the world that existed long before I was born. It serves as a thread of the narrative that informed my emerging identity, giving me context in which to understand both my family and the world.
From the Passover dishes, I learned that my grandfather had been a soldier, fighting against cruelty and hatred, the conditions under which the 6 million Jews had been murdered. I incorporated my family’s narrative and collective Jewish memory into the wholeness of my being.
To my mind, this exemplifies the purpose of the Passover seder. We gather each year to recall that “we were slaves in Egypt,” with the challenge to recognize the oppression that exists in our day. I can see myself through the lens of the oppressed or the liberated, simply by reflecting upon generations so close to my own that our lifetimes overlapped.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks taught: “Across the centuries, Passover has never lost its power to inspire the imagination of successive generations of Jews with its annually
re-enacted drama of slavery and liberation.”
In recounting cruelty and bravery, suffering and liberation, we tell the collective story of our people, the story of our family, the story of our lives.
Rabbi Kim Blumenthal is rabbi of Bet Chaverim of Howard County.