With homemade Haggadah, guests become the hosts

April 18, 2008|By Rachel Eisler

At Kinko's, I cobble it from motley versions and sources, in search of the merciful transliteration that permits me to enter Hebrew, chew on the "chahs" of challah and baruch with hungry fluency.

I snip and paste, blow up and shrink with the racing heart of someone making up his or her first resume out of whole cloth. If I stop to read any portion at all, my eyes blur. A quotation from Grace Paley goes in first. Her voice is its own infusion - wryness, truth and warmth. She's someone who knows how to look back. Grace will be at my table.

And we will be going backward tomorrow night, unlike all other nights. Always guests at someone else's table, how will my family, in peculiar, as I used to say, host? I make and freeze chicken soup and matzoh balls for days, find a limb of driftwood (I'm too squeamish for a real lamb shank), shave the horseradish root. What is the word for that in Hebrew? I chop walnuts and apples, which alchemize into ancient sweetness. Every time I taste it, I think, "This is so delicious, I should make it all the time." But I never do. It's ritual: set apart so that every year, we taste it anew and wonder at it.

At the register, I clutch my mock-up Haggadah in my right hand and say, voice rising, "It must be bound on the right-hand side." Shannon behind the counter writes this instruction down, huge, looks at me, then underlines it, saying gently, "You realize, in order to make your copies, much of this must be set by hand."

I imagine the many and various voices around the table: old and young, low and high, shy and assured. Their differences will make a kind of music. And then the four questions, the first being, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" A question of such authority, specificity and deliberate tenderness - because it must be asked by the youngest member of the family.

The questions give me faith, somehow, that I will stumble through Seder: soup, afikomen and all.

Rachel Eisler is a writer in Baltimore. Her daughter, Leah, is teaching her to read Hebrew. Her e-mail is eislerarama@gmail.com.

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