The smells and sights of Jewish holidays are carved in my memory. Born and raised in South America, I experienced the Jewish holidays in Argentina on reverse seasons from those of the Northern Hemisphere. For instance, we associated Hanukkah, which fell in late spring, with the end of the school year and summer vacations. The trees in full bloom, and the hot and humid air enticing us to eat ice cream instead of fried foods.
Pesach’s celebration posed a different challenge as we reconciled the idea of renewal and spring with the reality of shorter days, cooler nights, and the dread of the rainy winter on the horizon. School would start a month prior to Pesach, so the entire year of study loomed ahead. As here, preparations leading up to Pesach were not different than in many parts of the Jewish world. My family spent time cleaning, switching to warmer wardrobes, shopping, and cooking. Going to the “Once.” neighborhood, known as “eleven,” and stopping at the Yiddishe almacén (Kosher grocery store) was a must. At the shule (Jewish school), one would study the Haggadah and learn Pesach songs.
The excitement peaked on Seder night. Dressed in our finest warm clothes, we would walk to my grandparents’ house, which was transformed to accommodate the extended family. The smell of homemade gefilte fish and soup with kneidlach was present everywhere. The seder would start with my grandpa Leon z”l reading from a Haggadah in Spanish and continue with songs in Hebrew and Yiddish. After Dayenu, our attention span would dwindle as we anxiously waited for the food. During the Shulchan Orech, we, the children, would sit underneath the big table to play, away from the grown-up stares. At some point, I remember I would hear my grandmother Malka z”l trying unsuccessfully to put some order into the seder, no pun intended. She would eventually give up and finish the last pages of the Haggadah quietly to herself. We would crawl from underneath the table to look for the Afikoman then say goodbyes. Kissing each family member on the cheek took a long time, but this Latin custom was not to be skipped even during a Jewish holiday.
Long days of preparation and toil ended abruptly with the start of the chag in the same hasty way as the escape of the Israelites from Egypt once they crossed the Yam Suf (Reed Sea). However, the memory of a multi-generational family celebrating Pesach together remains indelible in my mind.
From all of us here at JTeach, we wish you and your families A zisn Pesach! May each one of you be granted the time to experience and collect long-lasting Pesach memories.
Dr. Alicia Gejman