The dining room table was simply resplendent. Covered in her now off-white lace table cloth, the oak wooden table stood sturdily atop the navy tuft pile carpet, though every year a few more shims were added for leveling. On the soft carpet, slight impressions from hundreds of chair legs left indented memories of the past.
In the corners of the dining room, white built-in cabinets displayed China dishes with tiny blue and white flowers, wine glasses of every size, a shelf reserved entirely for Shabbat candlesticks, and a rudimentary Chanukkah menorah made of wood and bolts, the sole survivor of Sunday school, now coated with wax.
The door was open to Elijah. At one end of the table, sat his goblet full of wine, waiting for his visit, while across from it, Miriam’s cup stood in prominence. The children, who were now adults, still shot furtive glances at these cups. Would the wine disappear this year like it always had?
As in every year, there was too much food. He always cooked for 12, even though now, there were only five or six people who might return to this table for Passover.
In the foyer, a few table leaves leaned against a corner.“Honey, we don’t need them this year,” he suggested to his wife.
“No. Let’s put them in – just in case.”
“But Mom,” their adult children echoed, “it’s just the six of us. And the leaves are really heavy. It’s not worth breaking your back over.”
“No. No. Let’s put them in – just in case.”
And so they compromised. This year, one leaf would be used. The other would stand lonely in another room.
“And Mom, we don’t need extra chairs either.”
It’s in these moments, joyous holiday meals and family celebrations, that we remember them. It is in the smell of spices so fragrant, the taste of sweet wine and the shadow of candles flickering, that we recall the days when they sat next to us and sometimes we can still feel their warmth.
As we recall the story of the Jewish people, of our redemption from slavery in Egypt, we remember also the story of our own families: the journeys and experiences that shaped us, the people and places, and the faces that sat across from us, shared meals with us, shared the story with us - for so many years.
We can’t help but want to set a place for them at the table, hoping that they will walk in the door years after they’ve departed. We can’t help but want to hear their voices singing, laughing. We can’t help but want to smell their perfume, to taste their cooking, to see their smile.
While our memories are but meager substitute for the warm hug we so long to experience, may we find solace and comfort in knowing that while they may be gone, our memories endure.
Jennifer Gubitz is a fourth year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR in New York City. A graduate of Indiana University, Jen spent 13 summers at URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI) in Indiana where she worked as Head Songleader and Education Program Director. Post college, Jen worked in Washington, DC, as a Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and as the Israel Education Fellow at Hillel’s Schusterman International Center. Currently, Jen is the community organizing rabbinic intern at Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in Mahwah, NJ.
Enjoy a summer of learning and renewal! Join us for the Summer Learning Institute, July 6-10, 2011, Princeton Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Princeton, NJ. Our programs include Kallah, an Adult Learning Retreat, Had’rachah, ritual training for lay leaders, and Schindler Fellows for Conversion Certification, training to provide support for conversion candidates. Registration is now open!