The Placik family: Abby, Maddy, Lora, Otto and Taya.
Growing up, I assumed that every Jewish family celebrated the holidays the way my family did. They ate spicy turkey necks on Shabbat, noshed on olives before dinner and enjoyed bites of roasted jalapeños drenched in olive oil. I took these traditions for granted and, boy, do I regret that.
I grew up in a giant, Moroccan family; my grandma was one of nine siblings. Her mother, Mama Annette, passed away a few years ago at the age of 92. My great-grandmother’s passing was a smack in the face to me that things were changing. Not only was I growing older, but so was everyone else in my family and things weren’t the same as they used to be.
We used to go to my aunt’s house every Friday night for Shabbat dinner, and I would spend every Jewish holiday with more than 50 second cousins. After my great-grandmother’s passing, these family get-togethers became less frequent.
Year after year I noticed that the number of family Shabbat dinners decreased and the number of cousins I saw at each holiday diminished. When I was young I was part of the action. I climbed the poles in my aunt’s basement, not stopping to appreciate the family that surrounded me.
Now I am a spectator of all the craziness. I watch my young cousins jump around the basement and climb the same poles that I once climbed. The past that I remember is now nearly gone.
Although traditions were changing, my emotions didn’t hit me until spring break. Caught in the craze of junior year, I found myself touring colleges with my mom and dad. We started the weeklong break with seders at the house of my mom’s parents, my Bubby and Zayde. We experienced different traditions and tasted different food.
In my aunt’s house, my family sat at a long table that snaked around the entire basement. At Bubby and Zayde’s we sat at a small dining room table where we could all hold a conversation with each other and read the Haggadah without passing a microphone around.
What was different this year from all other years?
There was no Passover seder at my aunt’s house, no young cousins climbing poles. Hosting a seder of around 100 people seemed too much for my aunt to handle.
After hearing this news I felt a sense of loss that was hard to grasp at first. While touring campuses, this feeling got lost in a jumble of anxiety that came from thinking about colleges and my future. I didn’t feel like myself while touring. I knew a part of me was missing, but I couldn’t grasp that specific part.
A couple of days after arriving home, I was sitting in my room doing my homework when I heard a knock on my door. I turned around to find my dad standing in my doorway with a small pancake in one hand, a vase full of vibrant roses and daisies in the other.
It all came together at that moment. I found the part of myself that I was missing, and I grasped the sense of loss from inside. I sat and smiled at my dad while chills ran through my body.
Every year I would sit in my aunt’s basement, among my relatives, while my aunt and uncle walked around the room blessing each and every one of us by passing a vase of flowers over our heads. Afterwards we would stand in line in my aunt’s kitchen, waiting for her to hand us a thin pancake drizzled with butter and syrup fresh off the stove, breaking Passover with Moroccan tradition.
My dad walked over to me and held the vase of flowers above my head, singing the Hebrew song that I had heard my entire life: “In haste we left Egypt…”
As I sat at my desk with my homework sprawled across the surface, I couldn’t help but smile at my dad while he sang to me. He set the vase aside and handed me my mini pancake, continuing family tradition on a smaller scale.
On that night I finally realized that things were different. We are all growing older and life can not remain unchanged. Everything is subject to growth, even traditions we have become so accustomed to. Young and naïve, I took some of my family traditions for granted. Although we want to, we can’t change the past. We can only change the present and prepare for our futures. As my high school career comes to an end, I’m stopping to appreciate the precious moments of childhood that I have left.
I may not be celebrating many more holidays with my crazy Moroccan clan, but I know that our past traditions made a permanent impact on me. Wherever I go in life, I will never forget to take my Jewish Moroccan roots with me and will enjoy the pancakes when I need them most.