The Seder of the Big Snow

The Seder of the Big Snow

Chana Shapiro

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

By Chana

Chana Shapiro
Chana Shapiro

My grandfather told us about Passover in Lithuania. For Pesach, he and his brothers descended into the cellar to retrieve potatoes and onions stored during the winter. They made periodic trips to that cellar all year long to add sugar to the huge jugs of mashed, fermenting fruit for Pesach wine, stirring the mixture in the dark (we liked hearing about the rats they dodged).

In my grandfather’s stories, it always snowed on Passover. They owned boots, mittens, heavy sweaters, scarves and caps (knitted by their mother and sisters), and the older boys had hand-me-down coats. Snow was nothing to them.

I’ve been in constant contact with family and friends who this year can tell Passover snow stories of their own, and these intrepid souls have developed pride in their hardship.

“I combatted a blizzard to get matzah before they ran out,” a Boston pal boasted.

“I was afraid I couldn’t find a real horseradish this year,” my friend who likes to grate his own maror told me, “so I drove through 20 miles of tundra.”

“You think it’s easy to find kosher-for-Pesach chopped walnuts?” a Chicago friend snorted. “There was a run on everything as soon as the snow started during Purim!”

As plants flowered outside my window, I called my sister, who has been commuting between Princeton and Philadelphia in weather that would challenge Paul Bunyan. I described my daffodils, and she told me about overloaded windshield wipers. Soon we reminisced about our grandfather’s snow stories and one unforgettable seder when we and our families gathered at our parents’ house in St. Louis.

It had begun to snow hard that week, and at least 4 packed feet covered everything. Twenty relatives were expected at my parents’ seder, and we’d cooked like mad. But there was no clear course from the passable main thoroughfare, Delmar Boulevard, to my parents’ side street on Kingsbury about a fourth of a mile away.

My sister’s family and ours had arrived safely several days earlier, but the St. Louis people had to travel to the seder that very evening. The phone calls began early morning as everyone considered how to get to us. Aunt Shirley had the dessert, Aunt Charlotte had the matzah balls, and none of the relatives was prepared to make a separate seder at home.

Aside from all that, the first-night seder was a mainstay of the family. We had always been together, and somehow we had to make it work this year, too.

One relative, Dolores, had MS and was confined to a wheelchair. If necessary, the other aunts, uncles and cousins could risk their lives to reach our house on foot. They would put on their boots and get Shirley’s flourless chocolate cake and Charlotte’s extra-fluffy matzah balls to us no matter what. But no one wanted to read the haggadah without Dolores at the table.

It was decided that the strongest males would meet Dolores and her family on Delmar and carry her and her wheelchair to our house. My sister’s family and mine offered to go along to help, but my mother insisted that we stay with her and my father.

We knew she was hedging her bets: If the fetch-Dolores personnel sank into the snow or fell, got injured, and ended up in the ER, at least she’d have all of us to lean on as we walked to the hospital. (Who’d consume all the uneaten charoset? I wondered, selfishly, but quickly corrected my attitude.)

Sure enough, as the sun began to set, my uncle Joel and Dolores’ husband appeared, carrying Dolores, and two cousins made their way with the wheelchair. We were waiting with blankets, and eventually the four were defrosted enough to move their extremities.

Everybody made it to the house that night. An especially wonderful seder was enjoyed by all as the snow continued to fall.

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