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Seder in a Pinch

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Making a Seder in a pinch happened about seven years ago. Here’s my story.


My niece, Mary and her 10-year-old daughter, Kathy, were coming to town for Passover. They asked if they could stay with me since Mary’s father had no room at his house. Mary’s sister, Teresa, and her family of six were sleeping there. My house has a large basement bedroom with a full bath. Housing two more wouldn’t be a problem.

Prior to the holiday, my two nieces and I worked out the following meal arrangements. They would have the Seders with their father and his wife both nights. My family was invited out both nights (husband, son, daughter-in-law, baby granddaughter and I). Therefore, I’d host the entire mishpachah (family) for the two holiday lunches. I planned and prepared our meals accordingly.


It was five o’clock p.m. Passover eve. The holiday would begin in about two hours. Mary’s cell phone rang. It was Teresa, calling her sister in a panic from her house, 40 miles away. Teresa had just hung up with her dad, who said he couldn’t host the family for the Seders. No reason was given. Teresa and her family were still welcome to drive to Baltimore to sleep over, however. Teresa didn’t know what to do!

We—Mary, my husband, kids and myself—were shocked. We convened a brief meeting, and decided to make the Seders at our house for my nieces.

The gang gets to work

First, we told Teresa to call her dad and say that they were coming to Baltimore to sleep over. Second, Mary swung into “foodie mode.” Thankfully, she loves to cook. We had the makings for the Seder plate – potatoes, parsley, horseradish and salt water, though no shank bone or roasted egg. I had wine, apples, cinnamon and nuts for charoset. She could also make salad and roast potatoes for the meal. We had plenty of grape juice and Passover desserts.

Meanwhile, my son and daughter-in-law grabbed the car keys and drove to Shoppers in the Greenspring Shopping Center. By then, of course, the kosher market was closed. They soon came back with the last package of fresh, kosher chicken breasts. Mary, with Kathy’s assistance, was on it, chopping onions, peeling potatoes, fixing chicken. Fortunately in the freezer I had a cooked brisket and gravy as well as chicken soup and matzah balls. Those items went into the fridge to defrost for the second Seder.

New-fangled oven

My daughter-in-law set the table. My job was to set the Shabbath mode on our new GE oven. Shabbath mode is a set of commands that can be programmed into new ovens (all of which have fancy electronic doodads) to allow them to be used on Jewish holidays.

The process of deciphering the oven manual began around 6 p.m. As we all know, appliance manuals are not written by anyone who speaks English as a first language. The commands to set the Shabbath mode were numerous and did not make sense. Nothing worked. I was in tears and having a nervous breakdown. What a disaster!

Meanwhile, my son said, “Mom, take a deep breath. Let’s call the GE customer helpline.” I was convinced that the helpline would be closed at that late hour. However, after dialing the number and being put on hold, much to our surprise, the call went through. A very relaxed-sounding man came on. He calmly walked me through the procedure (which I wrote down step-by-step) and we programmed the oven.

It was approximately 6:45 p.m. by then, almost yom tov (the holiday). My family had to leave as I wanted to light the holiday candles at our friends’ home. We left Mary and Kathy in charge, hoping for the best.


We got home around 1 a.m. The house was quiet. The dining room table was cleared and the kitchen spotless. You would never have known that eight people held a last-minute Seder in our house.


We never did learn exactly why the stepmom cancelled. Nor did she ever allude to the incident or apologize to Mary and Teresa (or me). But the moral of the story is a determined group of people can accomplish anything they want.

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