It is the first day of chol ha’moed as I type this. Our two Sedarim have passed. For those in Israel, their single Seder has passed. In both cases, what follows is something of a no man’s land. It isn’t yom tov in the traditional sense. We can ride in a car, go out to do as we wish, and even go into a store to buy more food.
Buy more food?! After all the pre-Pesach food shopping, it is amazing to think that anyone could possibly need more food!
Regardless of how many sleepover guests there were in a single house, it was, after all, only for a 48-hour period — yet some of the supplies were depleted. This often happens. Sometimes the hosts are low on jelly or, heaven forbid, ketchup! Jewish children, and even some reasonably mature adults, are unable to enjoy a meal without that sweet red condiment.
But of all the items that sometimes go missing from the larder, nothing is more important than potato chips and boxes of bubble gum. A serious depletion of either of those can lead to a full-blown crisis. As every conscientious Jewish parent knows, one does not want to go into chol ha’moed without an ample supply of both items.
Some folks have been known to run low on matzah, but even if the supermarket is out of matzah, one can usually “borrow” a box from a friend or neighbor.
Many people go away for Pesach, but for those who remain home, chol ha’moed can be something of a “neither here nor there” situation. While we are free to come and go as we please, for the most part, there is a major caveat. We must provide entertainment for the children — hence the need for an ample supply of the aforementioned potato chips and bubble gum.
Also, as every Jewish parent knows, the major consideration is whether it will be a short chol ha’moed or a long one, and neither is ever a totally satisfactory situation.
A short one is how we define a two-day chol ha’moed, and a three-or four-day chol ha’moed is a long one, which means looking for more ways to entertain the kids.
This year we got lucky with the first days. On occasion, the two-day chag becomes three days. Some mature adults have been known to shiver in fear when they learn that the first Seder is on a Wednesday night. It means that in addition to the two Seder meals, the hosts will be feeding everyone on Thursday, Friday, and Shabbos. This can be a recipe for disaster in the rations department. Gefilte fish without chrein is unthinkable, just as a piece of meat or chicken without enough ketchup to cover it is untenable for kids.
Sugar may do it for some folks, but in many families nobody enjoys matzah brei without the accompaniment of jelly or jam. This is serious stuff!
Still, there is a sense of relief once the two Sedarim have passed. Enjoyable as they are, there is no way to describe what goes on for the first half hour as we decide who sits where. Providing place cards does not necessarily do the trick because there is always at least one kid (and sometimes even one adult) who is dissatisfied with the arrangement and wants to sit elsewhere to be next to a favorite cousin or a beloved aunt or uncle.
The hostess also has to factor in spaces for highchairs for tots who never stick around for more than 30 minutes before they have to be put to sleep. There are always one or two kids who want to sit next to that baby in the highchair, but that poses a problem since it is imperative that one of the baby’s parents be seated next to him to help with the feeding. Adults pose no problem here since no adult in his or her right mind — especially one wearing a good suit or a new dress — wants to be within spitting distance of the baby in the highchair. All in all, this takes time to arrange and then rearrange.
If the seating doesn’t eat up enough time, there is also the “wine versus grape juice” session. Were it just a simple case of wine or grape juice, life would be simple. But it is never just that. Each person has a wine preference and even the grape juice drinkers have a choice. Light juice or dark?
Once the preference has been established, it becomes a question of who pours for whom. While this should be a simple task of each person pouring for his seatmate, that, too, is never simple since the preferred wine or grape juice is never in the correct vicinity. So somebody has to trot down to the other end of a very long table to get what he wants and take it back to his section. The word that comes to mind is chaos.
But eventually we do get started and the actual Seder does begin. It is that way every year because, with us, that’s just the way it is.
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-295-4435.