Like Miriam, the little girl in A Sweet Passover, I love everything about the holiday. As a child, I loved the days before Passover when I helped my mother take down the special dishes we only used this time of year. I loved our many trips to the supermarket, where we found boxes of matzah piled high as the Wailing Wall. I eagerly awaited the arrival of my grandmother who kissed me on the cheek leaving a bright red lipstick mark, and then rolled up her sleeves, headed for the kitchen, and went right to work. And I loved the seder itself, with my father at the head of the table, his yarmulke perched on his head like a beanie; my mother and grandmother sitting with their aprons on, ready to jump up and tend to the food; my brothers reading aloud quickly in Hebrew to speed up the seder when we all got really hungry; and my dog lying at my feet, hoping for a morsel of matzah.
And if all that wasn’t enough, dayenu, there was the Sunday morning of Passover, when my father cooked the only meal he made all year: his world famous matzah brei.
I crept downstairs to find him drinking a cup of coffee and reading the New York Times. At the sight of me, he smiled, closed the paper, and went to the kitchen counter where all his ingredients were lined up: a box of matzah, a carton of eggs, a bottle of milk, a stick of butter. My job was to break the matzah into small pieces and soak them in warm water. My father’s job was to crack the eggs into one of the Fred Flintstone glasses we got free at the gas station, and beat them with a fork, while dancing about the room. Then he drained the matzah, added the beaten eggs with a little milk, melted butter in the big frying pan, and poured in the uncooked mixture.
I took out a plate and held it in both hands, waiting for the all-important moment of the flipping the matzah brei.
“Think I can do it?” my father asked, as he did every year. He put on a pair of oven mitts, took the plate from me, and laid it gently on top of the frying pan. Then he picked up the pan and plate, flipped it over, and stood back dramatically. “Tada!” he crowed with pride as he unveiled the matzah brei which was always perfectly intact. “It’s all in the wrist,” he explained as if I’d never seen him do this before. Then he slid the matzah brei back into the pan to cook the other side. And just as breakfast was finished, the rest of my family drifted into the kitchen to take part in the feast.
Over the years I have made matzah brei many, many times, but none has ever come close to being as delicious as the matzah brei my father cooked. What made his matzah brei “world famous”? His secret ingredient: love.
Lesléa Newman is the author of A Sweet Passover (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012) and more than 50 books for adults and children, including The Eight Nights of Chanukah (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2005). She lives in Holyoke, Massachusetts.