Not the slavery, not the oppression, not the struggle to remain alive – all these were effaced from their memory. What they did remember was the fish they ate, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic (Num. 11:5-6).
Maybe this is the origin of Bialik’s story, “The Knight of Onions and Garlic”. Here they were, hardly weeks away from the house of bondage, and they were Knights of Onions and Garlic. Whether their rations in Egypt were really so delectable is sheer romanticising and selective memory.
But they were the prototype of many later generations. Nostalgia for a past that was actually dismal led many people to sigh for their mother’s gefilte fish and their grandmother’s chicken soup. It all gives nostalgia a bad name
To my shame I recall a version of culinary nostalgia from my childhood. I am ashamed, not because I was the one concerned but because I said nothing when my shule neighbour told someone on first day Pesach, “Thanks for the Seder last night. The matzah balls were amazing!” Is that really what the Seder is all about – the kneidlach and cinnamon balls?
These days I would have chimed in – even though it would have meant interrupting other people’s conversation – “And how about the songs? The table talk? The drama of the story? The gift of being free and able to be Jewish without fear or embarrassment?”
Maybe I would have been impudent to chime in when others were talking, and maybe I would have been wrong. But we can learn a lesson from the matzah-ball episode and certainly from our ancestors’ yearning for fish and cucumbers. If you are going to remember, and you should, then be in control of your memory, and remember the things that really deserve to be remembered.