For most people, when mentioning family traditions, the word customs frequently arises.
For those of us from Canada, the word customs connotes something entirely different from what most people would think of. Were we to ask our children what the word means they would answer, “Those mean men that ask us all of those questions every time we go to visit our family in the States.” These agents of the government would ask where we were born—in our case it was a real challenge as we have many different birth places; they would ask where we were going and where we live. And then would come the most challenging of questions: What do you have to declare? While going into the States, is it really necessary to mention the dozen or so challahs and danish that we are bringing to remind our friends and families of the tastes of Montreal? Do we need to mention the plum sauce that cannot be obtained anywhere in the States? Do we mention the 10 pizzas that we are bringing to Rochester, where for the longest time there was no kosher availability of anything?
Legally we are allowed to bring it all, but it always includes a long list of questions. After all, don’t they have pizza in Rochester? Don’t they have breads in New Jersey? It is so tempting to not mention what we are smuggling into the USA just to avoid the many questions, but of course we would always tell the truth. Once we were pulled over because we had three dozen rye breads with us to be used by the Chabad House in Rochester. They actually called the Chabad rabbi to make sure we were not going to sell them when we got there. Were we really such security risks? Then, upon our return to Canada, we faced the next dilemma: a more restrictive entry depending upon how many days we’d been away. What do you have to declare? Again, we had to agonize over remembering each little thing that we purchased—from socks to aluminum foil—to ensure that if and when the customs officer decided to open our trunk he would not find something that we neglected to declare. And then there was always the most exciting question: “Are you bringing in any arms or ammunition?” Two adults, five little children of all ages—did we look like we would have guns and ammunition?
Now that we are safely across the border ensconced in our new home in Bergenfield, the word custom has a new meaning—a much more powerful one. As I watched our grandchildren together with their Zaidie grating horseradish for the seder, I was moved by the other types of customs that our children have derived from being a part of our family. Just as my father-in -law grated the chrein, now his children and great-grandchildren are following in that tradition. Fortunately, beets are added to the mixture —in order to not be able to tell how much blood from torn finger tips was also included. Our family is big on chrein; we eat it with everything on Pesach—on our matzoh, with matzoh brei , certainly with chulent—not a meal from breakfast through dinner that doesn’t have chrein on the table. Enough is made to last until Rosh Hashanah, with scouts from the family out prior to Pesach checking on the prices of horseradish in all of the local stores. In Montreal, where it frequently was snowing while everyone sat outside on the back deck grating away, and now in Teaneck and Rochester, every family member took turns grating, stirring, tasting. And this is what the word custom is really about. How proud we are that this is the yerusha we are able to pass down to our children and grandchildren and, hopefully, on to the next generation. We have been blessed, and we know it.
By Nina & Mordechai Glick