The Horseradish Tradition
For years, I categorized the strange little customs of my family with all other Jewish families. Since I grew up with it, I thought it was normal to come up with nicknames for everyone in the household, to take long naps after meals, and to shout “load ‘n’ go!” for a half hour before actually leaving. But more bizarre than all of my family’s little habits is the horseradish tradition.
It is common knowledge that horseradish is available on Seder plates in Jewish households around the world on Passover, and often at other occasions throughout the year. This bitter, acrid topping can be tangy in the right amounts, but often painful and burning if too much is eaten at once. Therefore, the careful eater always uses horseradish sparingly.
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My father doesn’t.
It began one year when he was a reckless thirteen, and had not yet been properly warned against the dangers of horseradish.
“You eat too much of that white horseradish, my boy,” his uncle told him, “Smoke’ll come out your ears and your tongue will be on fire for a week.” Of course, my father looked upon this as a challenge.
“I bet I could eat a spoonful of it,” he declared. “It’s not that spicy.”
(These famous last words are now truly historic, as the story is retold yearly.)
He was given a spoonful of white horseradish. And, as he still proudly defends, he did swallow the entire spoonful. However, the tears that ran down his cranberry-colored face and the amount of water he consumed remain a running joke with his family. And the tradition of force-feeding him a large spoonful of white horseradish every holiday remains to this day. –