Ruth's Passover

By Anna Marie D'Addarie - April 13, 2006

Ruth Stiller prepares for another Seder meal in her Vineyard Haven home. Photos by Ralph Stewart

The big white house at the end of Centre Street in Vineyard Haven has been the Cronig family home for a century. Ruth Stiller, one of five children of Samuel and Libby Cronig, was born in the two-family Victorian home more than 80 years ago. Tradition is something Ruth understands and a part of her life she lovingly passes on to her family, especially at Passover.

Since Samuel Cronig was the oldest brother, everyone would congregate at his home for the Passover Seder. Samuel, his three brothers, one sister, their spouses and children filled the house on Center Street for the annual Seder meal. A huge table, made out of saw horses with doors placed on top, ran the length of the dining room and living room, right up to the large curved windows at the front of the house.

Everyone brought something, but Ruth's mother, Libby, did much of the cooking. In those days everything had to be made from scratch. "I can remember my mother crying as she ground the fresh horseradish," said Ruth. "She even made her own Gefilte fish."

Ruth remembers fondly how wonderful the house smelled, not from the cooking, but from the spring cleaning her mother did before the big Passover celebration. "She cleaned everything. Even the rugs were taken out and beaten."

Ruth was sitting at her kitchen table with a stack of cookbooks in front of her. She was looking for a better matzah ball recipe, not happy with the ones she made over the weekend. Tradition is important to Ruth, but tasty food is more important. She has even tweaked the chicken soup recipe by cooking the chicken separately and then adding it to the stock. "I like it better that way," she said.

This Seder plate was given to Ruth by her aunt, but may be too small for this year's meal.

The little gray book
"The Union Haggadah: Home Service For The Passover" copyright 1923 is the book Ruth has used for years at her Passover Seder. "It has my favorite songs in it," Ruth said. She bought a dozen of the books from the Hebrew center when they decided to replace them with a more modern version. The little book has a plain gray cover. Inside the book the Passover service is laid out step-by-step in both English and Hebrew and is beautifully illustrated.

The "T" word
Everything is special about the Passover meal. Ruth takes great care in the preparation of the food and also the house. Her guests eat off of dishes she only uses for this one meal. She sums it up in one word: tradition. We laugh after she says it, knowing that the word conjures up images of "Fiddler On The Roof." But there is no better word to describe what Passover means to her. Sitting in her kitchen, in the house where she was born, surrounded by family photos, and a lifetime of memories, Ruth smiles and repeats, "tradition."