Tradition, quotes Jonathon Saks, is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism, he differentiates, is the dead faith of the living. And having delivered this obscure turn of phrase, he explains (as I understand it): Traditionalism is always conservative, often nostalgic (kasha varnishkes, chopped liver). Tradition is forging a link, resonating the passion of those who handed the torch to you.

My grandmother from Pittsburgh would cook her chicken soup on Thursdays. On Friday she would take the soup vegetables: carrots, sweet potato, and zucchini, mash them with eggs and matzo meal, and fill the entire frying pan with an oversized latke. We weren’t allowed to eat any of it before Shabbat; we nibbled it instead and never was even half of it left by nightfall.

Recently, at a family Bar Mitzvah, I asked some cousins if any of them had the recipe. No, I was told, no one had gotten the recipe, everyone has tried to replicate it and no one has gotten it right. A simple little nothing of a kugel and no one can get it right. It went with my grandmother to the Mount of Olives.

My grandmother was not my nostalgia, she was very much my doing homework and getting the groceries. Pictures of all the grandkids were in her dairy "china closet," but nothing about her was ever placed on a doily-covered pedestal.

She had fought all the Russian bureaucracies of the early Twenties to get her and her bashert into Palestine. She lived in the back of a stable on a moshav, and the women moshavniks were jealous that she sang as she worked. She came to America, where her husband's family ridiculed her kosher habits: Mrs. Sandviches they called her. "I try very hard to understand you," she told them, a half-century before tolerance became a hackneyed term.

My grandmother was someone we looked to become -– and often despaired. As she sat in the dinette saying her Psalms meticulously and faithfully, a cousin blurted out, "Oh Bubby, it's no use. I'll never be like you." She finished her chapter and looked up at her granddaughter. "And what do you think," she said, "I was born a bubby saying Psalms?"

"Why do you insist your children be just like you?" My grandmother was hotly challenged in the thirties. "Why do you steal my most precious dreams?" she replied, "I want they should be better than me!" She maintains her dream was, in the end realized: none of her grandchildren see it.

I grew up after Fiddler on the Roof was a surprise hit, when ethnic roots were just getting "in" and Delancy Street was first becoming a Jewish icon. To many, my family was a living relic; borsht and tzimmes bottled and brought to your doorstep. I bristled at being pigeonholed into a spot I didn't want to go and never cared to be.

So without having yet heard the distinction of tradition and traditionalism, I embraced the former and ridiculed the latter. Maxwell House Seders were tinny. I preferred foccacia to borsht. There are no dancing rabbis on my coffee table or bless this shmutz signs in my kitchen. Tradition I upheld, traditionalism I dismissed.

Now I think that I overdid it. Although nostalgia and family memories are hazardous substitutes for tradition, nostalgia and family memories are powerful, arguably indispensable transmitters of a passion for tradition. Somewhere with the carrots, zucchini, matzo meal and eggs was mixed in devotion, love, pride and confidence to continue what was handed to us.

If past experience is any indication, this Passover, G‑d willing, I will sit down with my children, with friends and family to the Seder. We will break the matzah and dip the egg, choke on the bitter herbs and recline with wine. We will be forging a link and transmitting the passion of illustrious ancestors with simple acts. We will also indulge in my mother’s gefilte fish and Bubbie Lew's egg-and-onion appetizer (both of them got it from their mothers). We will sing Zaidie Lew’s Hodu and set the Seder plate the way I saw my father do it every year until I was married.

We live with the faith of those who lived before us... in between bites.