Two Months

Below is the latest entry in the “Preparing for Passover” Blog written by participants in JOI’s Mothers Circle Program:

Two months.

On Friday I brought my daughter to the airport as she headed back to college, that’s when I realized that Passover is just about two months away.

Whew! I thought, I’m not really up to start thinking about another holiday quite yet. I feel like I just got through New Year’s, Christmas, Chanukah – and well, it was my son’s Bar Mitzvah, that’s really what I’m recovering from.

Then reality caught up with me. Two months is not that long.

“Don’t worry, dude,” my daughter said to her younger brother, “I’ll be back in a few weeks for Passover. You won’t even have time to miss me.”

She’s right; it really isn’t that far away.

After 22 years of marriage, I have learned that the moment it occurs to me that there’s a holiday approaching, I need to jump on it and start to get things ready! And Passover requires the greatest forethought.

Our Seders have evolved a great deal over the years. I now have my own plan of action for Passover.

I particularly like Passover, a celebration of freedom – what could be more important! It can be a time to really talk about life with your family and friends. It can be a time to share experiences and perspectives and gain greater awareness of all that is around us. It’s a topic that transcends religion.

This came to me one Passover when I was sitting with my friend Eva on one side who was speaking of her escape from behind the Iron Curtain and on the other side Ken was speaking of his family’s time spent in the Japanese interment camps in California during WWII. There were these two small conversations going on while my children were reading about the plagues. I wanted it all to come together – and more. Passover is all about freedom. As an intermarried couple, freedom empowers us. Freedom - is there anything we covet more?

Our family has always hosted the second night Seder. And I had gone through the motions enough, following the haggadah word by word, retelling the Exodus story time and again, and singing the favorite songs. I would make chicken matzo ball soup, buy Zabar’s best gefilte fish, make sponge cake and flourless brownies, the whole sha-bang, “as it was written.” We would conduct basically a “Conservative” Seder making sure that we did the entire Seder from start to finish and filled it with lots of songs. That’s what my husband thought he wanted, so that’s what I did.

It always felt like a chore to me. It was long and certainly did not impart any sense of freedom to me. If anything, I felt chained! I did not want to be cooking a big meal after having just had a big meal on the first night and retelling the same story. I thought it was just I. As our children started to grow up, I felt their lack of interest increasing. It was time for a change. And I knew I needed to get more involved.

My goal was to engage my children and to satisfy my husband.

The first year I imposed a change, I did it through my daughter. I asked her to select some music on her own that represented freedom to her. This was fun, we were definitely heading in the right direction, but it wasn’t enough.

I had been to a few Seders at my in-law’s home when they still lived in Lakewood, NJ. They were fun. They were very interesting. This is what my husband was always striving to emulate. As I thought more about this, it was because of the mix of people around the table and the discussions they had that made those Seders so great. And it was clearly led by his father who would add in extra stories or notations along the way.

My husband took the lead because as the non-Jew I didn’t have the familiarity or understanding, so I thought. But I understand the meaning of the holiday, I had been to enough Seders by now and I had done enough research, talked with enough people. I can do this, I told myself.

So much of Passover may seem already decided, there is a certain order to the holiday, a step-by-step guide starting with getting the chometz out of the home, what you can and can’t eat, the telling of the story, the washing of the hands, etc. Yes, there is a set “order”, but as we retell the Exodus story, we can to bring it to today, making it more relevant to our children and how they see their future, how they understand who and what is around them. By doing this, we not only bring the text alive, but we underscore the importance of Jewish tenets and values in our everyday lives.

I told my husband several years ago that I was going to lead the Seder. And I did. That was the start of our new tradition.

Our second night Seder still goes through the Conservative order and we still include many songs that remain dear to my husband. But now our conversation and discussions are more directed to today and what freedom means to us today, how it manifests in our lives and the world around us, and we include a couple of current songs. I added in Miriam’s cup, as well as an orange to signify the importance of diversity within our lives.

We select a theme each year or a question. We let our guests know about it well in advance and ask them to come prepared to share. Just something general that gives us a focal point from which to extract our ideas, our conversations. One year, I simply asked our guests to bring a tangible item that symbolized freedom to them and be prepared to share it and explain why.

Last year, we took our key from the election of Barack Obama, that one was pretty obvious. My father had always taught me that it was my duty as an American (he was Italian) to vote in every election, even if I just abstained. Why? Voting is the greatest example of a free society, he would tell me, and I should never ignore that. Freedom to vote, that was our general theme at our last seder. And the conversation around the Passover table was rich, lively and inspirational.

Now, my husband and I select the theme together. It’s become a very rewarding time for us as a couple. It allows us to talk and think together, argue and agree, and bring new light to our lives.

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