I met my best friend Renata in 1981, when we both first moved to New York. Years later, we stood up for each other in our respective marriage ceremonies, supported each other through child rearing, and propped each other up while we created meaningful careers. With both of our immediate families based in California, we often relied on each other, especially during holidays. Sharing celebrations, we split Thanksgiving; Renata had Easter and Christmas, and I had Passover. I was at her children’s christenings as godmother; she was at my son’s Bar Mitzvah.
This year, since the first two nights of Passover and Easter Sunday fell on the same weekend, our families decided to gather our clans and rent a house on the Jersey Shore. Usually our events are distinct – Easter Sunday is about giving thanks in a spiritual realm for the sacrifices of a wise man; Passover is about the strength it takes to ensure generation after generation has the ability to worship as it chooses. In both cases, a story is told. The story is repeated year after year, in some houses exactly as it was the year before, in others with different twists and turns, as the tale-tellers themselves have evolved.
When we went around the table this year and shared what freedom meant to each of us personally, we found ourselves melding into cross-religious themes. When we talked about the Jews escaping slavery, how could we not talk about the African-Americans who escaped slavery? When we marveled at the right to participate in religious freedom, how could we not think about gay marriage and religious intolerance in other countries?
The beach house is in Ocean City, NJ, a town that until the late 1960s didn’t allow Blacks or Jews. Yet there we sat in our home on the Boardwalk while people walked past our deck and open windows. They didn’t see that one of our guests was from Russia, where he and his family weren’t allowed to practice their Judaism. They couldn’t tell that two women in the group, one a Jew and the other a Christian, would be getting married to each other in August with a Muslim woman officiating. No one could have guessed which person at the table was half-Israeli. Certainly there was no way to know who was celebrating Passover and who was celebrating Easter. Most likely, none of them knew the days, years, and centuries of turmoil it took for us to be there, all together, in one place at that special moment.
Two “Jewish” goals were operating for me: opening the Jewish tent to include those who are traditionally marginalized, and welcoming all those who would like to eat (and play Scrabble, ride bikes, and enjoy the view). The Jewish Outreach Institute and our Big Tent Judaism initiatives are about just that: ensuring that the community is engaging and welcoming to all who would cast their lot with the Jewish people.
Here’s a photo of our group: 4.5 Christians (including 2 Quakers), 8.5 Jews, 3.5 Blacks, 8.5 Whites, .5 Israelis, .5 Jamaicans, 1 Russian and 2 Lesbians (there was a third, but she went home before the photo was taken).
I bet you some matzah and an Easter egg that you can’t identify who is who.
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