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Passover meant a big seder, with my grandfather chanting at the end of the table. My cousins and I would scramble around the house, hunting for the afikomen. Then my uncle would play the piano in the basement while we all sang. It was a wonderful holiday.
Passover also meant skipping my usual PB&J and taking buttered matzah to school, wrapped in aluminum foil. I remember how the butter would melt into shiny globules, and Iâ€™d rub them in with my finger. There was something nice about being â€śThe Jewish Kidâ€ť in the class, with my special food. I loved the rituals. I liked the hyper-awareness of Passover, the symbolism of the seder plate. Mortar and tearsâ€”the sense that everything mattered.
And while we didnâ€™t celebrate Easter religiously at our house, I did get a basket from my (Catholic) mom, filled with jellybeans and chocolate eggs. This was nice, tooâ€”that while I got to be â€śThe Jewish Kidâ€ť I also didnâ€™t feel totally left out of Easter. Sometimes there was a neighborhood parade and we made Easter hats from cardboard, glue and feathers.
Then came a year when the holidays overlapped. My parents were newly divorced, and not communicating well. My mom did her best with Passover. If memory serves, I took my matzah to school like usual. But then on Sunday morningâ€¦ I got my Easter basket. Filled with bright jelly beans.
I tore into it, of course, mouth filled with sweetness, until I crunched through a blue candy shell into the crisp goodness of a malted robinâ€™s egg. And suddenly, it hit me. Easter wasnâ€™t Kosher for Passover! I spit the candy out into my hand, confused. What should I do?
For the next few days, my Easter basket sat on top of the fridge, waiting for me. I remember staring up at it, thinking about how it wasnâ€™t fair, that nobody else I knew had to wait to eat her candy. But the truth was, my dad wasnâ€™t there to enforce the rules anymore. It was all me. I had put the basket on top of the fridge, and I felt conflicted, but also firm in my resolve.
Years later, as an adult, the holidays overlapped again, and remembering the basket on the fridge, I did a funny thing. I assembled a Kosher-for-Passover Easter basket for myself. I did a good job, hunted down fruit-gels and made chocolate-covered matzah. The basket looked lovely.
But you know what? It was no good. It didnâ€™t make me happy at all. Staring at that basket of fruit slices and jelly rings didnâ€™t feel the same as waking up to an Easter basket. Not remotely. It feltâ€¦ wrong.
I think sometimes, in the interfaith community, we seek to smooth the ruffled feelings, to reconcile all our conflicts and contradictions. We want to believe that weâ€™re creating families in which everything can blend, fit and make sense. But hereâ€™s the thingâ€”some things are distinct, even mutually exclusive. Some years, choosing to keep Kosher for Passover means not eating Easter candy. And thatâ€™s annoying, but also OK. Things donâ€™t have to be easy to matter.
In a way, I feel like I undermined the essence of each holiday in that Eastover Basket I made. For me (and I can only speak for my own experience), Passover is about the restrictions, the rigor. Passover feels powerful because of its deprivation. And for me, Easter baskets are the oppositeâ€”about abundance, sheer pleasure.
This is fine! These two holidays donâ€™t have to blend. Each holiday holds a special place in my memory. Easter and Passover can co-exist without merging. And you know what? The truth is that all the most meaningful experiences of my life have included conflict. Every deep relationship Iâ€™ve had has been imperfect, particular and occasionally inconvenient. Often, rituals matter most when we have to wait for them, or forego something else. Sometimes, conflict serves a purpose.
When I was a kid, I stared up at my Easter basket on the fridge and thought about both holidays. I owned them both and recognized that they both mattered to me. That year, for the first time, I truly decided to keep Kosher for Passover. It mattered more than it ever had before. And then a few days later, I decided to eat my robinâ€™s eggs.
They were delicious.
In March 2015, InterfaithFamily conducted its 11th annual Passover/Easter Survey to determine the attitudes and behaviors of people in interfaith relationships during Passover and Easter. The survey attracted 1,136 responsesâ€”an increase of about 21% over 2014. Of those 1,136 respondents, 730 said they were in interfaith relationships. Of those, 501 have children and of those, 444 (89%) are raising their children with some Judaism, though not necessarily exclusively.
To simplify our findings, here are the top 10 things we learned from just those 444 respondents. (Of course, this does not reflect the behaviors of interfaith couples in general, or the behaviors of all interfaith couples with children, and the figures should not be reported as representative of all interfaith families.)
1. Passover matters. The overwhelming majority of respondentsâ€”more than 92 percentâ€”celebrate Passover, and for most, it had some religious significance. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being â€śdeeply religious,â€ť 67% rated Passover a 3, 4 or 5. Only 7% said it was entirely secular. For those who were having or attending a sederâ€”420 respondentsâ€”most said it would include a seder plate (94%), reading from a Haggadah or telling the Passover story (92%), food rituals like dipping parsley in salt water, making a matzah sandwich, etc. (93%), hiding the afikoman (85%) or discussing the meaning of Passover (76%). And going to a seder wasnâ€™t newâ€”99% had been to or hosted one before.
2. Itâ€™s about the kids. When asked why they celebrate Passover, the vast majority of respondentsâ€”more than 86%â€”said â€śto share the holiday with my children,â€ť and â€śsharing the holiday with my kidsâ€ť was also respondentsâ€™ favorite part of Passover. Almost 70% said they were looking for â€śways to make the seder fun for kids.â€ť
3. And food. 86% of respondents said they would be eating matzah as one of their Passover activities, with 49% following dietary restrictions for most or all days of Passover. And the resource people wanted most, next to ways to make the seder fun for kids? Recipes.
4. If youâ€™re going to buy a Haggadah, Maxwell House is still the haggadah you count on. More than half who responded said they use a store-bought haggadah (54%), and of those, 25% were planning to use the Maxwell House Haggadah this yearâ€”more than any other haggadah mentioned, which we found surprising considering how many new haggadahs are on the market these days. However, of those who planned to use a store-bought haggadah, 36% were not sure/couldnâ€™t remember which one and 26% said â€śOtherâ€ť to the haggadah options we providedâ€”using everything from Sammy Spiderâ€™s Haggadah to congregational haggadahs. More than 8% planned to use the 30 Minute Seder and 7% said A Different Night, The Family Participation Haggadah.
5. Interfaith families look for resources to meet their specific challenges. 41% of respondents were looking for resources to make the seder comfortable and meaningful for relatives and friends who arenâ€™t Jewish, while 38% wanted help navigating the Easter/Passover overlap. 88% would be or might be interested in a haggadah specifically for interfaith familiesâ€”weâ€™ll have one ready next year!
6. Many interfaith families raising their kids with Judaism also celebrate Easterâ€¦ About half of respondents (49%) said they would be participating in Easter celebrations this year, and another 16 percent said that they â€śmaybeâ€ť would.
7. â€¦ But itâ€™s a secular holiday for most. 59% said it was an â€śentirely secularâ€ť celebration. Most celebrations centered around Easter egg hunts or basketsâ€”56% said they would be participating in an Easter egg hunt, and 51% said they would be decorating eggs, while 47% said they would give Easter baskets to kids or extended family. Another 55% would be attending an Easter meal at the home of family or extended family, while 15% would host an Easter meal (vs. the 47% who host a Passover seder).
8. Easter is not seen as a threat to Jewish identity. Likewise, 62% donâ€™t think celebrating Easter will affect their childrenâ€™s connection to Judaism. (27% said not applicable, which may mean that Easter is not celebrated.) Said one, â€śItâ€™s a secular celebration thatâ€™s basically just having food with family. I was raised Jewish and I still ate Easter candy, decorated eggs, etc.â€ť
9. Most do not struggle or expect to struggle with observing Passover and/or Easter, but of those who do…Â Of the 444 respondents, 261 responded to this write-in question asking what they struggle with, and many of those simply said these holidays weren’tÂ a struggle for their family. Responses included:
â€śMy in-laws are extremely open and welcome my Passover traditions at their Easter mealâ€”they regularly put out matzah, without a request from me, and make desserts that are flourless for my benefit.â€ť
â€śNone. Weâ€™ve been doing this long enough, we have it down,â€ť another said, while a third remarked:
â€śI expect the same challenges that I experience in other areas of my married life with a partner [who is not Jewish]. There are many areas of negotiation with this part of our identities; we practice good communication in order to resolve and acknowledge differences. There [are] always going to be challenges of understanding, of belief and of acceptance.â€ť
Of those who answered with a specific struggle, some cited in-laws and extended families, or balancing the needs of both partners or holidays. Said one, â€śWe have wondered whether to let our son eat Easter candy that contains corn syrup during Passover,â€ť while another struggled with â€śRestrictions on my children eating chametz or bread during Easter.â€ť Some cited in-laws and extended families as a concern, or simply that the extended family wants their children to observe holidays differently than how they are being raised. Several people expressed frustration with these family members not understanding or appreciating the Jewish holiday or trying to balance everyoneâ€™s needs during the two holidays.
One respondent said â€śMy Catholic Motherâ€”she is trying very hard to be supportive, but struggles to find a way to feel connected to her grandchildren during holidays,â€ť while a spouse said: â€śI love Easter merchandise: the colors, the bunnies, the eggs. I find all of it so cute but I don’t buy my daughters any of it because we’re raising them fully Jewish. It can be hard for me.â€ť
10. Passover is a â€ślot of workâ€ť holiday.Â We were interested to hear why people think that surveys often indicate fewer interfaith couples participate in Passover seders than couples where both partners are Jewish. The overwhelming response was that Passover is a holiday celebrated at home and takes a lot of work; that it can be intimidating if it is not a holiday you grew up celebrating and the rituals are unfamiliar. As one person explained, â€śPassover is pretty involved. It’s a lot more than just showing up for a one hour service at a church. It takes a big commitment.â€ť
Another said, â€śTry[ing] not to hurt anyone’s feelings, not having all the resources, not knowing where to start,â€ť while a third responded, â€śIt takes a serious time/travel commitment to attend one or both seders, especially if they’re during the work week. We typically return to my parentsâ€”a four-hour drive awayâ€”so if one member of the couple doesn’t take that commitment seriously, it’s hard to do.â€ť
When I was little, my mom made a huge deal of the Passover afikomen hunt. The prize for finding the broken pieces of matzah throughout the house was the hot toy of the day (I vividly remember the year of the Beanie Baby craze).Â She also created an elaborate Easter egg hiding game in which one rhyming clue (starting on our pillows in the morning) led to another, with a big basket filled with eggs as the grand finale. What is the allure of the hide-and-seek element of both Easter and Passover? Do they have anything in common?
As early as the age of peek-a-boo, hiding and finding is a huge part of our development of object permanence. Dad leaves the room but itâ€™s OK! He still exists and will come back in a minute. Just because we canâ€™t see or hear something doesnâ€™t mean itâ€™s gone. Then, as we grow, the basic game of hide-and-seek excites us for an amazingly long stretch of years. I have to imagine, as my kids are playing hide-and-seek with me at the park, that the moments when I canâ€™t see themâ€”while panicky for meâ€”are exhilarating for them. A sweet taste of future independence. Perhaps our spring rituals capture the excitement and expectation of these early forays into mystery and autonomy.
Both Passover and Easter share a theme of rebirth in springtime. For Christianity, Christâ€™s rebirth is symbolized in the egg. On the seder plate we place an egg as a symbol of hope, recalling the Israelitesâ€™ escape from slavery and birth as a free nation. Although in Judaism, the egg isnâ€™t hidden, both rituals harken back to celebrations of the bursting forth of life at this season that far predate either religious tradition and are shared by many peoples around the world.
But when did people start hiding Easter eggs? Legend has it that the Protestant Christian reformer, Martin Luther, held egg hunts in which men hid the eggs for the women and children. Some Christians have claimed the egg as a symbol of Christâ€™s tomb, symbolizing his rebirth, and the hunt for eggs was likened to the hunt for Jesus in the tomb. There are images of Mary Magdelene with an egg as well. The Easter bunny didnâ€™t enter the picture as the deliverer of those eggs until the 17th century.
The afikomen ritual clearly has very different origins, and there is no evidence that the hide-and-seek rituals are linked. Afikomen means â€śthat which comes afterâ€ť or â€śdessertâ€ť in Greek, and the hunt for it is a clever ploy to keep kids engaged in the often lengthy seder until the end. The kidsâ€™ elevated role is in keeping with the entire Passover experience; the holiday ritual is an elaborate scheme to pass the story of enslavement to freedom onto children.
How does it work? Early in the seder, the leader breaks the middle matzah on the table and leaves half of it as â€śdessertâ€ť to be eaten after the meal. Then after everyone has eaten, the leader cannot close the seder until the dessert matzah is found and eaten. Families enact this in myriad ways, but here are two popular options:
Either way, the ritual empowers children. Itâ€™s always fun to put one over on your parents. But the kids also learn that while they often feel less important than adults, at this moment they are powerful!
What about bringing these overlapping spring rituals together in an interfaith home? This is a matter for each family to decide. But some might find it comforting to know that egg painting in springtime is a tradition older than either Judaism or Christianity and it celebrates rebirth, hope, life and fertility. In fact, some Israelis even remember growing up decorating eggs for Passover, and might find it surprising that American Jews donâ€™t generally approve of it on the grounds that in the United States, it is associated with Christianity. There are important historical reasons why some customs have become considered off limits in order for Jews to retain their particular status as separate from the dominant culture around them. But if you end up with a colored egg on your seder plate, you are far from alone. It is common enough that a great guidebook for grandparents of interfaith grandchildren is called, Thereâ€™s an Easter Egg on Your Seder Plate.
How will you celebrate this year? Do spring traditions overlap or collide in your home? When planning a seder or Easter rituals, think about what you want to convey through the games and symbols you share. Think back with your partner or other family members about the rituals you each grew up with around the spring holidays and share what was meaningfulâ€”or confusingâ€”about them. Articulate what you need out of the experience to feel personally and spiritually fulfilled. Together, explore the messages you hope your kids will take away from this season.