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We love Mo Willems books in our house! My little one just brought home one of his gazillions of titles called, I Really Like Slop. As I have written before, I now see the world through interfaith family lenses. When we read this story, all I could think about was interfaith couples at Passover! How in the world did I make that leap?
The book tells the story of Piggie presenting her friend Gerald, the elephant, with a pot of her slop. Gerald looks at the smelly concoction with trepidation. He asks some questions about the make-up of the slop. Piggie begs him to try some. She explains that itâ€™s part of Pig culture! Gerald touches his tongue to the slop and chokes and gags. Piggie asks Gerald if he likes it. Gerald explains that he does not like it, but he does like Piggie. And he is happy he tried it.
As are all of Mo Willemsâ€™ books, this story is precious and even poignant. It made me think about someone who didnâ€™t grow up with, letâ€™s say, gefilte fish, being presented with it for the first time at a Passover seder. This person is no doubt sitting with a significant other at their parentsâ€™ house, surrounded by family and trying to fit in and make a good impression. This person is trying to avoid any cultural faux pas. They may be worried that the haggadah (the book read during the Passover meal) will be read aloud going around the table and that there will be unfamiliar words and transliterated Hebrew to navigate (on four cups of wine, no less). And, now this person is presented with this foreign, kind of smelly food, with a gel-like substance wiggling around on top.
If you were brought up with this food and donâ€™t like it, it is easier to dismiss it. But, for a newcomer, how does one politely excuse themselves from trying it? (Especially if is homemade. This usually makes it a lot better than if itâ€™s cold from the jarâ€”although some people love that. Who am I to yuck your yum, as my childâ€™s feeding therapist implores.)
What Piggie and Gerald teach us is that we donâ€™t have to like our partnerâ€™s cultural things. They donâ€™t have to become ours. We donâ€™t have to feel comfortable eating the food or donning certain garb. We donâ€™t automatically have to feel comfortable with the language, traditions or dances. Maybe after experience and time, we will come to like things. We will make them our own. But, maybe we never will. And, thatâ€™s OK. Showing respect, asking questions, learning about and even trying aspects important to our loved ones is what matters.
Happy prepping for Passover!
We have been through 20 Passovers together. My wife does pretty well with the eating restrictions but somewhere around the middle of the holiday, there she is eating cereal in the garage. Thatâ€™s where I store the chametz, the bread products that are off-limits during Passover, to make the rest of the house ready for the holiday. I â€śsellâ€ť it to a friend or neighbor who isnâ€™t Jewish but is intrigued enough to play along. (That ensures that I donâ€™t technically own it and it can stay there as long as itâ€™s undisturbed.) But there it sits, calling out to Kirsti all week. Each bite of matzah brie and cardboard flavored Passover cereal increases her longing for the good stuff she knows is only steps away. Do I care? No, I have never cared. I have always drawn a line between my own, personal practice and hers. I need to clean the house of bread. I need to bring out the glass plates. But Kirsti didnâ€™t grow up Jewish, and while many Jewish practices are meaningful to her, this one is not.
Now enter two kids. None of these differences in our practices made an impact on our home life until we had children. While she can practice however she likes, I do want to maintain a Jewish household for our kids. In similar cases, we tend to face our differences head on, explaining to our children where our beliefs or practices may differ from one another.
Many parents who come from different backgrounds will only tell one parentâ€™s side of things until kids get older and can better handle the paradoxes. I see the value in that approach, but itâ€™s not for us. We have always told the truth about where we differ religiouslyâ€¦for better or for worse. We have different ideas about theology and share with our boys that people generallyâ€”and even Jewsâ€”donâ€™t all believe the same thing. We have different needs in terms of attending synagogue, and I am happy to be the regular Shabbat service goer with them, explaining that while sheâ€™ll go sometimes, itâ€™s more of a regular practice for me.
But Passover is tough because itâ€™s centered in the house. Do I want them to learn that itâ€™s OK to run to the garage when they have a craving? I donâ€™t need my partner to keep to it, but I want them to learn the discipline early on as a meaningful part of the Passover celebration. I want them to internalize their history as slaves being freed as they stop themselves instead of reaching for some bread. I hope they will share the excitement with me when the kitchen gets turned upside down to get ready for the holiday. But I also donâ€™t want to denigrate my partnerâ€™s practices by making them lesser. I respect her and her relationship to Judaism. How do I hold both realities?
In truth, Iâ€™ve never lived in a house where we were all practicing Judaism in the same way.Â I grew up in a home with two Jewish parents for whom Jewish eating practices held no meaning. We always laughed that it wasnâ€™t Passover if there wasnâ€™t a honey-baked ham on the table. OK, we never went that far, but ham and seafood were staples in our home. My mother would proudly say, â€śI donâ€™t practice my religion through my stomach.â€ť But even as a kid, I was drawn to the idea that refraining from bread made the week of my favorite holiday feel special, and I worked around my familyâ€™s need for their cupboards to remain untouched.
So we talked to our kids this Passover about the realities of different kinds of Jewish practice. They were informed that their Mommy sneaks some chametz (not surprising since they already knew that although she has tried valiantly to give them up over the years, she has a soft spot for cheeseburgers). But we didnâ€™t dwell on the food-talk. What we did spend time discussing were the values we hope they took away from the holiday. Standing up for those who are oppressed. Using your own story of pain and difference to inspire you to rescue others. That freedom is possible. And for my partner, we know that her freedom is saying farewell to matzah for another year.