Easter as a Jewish convert

It’s just not that big of a deal to me. I think it’s because Christmas is such an important holiday for me, and one that I invest so much time and effort into celebrating. I feel like celebrating Christmas is such a statement – it’s very purposeful and discussed and debated and agonized over. But Easter? Eh.

It’s obviously a HUGE Christian holiday, and because I’m not Christian, it’s not my holiday. (Whereas I get really personally offended when someone says that because I’m Jewish, Christmas isn’t my holiday). Sure, it’s fun, everyone talks about the Easter Bunny, and my kids love decorating eggs, but the religious aspects of it, to me, are not applicable to me. Christmas is different – that’s a holiday like Thanksgiving to me. A uniquely American tradition that I have loved since I was a child, and I want desperately for my kids to have that experience.

Passover is a big holiday for me. A much more significant one for me personally, it’s the first holiday that I met my husband’s parents, the first Jewish holiday I celebrated with him.

As the kids have gotten older, Passover has become ever more significant. It’s an event, starting with Passover shopping, coming up with different meal options. We have four major holiday parties for Passover, two regular Seders, one Seder that Marc runs for a local Presbyterian church, and then our own Passover Party this weekend. We do Passover posters, the kids sing the four questions as they wander around the house, and we discuss the Exodus story over and over again.

Easter…. just isn’t that important. I don’t know if it’s because Christmas is SUCH a big deal that I don’t have the energy to engage in another interfaith spiritual quest. Or if it’s because Passover is such a much more meaningful holiday within the Jewish tradition – as opposed to Hannukah, which is a much less religiously significant holiday. Maybe it’s that I have this holiday quota – and Christmas is necessary in December. But in the spring, Passover is so much bigger that Easter tends to sort of fade into obscurity.

That being said, I’ve got eighteen eggs to hide, and three baskets to assemble on Saturday night. But the biggest part of the holiday, for me, is going to be making sure that the kids can celebrate Easter with my family while still observing the kosher for Passover restrictions.

Passover is hard

This isn’t one of those “getting ready for Passover with the cleaning and the baking and the cooking and the seders and the dishes and the cleaning and oh yeah, did I mention the cleaning” kind of posts.   Because Passover is hard for all of those reasons.  In theory, and in reality for many people I know, Passover is when your house is supposed to be completely chametz-free.   That means anything made with grain mixed with water and allowed to ferment, according to my friends at wikipedia.  It also means pretty much everything my kids eat, with the exception of meat, fruits and vegetables.  Pasta, cereal, cookies, bread, tortillas, pizza, etc.

Keeping kosher for Passover is a thing – and some people do it, some don’t.  My family does.  I don’t like doing it.  I don’t agree with the premise, I don’t like it.  I don’t like it, I don’t like it, I don’t like it.  I like keeping the version of kosher that I do keep.  I don’t mix milk with meat, because to kill an animal and then serve it with the milk that was supposed to sustain it, to me, is morally wrong.  But chicken isn’t meat, according to that definition, and I have an easier time following rules when they make sense to me.  Not mixing cheese with chicken seems like just following rules for the sake of following rules, and while I understand the theology behind it, I find that blind adherence to the rules just makes me really, really itchy.

But my kids, oh my kids.  They love keeping kosher for Passover.  They love the dietary restrictions, they love the specialness of this time of year.  They look forward to “Passover Shopping” all year, and nothing makes them  happier than when they’re making our annual Passover Plague Posters (which is a fun activity that costs me no more than $1 worth of posterboard at the dollar store and is both educational and time consuming – because they make these really detailed posters we hang up every year).  Everything they eat, they want to make sure is “kosher for Passover.”    My husband has always kept kosher for Passover, and he adores that the kids are so into it.  I don’t.

It’s very similar to what he goes thru in December, I think.  Because even though he knows that Christmas is important to me, and it’s a link between my kids and my own family history that I want to continue, even though he knows that he wants to honor my mother and it would devastate her if we gave up Christmas – intellectually, he knows all those things.  But it still is hard, and alien, and makes him feel like an outsider in his own home.

That’s how I feel about Passover.  I like the holiday, I like the seders, I’d even happily throw matzoh into the mix for a week or so.  But strict adherence to it is really, really hard for me,  because it’s not what I grew up with.   It feels strange to me, and I don’t like that there are so many arbitrary rules, like if you are one sort of Jew, you can eat rice, and if you aren’t, then you can’t.  I decided when I converted that I’d follow the most liberal guidelines, so we eat rice and corn and peanut butter.  But it all feels artificial to me, and it’s probably one of the hardest Jewish holidays for me to connect with, on a personal level.

And it’s definitely a challenge with my family – because inevitably, Easter and Passover coincide.  I decided long ago that I wasn’t going to make the kids feel bad if they wanted to participate in the Easter celebration at my mother’s house, and eat the bread or cake or cookies.  And I don’t make them feel bad, I don’t have to.  They’ve decided on their own to keep kosher for Passover, so now I make sure that we have Passover friendly treats for them there.   We’ll have macaroons and chocolate covered matzoh.

Part of the trouble I’m having right now is that I’m doing research on “mixed” marriages, and interfaith issues in general, and reading about too much of it makes me depressed.  For so many couples, this is really hard – and I just finished reading two books about interfaith marriages that were written in the 1980s and they just made me miserable.   All these interviews with kids (who are actually adults my age) who were raised by parents who tried to do it interfaith, and now the kids feel as though they aren’t tied to any particular religion and have no spiritual home at all.  I know that’s not what we’re doing – we made very deliberate decisions around their religious upbringing.  My kids know they’re Jewish, and their Jewish experience is obviously going to be very different from my own.  For me, following the rules on Passover seems arbitrary.  For them, it’s just part of the process.  Part of what makes it easier for them to understand and appreciate the history of their people.  I want that.  I want them to feel secure and validated – and so I’m googling recipes for more and ever interesting Passover food, and I’ve mostly talked my mother out of the pasta dish she was planning for next Sunday.  And I’ll do my best to keep my Passover issues to myself – and I can always sneak out for pizza and breadsticks while they’re at school :-)

Being

I think writing these posts for the last two weeks has been the only time when I have spent time being in the moment before Pesach.  I have been too busy to just be during the rest of the day.  There is laundry to do, dishes to prepare and Chametz to remove.  (I guess I’m as busy as a bee!)

As I sit down and think about each theme for each day, it has become my moment to be.  To reflect on the moment and the day.

I have so much to work on.  I’m not the person I want to be, yet.  Which is good.  Because tomorrow night there is more work to be done as we explore freedom and redemption.

Chag Kasher VeSameach.  Happy Passover.

This post is part of Twitter’s @imabima’s list of writing prompts for the first two weeks of Nissan leading up to Passover.

Changing

I would like to think that I am changing from year to year. I would like to think that I am changing for the better.  I am a bit more wise, a bit more patient, a bit more kind and a bit more generous.

Then something happens.  A dish breaks, traffic jams, or something just doesn’t go my way.  I lose my temper.  I’m not that patient and I might say something hurtful.

I realize I want to change and be better.  I apologize.  Try again.

So maybe I have changed.  My awareness has changed.  I don’t react EVERY time.  I know when I’m wrong.  I’m a work in progress.  (Hopefully making progress).

I’m not sure which Rabbi said that it is easier to split the Sea of Reeds than it is to change a single character trait for the better (I think it was Rabbi Salanter who developed the Mussar movement).

This post is part of Twitter’s @imabima’s list of writing prompts for the first two weeks of Nissan leading up to Passover.

Redeeming

The Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt in the merit of the Jewish women.  What exactly did the women do?  They had faith.  Their husbands were doing back breaking labour and feeling lower than low.  The wives believed G-d would save the Jewish people.

Again, when the Sea of Reeds was parted for the Jewish people, it was the women who had brought instruments to celebrate the miracle.  They didn’t have time to let the bread rise for packing, (which is one of the reasons we eat Matzah) but they did have time to pack up the tambourines.

It is also said that it will be in the merit of women, again, that Mashiach (the messiah) will come.

This post is part of Twitter’s @imabima’s list of writing prompts for the first two weeks of Nissan leading up to Passover.

Counting

I remember as a child I would count the number of pages until Shulchan Orech, the main meal of the Passover Seder.  I remember that it always took so long to get to Korech, the Matzah sandwich, which meant the meal was soon to follow.

These days I count everything with my son.  The number of flowers in a bunch, fingers on a hand or sides of a shape.

I’m not so quick to count pages in the Haggadah any more.  A friend gave me probably the best wisdom.  We put so much effort into preparing for Passover.  We clean the house of Chametz, we shop for Matzah and our Passover food needs and we cook the meals.  Why rush through the Seder?  Savour it all, one delicious page at a time.

Because if you are counting, the days and years go by so quickly.

This post is part of Twitter’s @imabima’s list of writing prompts for the first two weeks of Nissan leading up to Passover.

Leaving

When the Jewish people left Egypt, they left behind lives of hardship and slavery.  Lives that were filled without purpose (the Egyptian slave master’s goal was to have the Jewish people do backbreaking pointless work).

The Jewish people physically left Egypt and slavery, but it took some time until they left spiritually.  There were complaints all along the way to Mount Sinai.  They complained at the Sea of Reeds and they complained when they thought they would run out of food.

They saw amazing miracles, yet their souls were still attached to the lives of slavery.

Leaving something (or somewhere) isn’t always easy.  It can mean leaving comfort and the familiar.  The Jewish people were comfortable being slaves.  As long as they were slaves, expectations were low.  They just had to do what they were told from day to day.

Beyond Egypt was a life of complete uncertainty, a life full of potential.

Leaving some thing/one/where can seem sad, but alternatively in the leaving the opportunities can be endless.

This post is part of Twitter’s @imabima’s list of writing prompts for the first two weeks of Nissan leading up to Passover.

Asking

Ma Nishtanah HaLaila HaZeh?

Why is this night different from all other nights?  Other than eating Matzah, how can we make the Seder meaningful and not just another family dinner?

How many times is Moses’ name mentioned in the Haggadah?  Why do you think that is?

What does it mean to be free?  Why does it say we are slaves this year, but next year will be free?

What other questions can we ask during the Seder?

and why should we be asking all the questions anyway?

This post is part of Twitter’s @imabima’s list of writing prompts for the first two weeks of Nissan leading up to Passover.

 

Learning

The Jewish calendar year is described as a spiral.  While we may return to the same point every year, hopefully we’re a bit wiser, more compassionate and understanding.  How do we reach higher every year?  By learning of course.

We can learn the hard way…through life’s tests and challenges.  We can also learn the more gentler way.  We can take a class, or read a book or listen to a lecture online.  There are awesome ways to learn Torah online.  The Torah gives us our foundation for life. It is through the lessons of the Torah we learn how to be good humans.

By learning we can prepare ourselves for life’s tests (and they are ongoing!). We may get angry when something happens, but then a light goes on.  We stop ourselves a few seconds later, take a breath, maybe even recite a little prayer.

I have much to learn about life, and one of my night time prayers is that I live up to my potential and fulfill my life’s mission.  I hope by learning, I will gain clarity.

What do you do to learn?  Are you a student for life?

This post is part of Twitter’s @imabima’s list of writing prompts for the first two weeks of Nissan leading up to Passover.

 

Blessing

In Hebrew, a blessing is a Brachah.  We say a Brachah before we light Shabbat candles, and before we eat or drink anything.  There is a Brachah for when we see a rainbow, hear thunder or smell something particularly delicious to the senses.  We even say a Brachah after using the bathroom.

What is the point of the Brachah or blessing, anyway?  The first word in a Bracha, Baruch, is related to Brechah, or spring (as in water source).  By saying a Brachah, we acknowledge that G-d is the source of everything in our lives.  It’s a way of saying thank you.

Every night at bedtime, part of the routine with my son is to pray for the people we care about.  The last part of the prayer is to tell G-d we’re thankful.  I say thank you for all of our live’s “Blessings”, whether it’s an invitation for a Shabbat meal, some hand me downs from a friend or the opportunity to do a Mitzvah.  One day soon, my son will add to our list.

This post is part of Twitter’s @imabima’s list of writing prompts for the first two weeks of Nissan leading up to Passover.