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Easter Story

"Why are you buying that?" A friend of my daughter's asked as she watched Morgan and me fill up our shopping cart with Easter candy. "You're Jewish."

"I know," Morgan said, dropping two large bags of Cadbury milk chocolate eggs--the ones with the hard outer shell that melt in your mouth--into our cart. "But it's the only time of year you can buy this stuff."

It's true. In my family Easter means jelly beans and chocolate bunnies. When the kids were little, I colored eggs with them. Sometimes we went to my in-laws for dinner and my mother-in-law gave the children Easter baskets and maybe a stuffed bunny, but there were never any religious overtones. No one tried to coax us into going to church or suggested that we do anything more for the holiday, including my husband. Although he was raised Catholic and went to church with his family, it's not something he carried into adulthood. In fact, in our almost twenty-five years together, I've never known Joe to set foot in a church except for weddings and funerals. Joe may have never converted, but we consider ourselves a Jewish family, just the same.

But it's not like that for all interfaith families.

"You either celebrate Easter religiously, or not at all," says Janet Cohn, who was raised in a strong Irish Catholic family in West Virginia. "In religious significance, it's like Yom Kippur. It's a day of atoning, a day of reckoning. I grew up in a family that went to church every week. But if you were from a family that didn't go [to church] regularly, you went on Easter."

For Cohn there were also a lot of cultural traditions that went along with the holiday, such as Easter egg hunts, family dinners and new outfits from hat to shoes. But when Janet married Simon Cohn, Easter went, including the cultural aspects of the holiday.

"Simon has no idea what Easter is about," said Cohn. "The things I grew up with we can't replicate. I couldn't buy new clothes [for the kids]. There wouldn't be any purpose. Since Passover is at the same time, that's been the holiday that we celebrate."

The Cohns have developed some of their own traditions around Christmas, which they feel honors the interfaith character of their family. But Easter Sunday can go entirely unnoticed by the rest of Cohn's family. And Janet feels the loss. "Sometimes I feel hurt that no one notices, and sometimes I'm okay," said Cohn.

Interestingly, even though Christmas is a much more intrusive holiday that you can't seem to escape, Easter, because of its religious overtones can be much more complicated for the interfaith family to negotiate.

"Christmas is much more cultural," says Piedmont, California, resident Eve Ogden, whose husband Brent is Protestant. Even though they're raising their daughter Daniela Jewish, they celebrate Christmas. "It seemed like the right thing to do to celebrate Christmas with [Brent]. There are no significant Christian things associated with it."

But Easter is a very different story. What Ogden will do in connection with Easter is very limited. "We did eggs, because at Passover there are eggs. It's more of a spring thing," says Ogden. "We don't acknowledge Easter other than that." That's something that Ogden is adamant about. Her family's roots are in Russia, and she grew up hearing stories from her mother about pogroms and other atrocities committed against Jews on Easter. Fortunately, Brent did not grow up with a strong Easter tradition and he respects his wife's feelings about the holiday. It's their formula for having a successful interfaith family.

Hebrew for "Day of Atonement," the final of ten Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah. Occurs during the fall and is marked by a 24-hour fast. One of the most important Jewish holidays. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach."
Ronnie Caplane

Ronnie Caplane is a lawyer and freelance writer based in Northern Calif.

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