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I have two distinct childhood memories associated with spring. One is of my older cousin hiding the afikomen, the dessert matzah, on top of the floor lamp that was too high up for us kids to see. He got in big trouble for tormenting the children, and we got the afikomen. The second was the time my younger sister ate a hole through the sugar diorama egg with the Easter scene depicted inside. My parents, who masked their laughter with a stern reprimand, believed her tummy ache was punishment enough for her deeds. These days I don't hunt for Easter eggs, but I do boil a lot of them in preparation for Passover. Every once in a while I'm tempted to color them, just for kicks.
The early Passover memory referenced above was from a time when my grandparents' generation was still hosting a Passover seder, the traditional Passover meal, each year out east. It is a memory I cherish as I continue to build my own Passover traditions in adulthood. As my parents' generation grew up and each child in it intermarried, the family seder became a thing of the past. My parents moved to the midwest and started their own family traditions, blending their Jewish and Catholic backgrounds.
Growing up we looked forward to Easter. Although we never went to church, it was fun to celebrate the non-religious aspects of the holiday. When we were younger we did Easter egg hunts at home, and later it became our tradition to spend the time we had off from school down in Florida with our family friends. The night before Easter we would gather in the kitchen of our condo and dye the dozens of eggs our mothers had boiled all day while we were playing at the pool. The older children would carefully dip only parts of the eggs in each color, creating interesting patterns and designs. The younger children would dip the entire egg in color after color, typically ending up with a brownish hue that was indicative of their less strategic egg-coloring techniques. The real fun came the next day when we would wake up to find the Easter Bunny had found us in Florida and left baskets for each of us filled with chocolates and toys, as well as a trail of eggs hidden around the room. I'll never forget the moment I realized the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy were not real--when I discovered the K-mart sticker on my Easter basket. During these years we occasionally participated in seders with our Hebrew school. These were never really the highlight of this season, however. Easter was just much more fun for us.
It was the intent of my parents to raise us Jewish--with a few extra traditions. It is not strange for a child first moving away from home to begin to create her own traditions and discard a few of the childhood ones, and that's exactly what I did in college. I had always had a thirst to further my Jewish education and to strengthen my connections to my faith. I found a community to support that journey and jumped right in. I did my best to avoid leavening during Passover, taught my roommates how to prepare the traditional Passover matzah brei, and when I joined my family on their Florida trip, my mother would help me prepare matzah lasagna and other Passover treats.
It was not hard for me to leave Easter behind, because for us it was never more than a fun tradition. Passover, however, has become something at the heart of my Jewish identity. Redemption from slavery, justice, education, leadership, and community are all themes expressed through the seder and these were themes and values that resonated in my own life. Though I had not realized these were Jewish values while I was growing up, they were always dear to me.
A few years ago I was spending Passover in California because I had decided to meet my family in their latest vacation spot. On the way down I visited my old college roommate, who at the time lived in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps house in Oakland. That night was the first night of Passover and I asked if her roommates might like me to lead a seder so they could see what it was like. They were moved by the themes of the traditional meal. We talked about freedom, redemption, justice--all values they as Catholics strived towards. It became clear to me then why the seder continues to be a ritual we can share with those of other faiths.
These days I anticipate with pleasure a traditional seder with the cousins that live nearby and with friends in town. They are all part of my new tradition. And although it is a bit arduous, I almost look forward to the spring cleaning that is meant to rid my home of leavening in preparation for Passover. It is a way of marking time, taking stock and making room for the things I cherish.
In the future I envision a time when I'll have my own family and I'll invite my parents and sisters to my home for a traditional seder. In a way, we'll have come full circle. Perhaps one of my sisters will even hide the afikomen above the reach of my children. You never know.