April 2, 2014
|Melissa and her family (children and step-children)
I’m a veteran of the December Dilemma battles. In fact, after last year, I started referring to it as the December Dilemma Debacle. As a Jewish convert, with incredibly close ties to my parents and siblings, I spend most of December struggling with putting up the tree, worries over my children’s Jewish identity, my (Jewish) husband’s instinctive dislike of the tree, and the (spoken and unspoken) judgment of my community.
conflict isn’t anywhere near as challenging. In part, I think, because Passover is such a major holiday. There is no sense that it’s overshadowed by or less significant than Easter. Between the weeks of cleaning and preparation leading up to it and the seders, and the constant reminder at every meal, Passover is such a defining part of our springtime.
One challenge that we run into every year is keeping kosher
for Passover. My husband is much more observant, especially around keeping kosher for Passover. I am not. I really enjoy the seders (when I can actually participate, which is rare, because I always seem to have a fussy child demanding attention). But for me, it would be great if we were just incorporating a lot more matzah
into everyone’s diet rather than ruling out all leavened items. I find following rules difficult, especially when I’m not sure the rules make sense for me.
I’m not a rule breaker by nature. I’m not a rebel in most regards, but I don’t like doing something “just because.” Having to keep kosher for Passover isn’t something I’d ever choose to do on my own. Eliminating all grains, pasta, cheerios, bread, cookies, etc., is not the way I like to celebrate Passover. My husband does, and I don’t mind that. He’s an adult, and I respect his spiritual beliefs as I know he respects mine. The hard part comes when we factor in our three children.
There are certainly ways in which my childhood differs dramatically from that of my children. Some of those ways are wonderful—I love that my kids have two loving committed parents. They have a much stronger religious identity than I did at their age. I was always spiritually inclined, but we were haphazardly Catholic, with a lot of pagan, new age stuff mixed in.
My mother is very spiritual, but I always felt as though my spiritual beliefs were mine—they were self-directed. She encouraged me to ask questions, to think and read and make up my own mind. My kids are growing up Jewish and that’s completely, completely different. Because while I also want them to question, to think and read, they do it in a framework that involves 613 rules and they like to follow them.
What do I do with two (and soon to be three) kids who want to keep kosher for Passover? How do I honor their wishes, and not feel alienated and different from my children? How do I reconcile this in such a way that I can give them what they want and need from me—which is approval and respect and admiration for their own fiercely held beliefs—even when I don’t agree with them for my own personal practice?
I do it, and I think I do it well. I say the right things, and because I’m with the kids all the time, it’s usually coming from me. My husband approves hugely of their practice, and is thrilled that his kids want to follow kashrut
. He thinks it’s vital that we support them, but it’s me doing all the meal prep and planning, and packing lunches and dealing with snack requests.
With all of the import and significance that comes along with Passover, the question of why we bother to celebrate Easter is a valid one. I am Jewish and celebrate all the Jewish holidays, including Passover. But there’s a part of me that really needs for Judaism to be an addition to my life, and not a replacement. I want my spirituality to fit into my life, not to represent things that I have had to give up and lose. And it’s critical to me that my children know and celebrate their whole heritage, and only half of that heritage is Jewish.
It’s tough to explain because while I’m content and satisfied with my religious choices, and secure in the knowledge that my children are Jewish, that my husband and I are raising a Jewish family and living a Jewish life, I’m also not ashamed of the fact that my family of orgin is mostly Irish Catholic. I like that reality. I don’t want to lose that. I don’t want my kids to feel ashamed that they don’t have a Bubbie
who makes gefilte fish
and chopped liver. I want them to love that they a Grammy and a Dzidzi who decorate for Easter and hide eggs and give them way too much candy every year.
And they do: I know the conflict is more in my head than in theirs.
They’re fine with bringing macaroons and chocolate matzoh to the Easter celebrations, and believe firmly that the Easter bunny will drop off baskets here on Sunday morning. They know they’re Jewish, they know they celebrate my family’s holidays because one of the tenets (one of the commandments) is to honor your parents, and that’s what their Mama does.
My hope for my children is that they know that they are part of a larger family—and they are blessed to belong to two extended families. One that celebrates Passover and one that celebrates Easter.