Why I love Passover

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I have two neighbors who have been hosting a seder together for almost 30 years. For the last three years, they’ve invited us to join them, mostly, they joke, because their kids have all become adults and what’s a seder without children? So we walk down the street, carrying charoset. We read from the haggadah, and we stay up so late that the girls, drunk on grape juice, get glassy and sparkly in the candlelight. And when they read about this holiday of collective Jewish memory, they find themselves in that story, too. 

I grew up in a family that focused on the similarities over the differences of religions, and I’ve carried that on in the best way I can. My grandmother called herself a Pagan, but she loved her Judaism, and respected the Christians and whoever else, as long as they used their religion to foster love and community. I remember seders being about the Jews and their exodus from Egypt, but they were also about all people who are bound by hatred and suffering. There was some goddess talk too–rebirth and release from the bondage of the long, hard winter into the new green of Spring. It was always made clear that it was no coincidence that Easter, Passover, and the first day of Spring all line up together.

I thought that it was my grandparents’ own wacky take on it, but I’ve since sat at so many seders where others have had their own wacky take on it, too. And it’s written into the very fiber of the holiday that we find our own relevance and connection to the story of Passover. I’ve been to seders with a focus on LGBT rights, and seders with more Martin Luther King Jr. quotes than Hebrew prayers. I think Passover is something we all can relate to, no matter what religious background we come from.

Who hasn’t been in bondage, whether inflicted by ourselves or others, and gone in search of a safe, true home? And on a larger scale, I find myself thinking about how much history insists on repeating itself, even right now, today, in every place where refugees are running from their own countries in search of a safe home. It’s easy to talk about the story and forget that people are living it right now. I think when we refer to collective memory, there’s an implication of collective responsibility, too.

Stephen Gottlieb, a commentator on my local radio station, spoke to this point in his editorial this week.

Not for ourselves alone do we pray, but for all our children. We all have a stake in each other’s freedom…The slavery of some makes the rest of us less secure.

Every year, I think about having my own seder here, and then I get nervous about it. It’s not the food–Passover food is so good that I practice it all year round–but when I imagine stumbling through the Hebrew and trying to remember the tune to the songs, I just feel like I’m not Jewish enough to pull it off. I feel like I need my grandmother, or really any grandmother who knows how these things are supposed to go. I wrote about this once years ago, and about my love for Passover, and someone commented on that post, saying I should be ashamed of myself for thinking I had a right to love the holiday and share it with my children. I’m not sure how they said it, but essentially they said I really wasn’t Jewish enough.

But I knew then as much as I know now that how Jewish I am isn’t the point. What I love about Passover is that I’ve felt a part of every seder I’ve ever been to. I felt it when I was a kid, and I feel it now. We each are able to take the meaning of the story and make it our own, and this makes the holiday entirely inclusive, even of those who aren’t Jewish at all.

Of course, the food is what I love most. I’d eat matzoh balls every day if I could (this recipe has been a serious game changer), and I love every bite down to the parsley dipped in salt water. I’ve always been a little envious of those who take communion, because it seemed so wonderful to have a real bite of food in your mouth be so charged with meaning. I never thought about it until this year, but the seder is an opportunity to have that kind of experience. The food itself tells the story and each taste is charged with experiences of our ancestors.

Maybe next year, I’ll do it. I was talking to a friend the other day about her memories of Passover, and her similar desire to do it now and make it her own. She perked up when I said I might make it happen next year. I’d imagine there are enough us to fill a table, and we can all try to stumble the Hebrew together. But the tunes of the songs? I think the girls have that part down.


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20 Responses to Why I love Passover

  1. Emily says:

    I’d love to make a seder with you!

  2. Jillian22 says:

    Beautiful post! The more I live in the world, the more I realize that all of our faiths are more alike than different. I’m glad you had a wonderful Passover!

  3. Jen says:

    Your description of this meal/experience has this communion-taking girl longing for an opportunity to witness and share in such a gathering some day. Your writing had me feeling like I was right there at the table with you, thank you for sharing this. I am picturing women gathered in kitchens for days preparing this special meal, which in its own right seems a significant part of the ritual. I love the idea of hours spent around the table, as a family or community, reciting prayers and sacred text all the while being filled with meaningful and nourishing foods and the imparting such collective memories from your history to the youngest at these tables.

  4. maxine says:

    I imagine the songs might be found on utube or via googlemeister…make traditions your girls will be proud to carry on when you are the grandmother!

  5. Neela G says:

    Given that every aspect of a traditional seder was appropriated from the Romans and various cultures of the Near East, I don’t think you should worry about being “Jewish enough to pull it off.” Because I’m an observant Jew, the preparations and practices of Passover are meaningful to my identity in particular ways, but I don’t believe that means that non-Jews or people who don’t identify as Jewish can’t find meaning in them as well. I know a couple who hosted a seder for twelve years…BEFORE they converted to Judaism. Celebrate and reflect in ways that you find meaningful, and let the Jewier-than-thou stew in their own bitter herbs.

  6. Beth says:

    I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in SW Connecticut and my family and one other were the only non-Jewish on the block. Consequently, I was invited to many celebrations with my Jewish friends and made lots of faux pas at most of them, including putting the wrong silverware in the wrong drawers, asking for a snack during one of the fasting holidays, and getting tipsy on the wine mixed with water. Nobody cared except the grandmothers! They always gave me the eye. Anyway, go for it — your seder will have the laughs and love that all good seders have.

  7. alwayshungry says:

    Beliefs whether spiritual or philisophical are deeply personal. If Passeover has meaning to you that is all that matters! It is true that if you want to host the holiday perhaps to do so with like minded friends would be… a “safer” bet! :) I say we should take every occation we get to celebrate life.

  8. Kim W. says:

    The very first Seder I attended was something that my roommate and a friend of mine spontaneously cooked up – and took place at a restaurant in Chinatown. My roommate, his girlfriend, my friend and me were the only people attendance, only 50% of the people at the table were Jews, and the only concession we made to traditional foods was in ordering the chicken lo mein rather than the shrimp or the pork. We didn’t have a Haggadah with us; instead, it was the two guys trying to remember their way through it, periodically explaining things to us two goyishe and paraphrasing wildly.

    There’s no “wrong way” to have a Seder and there is no bar stating that “you must be this Jewish or taller to enter,” is what i’m saying. In my opinion, anyway.

    • alana says:

      I love that, Kim. And I LOVE the image of you guys trying to remember your way through the seder in a Chinese restaurant. I’m keeping that one. :)

  9. Suzy says:

    We started having seders 3 years ago. Both my husband and I are Jew-ish, with little experience having or even attending seders. But I also find a beauty in Passover that I don’t find in other holidays and we wanted our kids to experience that too. So we jumped in feet first, feeling a little embarrassed by our inexperience. This year was a small seder with just one guest, but she gamely took part as our 5 year old hid under the table, our 2 year old threw gefilte fish, and the dog pooped on the floor. Absolute chaos, but so full of life and love and meaning that I wept through the whole thing.

  10. Wendy says:

    I love the way you treasure life! There is a wonderful resource for Passover and other things Jewish from another resident of the Berkshires, the Velveteen Rabbi (just learning my iPad &can’t make a link, but search and you’ll find!).

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