Being Jewish in a non-Jewish Community: Passover?

By: Seth Finkle

With Passover come and gone for the year, I have started reflecting on what celebrating this holiday meant growing up and how much it has changed since then.

Growing up, I always loved celebrating Passover. My grandparents always had the seder, and I have very fond memories of family and friends gathering for the meal. I do have distinct memories of us singing “Dayenu” more than once because it was my favorite song, my brother helping me learn the first question so I could sing it, and even once fighting with my brother about getting the gift for the afikoman. This time of year in Hebrew School was always about drawing pictures of one of the plagues, and once we even reenacted the Red Sea parting and the Egyptians getting crushed by the waves as the Jews escaped. This was all followed by eating matzah for the next week.
Matzah, yup, is something that my friends LOVED. I know that seems weird to write, but yes, they LOVED matzah when I brought it to school. I always had a few friends who wanted me to bring extra for them to eat. “It is just like a giant cracker!” they would say. They never understood how it messes with your insides and after a few days, you cannot stand eating it (in my case). “What is so bad about eating it for a week?” and “It cannot be that bad, right?” are just some of the questions I received. On the other hand, my friends could not answer why they celebrate Easter with chocolate eggs and a bunny.

It is funny, though, because this holiday never made me feel so different growing up like other celebrations and customs did. It was a time for family, eating, and being together to celebrate our freedom. It was really AFTER I moved away that the holiday surprised me. When I was living in the DC area, I went to seder at my aunt and uncle’s house. Growing up, I had heard that this was a really religious holiday but never experienced it. Man, was I surprised when I went to their house and I learned what a religious seder was! We started at 8 p.m. or so, ate dinner at 11:30 p.m., and then had the SECOND half of the seder. When I left at 2 a.m., I knew I had experienced something. That is not to say growing up in Gloversville, I did not celebrate the holiday, but I had NEVER heard of anyone in the city doing it this way or even doing two nights of seders. I could never imagine doing that two nights in a row. Come to think of it, I do not think I knew there was supposed to be two seders growing up. Celebrating in DC made me realize that what is so great about being Jewish is really the traditions that bring us together. Does it matter if I have one seder or two or if our seder is 30 minutes or 6 hours? The answer, of course, is no! I know that now. When I was in college and in DC and I heard all these stories about how people celebrate the holiday in the same way but differently, I started to understand why I am proud to be a Jew, and it is for those reasons I mentioned.

I love that being Jewish allows us to celebrate in our own ways. When my nephew was 2, this was the seder plate we used. (See picture attached.) This year, we were at my stepsister’s house where my stepbrother-in-law had my brother have some Passover shots with him and his brother and father, we had a 30-minute seder (the Hagadah was called that), and the table had a 4-, 7-, and 2-year-old and an 8-month-old baby. There were still tons of laughter, and it was so fantastic to see a new generation of children learning the story of Passover and having such joy in their faces when they were asked questions and knew the answers. (It brought such joy to my face to see my 4-year-old nephew exclaim with joy that he knew we eat matzah!)

I guess this post is not about celebrating Passover and how it made me feel different growing up but more about coming to the realization that what celebrating not only Passover but other Jewish holidays means to me and where I am in life. I want to end by saying it once more: This holiday has made me realize that we might celebrate all night, 30 minutes, 1 day or 8 days. In the end, we are all Jews, and we are free to celebrate how we want. Isn’t that what this is all truly about?

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