In Which I Discuss Passover

I do not keep a Kosher home. Nor do I honor the Sabbath in the traditional sense. Neither of my son's fathers are Jewish and my daily life isn't lived in any sort of outwardly Jewish fashion. But I am Jewish. I was raised Jewish and I value Jewish traditions and customs. I identify myself first as a woman next as a Jew and American after that.

Having said all of that you might wonder how I could marry outside my faith (twice) and justify raising children in a mixed-religion environment. Or how my home could be so far removed from what a traditional Jewish home looks like. To those questions I have always replied that my faith is personal. Not personal as in I don't want to discuss it. Rather, it's about me and not about my marriage—I don't consider my marriage to be a religious institution. Would it have been wonderful to share my traditions and spiritual beliefs with my life-partner? Of course. But that's not how it turned out. In practice, Niall and I share very few spiritual connections and I sometimes feel alone on this leg of my journey. But I've always understood that no one person could be everything to another and having found someone who respects my religious eccentricities (really—all of my eccentricities) makes me feel infinitely lucky.

Passover may be my favorite holiday of all. It is a celebration of freedom. We tell the tale of the Jews' exodus from slavery in Egypt and their release from bondage. It's something I take for granted all year—my freedom. And then Passover comes around and I am reminded to pause and think about freedom and slavery, about free will and bondage, about the ways in which our society contributes to the freedom or slavery of ourselves and of others.

When I married Sean (Jake's father) I became acutely aware of how exclusive our Seder was. Large portions were in Hebrew therefore not understandable to many of our guests, and a 'leader' did much of the reading—leaving the participants to bide their time while waiting to eat. About twelve years ago I took it upon myself to compile and edit a family Hagaddah (the traditional guide-book for the Seder) that would speak to the heart of the holiday and include all in attendance. While researching that project I learned just how much this holiday could be interpreted as a human celebration and not just a Jewish one. Like any good piece of literature, the theme is timeless. Yes, it's born from the biblical tale of exodus, but who among us couldn't use a good reminder of how lucky we are to be free.

In recent years our family celebration of freedom has taken on an increased significance. I wrote about it last year but the story remains so relevant that I'm going to share it again now.

My cousin Zach was a Marine who served multiple tours in Iraq and fought in the November 2004 battle to retake Fallujah. In January 2005 he testified before the Senate about the need to protect and provide asylum to the Iraqi translators who's lives were in danger for serving in conjunction with the United States Military. In short, they put their lives on the line every day to help American Soldiers. After being forced to flee Iraq with his family, Zach's translator Abood, came to America and has since become a part of our extended family. They attend our Seder and our Thanksgiving dinner (among other holidays) and their presence is a bright reminder of what we have. Maybe this year we need to remember that more than ever.

In it's essence Passover is not that different from Easter. Both are festivals of rebirth and renewal. At Passover the Jews were reborn from bondage into freedom. We symbolize this on the Seder plate with a hard-boiled egg. (Sound familiar?) And while I don't partake of the traditional cleaning rituals, I do consider it a time to awaken from the deep inactivity of winter. It's a natural moment to clear the closets of the mess and sweep under the sofas. Spring cleaning—it's something everyone understands.

Universal themes: freedom, renewal, fresh starts; gathered family and friends and good food—perfect.

Happy holiday to you and yours and may we all have the presence of mind in the midst of difficult times to cherish our freedom all year long.

Tomorrow: my two favorite Passover recipes.