When a Good Jewish Girl celebrates Eastover

Of all the Jewish holidays, Passover, steeped in tradition, song, and food, has always been the most fun. Our regular kitchen was closed for the week, and we had a special ‘Kosher for Passover’ kitchen in our basement where we would convene around a long table with extended family and friends, surrounded by seventies furniture that hadn’t survived the upstairs renovation – a sectional leather couch, a massive television set, and a treadmill. I was allowed to drink wine and my sisters and I would sing the songs by heart while our cousins performed a who-could-eat-more-horseradish-before-burning-your-face-off competition.

We would go around the table and read a Hebrew passage from the Haggadah in the order in which we sat. Except when we arrived at the section about the four sons: the wise one, the wicked one, the simple, and the one who does not know how to ask. Even though it wasn’t my turn, my mother would slap her hand down on the table and call out my name to read: “Oritte! The wicked one!”images

It probably should have upset me to be called the wicked one (the bitch?) but instead it filled me with some perverse pride. Yes, I was the middle child, tomboyish and stubborn, but mostly, to me it set me apart. It meant that I was unique in my mother’s eyes. Besides, I was too young to be wise, too much of an over-thinker to be simple, and too curious to not ask a million questions, so perhaps I was just wicked by default.

And so I would read aloud in Hebrew: “What does the wicked son say? What does this drudgery mean to you? To you and not to him. Since he excludes himself from the community, he has denied a basic principle of Judaism.”

I never thought about the meaning of that passage and its applicability for me until this year, when I celebrated Passover with my family on Friday night at my sister’s home, led by her husband who is a Rabbi, and then celebrated Easter at Church with my Christian husband on Sunday. I’d attended Easter services with him before, and Christmas too.

When I happened to speak to my mother on the phone Sunday morning, she asked me, “What are you doing today?”

Three years ago, when my goyfriend and I were just becoming serious and my mother had asked that question on Easter morning, I didn’t tell her the truth. Why upset her unnecessarily? Why cause conflict or try to explain my position, when I couldn’t explain it to myself? I didn’t really understand the meaning of Easter; I was going to support my husband and honor his faith, just like he honored mine.

This time, I answered her without hesitation: “It’s Easter,” I said. “We are probably going to Church.”

“What?” she said, not hearing me.

And then I said it again, this time removing the apologetic word “probably” intended to spare her (but really, me) of discomfort. “It’s Easter,” I repeated. “We are going to Church.”

A brief almost imperceptible pause followed by, “Okay, have a good day.”

Progress is an interesting thing and reveals itself in unexpected moments such as this one. It made me think of how, back when I announced to my mother that my goyfriend and I were discussing a future together, that our relationship was healthy and we communicated about everything, she said: “If you talk about everything, have you talked about him converting?

We’ve come a long way in a short time. My parents have embraced my choices and love my husband, but mostly, they love me and want me to be happy.  And slowly, I am learning about and embracing the meaning of Christianity, my husband’s faith. If I really want to understand what makes my husband tick; how he thinks, sees the world, and how he loves (including how he loves me), I need to understand the root of Christianity. If I really want to know my husband, I better get to know this guy named Jesus. And it helps that Jesus was a Jew. The night he was crucified, he was hanging out at a feast surrounded by other Jews and eating matzah, just like we were doing in my family’s basement. the-last-supper-godefroy

But in doing so, by learning about Jesus and the Christian meaning of Passover, by getting more comfortable with it all, was I cementing my persona as the wicked child? Was I excluding myself from the community by doing so, by denying a basic principle of Judaism?

Except it didn’t feel wicked – it felt good. And three nights later, my husband invited me to a Passover banquet organized by some Christians he knew from Church. My heart leapt with excitement and identification. A Christian Seder, hosted by a woman with a Hebrew name, hosted by my people! It sounded welcoming, a place where both my husband and I could honor each of our own faiths, but at the same time – together. I was fascinated.

The banquet took place at the Yale Club, in a large ballroom that must have held countless Jewish weddings, I thought to myself, as my husband and I sat down at our table. It was adorned with the familiar Seder plate and goblets for wine (which to my dismay were later used for Manishevitz grape juice). An older grey haired man – a Rabbi – got up on the podium. He was dressed in a kitel, a white robe worn by traditional Jews during sacred events, like my Rabbi brother in-law wore when he married my sister, and on the Jewish high holy day of Yom Kippur. He resembled most of the Orthodox Jewish men I grew up with.

“I am a Jew raised modern orthodox,” the Rabbi said as he welcomed us. “And I believe that Jesus was the Messiah.”

The Rabbi was a Messianic Jew, I realized with a start. I was at a Messianic Seder. Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 7.06.17 PMIn my ignorance and superficial recollection, Messianic Jews were bohemian types, “Jews for Jesus” holding signs in public squares. But this, the warmth in the room, the welcoming smiles, the young professionals sitting across from me and the elderly couples at the other tables were nothing of the sort. The blessings and chants were identical to those I sang at home.

When we arrived at the “time to eat” section of the Seder, I began talking to two women sitting beside me, both Christians in their thirties, one of whom worked in advertising like I did. She asked me how my husband and I met.

“I was on my way to Brooklyn for a Hannukah party…to meet Jewish guys,” I said. “But I had to make a pit stop at a bar for a friend’s work party, where he happened to be. I never made it to the Hannuka party,” I smiled. Come to think of it, seems like whenever I am Jewish holiday bound, God offers up an alternate route.

“You’re Jewish?” she asked. “That’s so great. It’s so great that you’re open.”

“Open? What do you mean?” I asked.

“That you’re here,” she said.

I laughed, pleasantly surprised. Being here – partaking in a Christian themed ritual had become so natural for me that it didn’t even occur to me that it might be unusual. It wasn’t something I was making an effort to do. I wasn’t trying to be open. It had become something I just did. That I wanted to do.

We began talking about dating in NYC (an endlessly amusing and frustrating topic, as I’ve blogged about ad nauseam). They were both single, hoping to meet a Christian. Another woman at our table spoke of a recent break up to a Jewish man whom she almost married.

“We were together for two years…we were so in love,” she said. She had started the process of studying with a Rabbi, considering conversion. But in the end, they couldn’t surmount their differences. More specifically, she said his parents could not.

This filled me sadness, and I looked at my husband, our eyes meeting in a shared moment of gratitude that he and I had been blessed enough to allow our faiths and shared belief in God to unite us, rather than divide us. That we had found a way to integrate our faiths, converging on this very holiday of Passover, be it the Jewish version or the Christian one. And that our families, rather than inserting a stumbling block in our path, had found a way to embrace it too.

The Seder concluded with the traditional chant, “Next year in Jerusalem!” which commemorates our exodus from slavery and into freedom, into the land of Israel.

I thought about the freedom that I had been afforded, to commemorate the rituals of my religion freely, and my husband’s too.

And I recalled how last year at this time, my husband and I were actually in Jerusalem, touring the Old City’s Jewish and Christian quarters. Celebrating Passover in the Holy Land – both mine and his.

Another cub bites the dust.

I skipped a posting last week because I was sick, although in hindsight, that was probably a cover for the real reason. I think there was too much uncertainty roiling around in my subconscious, and I couldn’t work out what to tackle first. I also must have intuited that it was too early (and personal) to write about what was to come a few days later: a break up with my tall, young, sweet and Aidan-like goyfriend.

Most of my friends don’t know yet but the few that I’ve told reacted with the classic, “Whaattt?? What happened?!”  They were surprised. Things seemed to be going so well.

We all know that just because things look great on the outside, doesn’t always mean that they actually are.  Although to my boyfriend and I, on the inside, it was looking promising. We were going through the good relationship motions: checking in with one another, sleeping over, sharing stories, dining and wining together. When I was sick he bought me yellow tulips. The image of him standing by my bed, this huge guy clutching this tiny unbloomed bouquet makes my heart hurt.  I had given him a key to my apartment just a week before. 

He even met the Fockersteins, for god (his and mine) sake!   And afterwards, my mother went out of her way to Google ‘Amazon’ and send me a book, signifying that my man and I had a future, entitled “Marrying a Jew, from a Christian perspective.” I freaked. My goyfriend was on his way over and I found myself hiding the book and its receipt like it was porn. I emailed Mom to tell her that if I needed more information on interfaith relationships, I knew how to Google too, and could do so when I was ready.

My point is, I wonder if the visible increase in such niceties indicates that there is something wrong under the surface? How many times have you heard women express great shock over a break up, specifically because the guy “texted me just the night before to say he wanted to spend his life with me!” or “but we just planned a vacation to Hawaii!” Are we actually more emphatic, more lovey-dovey to our significant other, just before we break up with them? Is it denial, or are we overcompensating, in the hopes of eradicating our doubts?

Looking back, I think some of this was going on with us. We were ignoring the elephant in the room for a while (no not the Christian one…a cute image though. And by the way, if you think I’m avoiding the real reason we broke up, you are correct. I’m not going to go anywhere near that in a public post, out of respect for him, and because even for a blogger, there are some things that are really no body’s business.)  A year ago, with my last boyfriend, I could go a long time blissfully ignoring things – ignoring my gut. But not anymore. At least there is a silver lining to this breakup. Amidst the heartache, at least I know that my gut and I have become best friends – the kind of friend I listen to, who doesn’t project her own agenda, baggage, or neurosis on me like some friends tend to do.

My dad said it best: “I see you don’t sit on the pot too long anymore.”

When I told Mom we broke up, she surprised me. Rather than reacting with her predictable “Heeeeee!! Mah karah?” (“What happened?” in Hebrew…Mom switches to Hebrew for important subjects), she listened. 

And then in a soft patient voice she said, “Cougel, you will be okay. You’re strong and practical. You’ve been through a lot worse.” 

How true, I realized. After the end of a fourteen-year marriage, followed by a three-year relationship with a guy I was envisioning marriage number two with, the failure of a four-month relationship, no matter how in love I felt, doesn’t scare me.  I wonder if the loss of love hurts less with age and experience, or more, because the older we get, the greater our despair. Or perhaps the rate of our recovery correlates with the quality of the relationship itself, and how certain we are deep down that it just “wasn’t right.” Four days after my breakup, and judging by how I’m doing, I’m pretty certain that for me it was the latter.

It doesn’t mean I didn’t cry the day we broke up. After Mom and I hung up, I called her back to tell her one more thing: “By the way. I’m going to keep the book you sent me….for the next guy.”

Mom burst out laughing (I love that she can laugh at herself) and then I joined in. It felt good. Mom also knows there is some truth to my comment. The likelihood that my next boyfriend won’t be Jewish is no surprise, nor does it seem to freak my parents out anymore (Call it acceptance. Or learned helplessness. Either way, I’m glad).

The upside to all of this is that now I can start blogging more freely again, without worrying about respecting a boyfriend’s privacy (my own privacy, as evidenced by this blog, is fair game).  Although I doubt I will start online dating anytime soon, no matter how good the fodder is for my blog.

But when I do, you’ll know.