This is a funny week, wedged between Passover and Easter. My kindergartner doesn’t have school due to Good Friday (thankfully, my infant’s day care doesn’t follow this schedule, or else I’d be writing this at 3 a.m.), and then it’s a long weekend for Patriot’s Day. I’m wedged between two holidays—and two pasts. Dramatic!
On Sunday, we’ll have Easter brunch with my parents and brother. My lapsed Catholic husband is already assembling our kids’ Easter baskets (I had to dissuade him from buying Andy a Razor scooter—when I was a kid, I got candy).
Until my maternal grandparents died, we had Easter dinner with them every year in their formal dining room, complete with huge pastel baskets covered in cellophane, heavy with candy and fake straw, followed by a nicely glistening ham. Before we drove up to Lowell from my parents’ house in Acton, my dad would hide little chocolate eggs throughout our house, and my brother and I would tear through the living room and dining room, knocking each other over, trying to find them. That was about as athletic as things got in our house.
We didn’t have a Passover tradition. My paternal grandmother wasn’t a hostess or an entertainer; more likely than not, she’d join my Nana and D at their house for Easter dinner. My paternal grandfather died when my dad was a teenager, and he didn’t have much in the way of extended family.
So I’ve always relied on the kindness of Jewish strangers, and I didn’t start going to seders until I was in college. One of my English professors took a shining to me and used to invite me to his house for dinner with his wife and kids. He knew that I was fascinated with Woody Allen and Fran Lebowitz, and that I was half-Jewish. That was good enough for him. I sat smiling awkwardly during the readings and songs, trying to follow along and go through the motions. I remember a feeling of relief wash over me when the matzoh ball soup and gefilte fish were presented. Maybe this is why I still love gefilte fish?
Now I have kids and want to expose them to what I didn’t learn about growing up. Each year, friends have been kind enough to take us in, like half-Jewish wanderers, to their families’ seders. Andy sits with his child-sized yarmulke, I slurp my soup and shamelessly inhale my brisket (and gamely sing along) and my husband even reads aloud from the Haggadah, not butchering too many words. The only thing in common with that night and our Easter free-for-all is the pressed tan pants I force Andy to wear for special occasions.
It’s funny: He’s never not been to a seder. We’ve gone to one nearly every year that he can remember (and my 6-month-old drooled his way through his first one this year). For Andy, toggling between Passover and Easter is completely normal. For me, it still feels novel and exotic. He hunts for afikoman and eggs; I hunt for a little piece of my past that feels lacking. People wish me “Happy Passover!” when I explain that I’m logging out a little bit early from work, and it makes me feel somehow special, like I’m rediscovering and reaffirming a piece of my history that never existed before.
It’s nobody’s fault: My parents aren’t religious and I wasn’t brought up that way, and I don’t resent it. I’m just happy to reconnect with a part of my background that felt hazy up until adulthood. This week, I’m glad to eat gefilte fish—and to go out for eggs Benedict for Easter brunch. And I feel lucky that Andy gets to do the same.