Although sometimes it seems to be all that we talk about, Jewish holidays are so much more than cooking, and in the case of Passover, extra cleaning and shopping. Holidays strengthen the spiritual ties we share with family and friends and with Jews around the world. Our chagim blend ritual, tradition and the joy of being together, often with people we wish we could see more often. We catch up on family news, expound on events in the world (two Jews, three opinions), tell jokes (standard in my family), revive memories. We replenish our relationships and reinvigorate our love and connections. For my family, we had all of this on Passover, along with remembrances of a beloved family member as well as the joy of welcoming a new life.

Two years ago, right before Passover 2017, my husband’s brother, Jacob, died suddenly. He left a loving wife, mother and brother, four daughters and sons-in-law and 10 grandchildren. He was also mourned by extended family, numerous friends, his congregation in Silver Spring, Maryland, as well as colleagues at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C., where he worked as a physicist for many years.

Since his death, three grandsons have been born, all named in his memory. The most recent is Yaakov Chaim Vogel, born right before Passover to our niece Tamar and her husband, Josh. The bris was celebrated the first morning and Shabbat of Passover. The baby was named for Tamar’s father and Josh’s grandmother. For various reasons, some close relatives weren’t able to attend, so it was particularly heartwarming to me that our daughter and son-in-law were there, having flown from Maryland for the seders, as well as our son and my 94-year-old mother-in-law. The bris was held at Congregation Beth El-Atereth Israel in Newton, where Josh’s parents are members.

The following is from Josh’s moving explanation as to how Yaakov Chaim’s name was chosen: “We named our beautiful son, Yaakov Chaim, Jacob in English, in memory of Tamar’s father, Jacob Grun, Yitzchak Yaakov Yechiel ben Binyanim z’l and in memory of Shirley Ruben, Chaya Sarah bat Shmuel Shaya (Josh’s grandmother). These two very precious souls passed the same year, four months apart. Jacob Grun was a man of passion. A researcher, scientist, devoted father, husband and loving Saba. He never accepted the status quo and sought the truth for life and religion. He lived life to the fullest and succeeded from the ashes of Poland to creating the American dream for his family. He is profoundly missed in a way words simply cannot describe. The names Yaakov and Chaim come together to form the phrase ‘life should follow,’ or literally, be ‘seized by the heel of life.’ Having a new neshama (soul) in this world and joining Am Yisrael, Tamar and I couldn’t shake the feeling of how important it is that our son be blessed in understanding, strength and patience. We pray that Hashem blesses him with health, joy and clarity to see through life’s challenges.”

In a few weeks we observe Shavuot, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah. Shavuot is less work than Passover, plus it’s a mitzvah to eat cheesecake. Lucky for me, my daughter and son-in-law will be with us again. Before the holiday begins, we will participate, with other members of my extended family, in a fundraiser for The Angel Fund for ALS research. I wrote about my family’s connection to this cause recently. Thus Shavuot will be another holiday enjoyed with family and infused with meaning and mitzvahs.

Yes, holidays are much more than food and drink, but surely we can also enjoy the culinary aspect of our chagim. Wine is a symbol of joy and celebration. And who doesn’t like cheesecake? Enjoy!

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