Oy Betcha: A Passover Miracle

Last month I wrote about how I was baffled by Purim, and pretty much every other Jewish holiday. Well, the truth was a little worse than I had let on. I’ve actually been losing my enthusiasm for the whole thing in this last year.
Let me back up. A few years back, for a college assignment, I attended a service at a local synagogue. I’ve rarely been an Atheist in my life, but I’ve never been religious, and had actually never even stepped into a house of worship before that moment. I walked away moved and uplifted. It wasn’t anything that was said at the service. It was a standard, weekday evening service. Pretty much everything was in indecipherable Hebrew, and there were barely enough people in attendance to form a minyan. The rabbi was zipped up in a hoodie, and attendance was mainly the elderly, mourners, freaky me in the center, and a young couple with a baby visiting from out of town.
And it was nice.
It was more than nice. It was moving. I’m not really sure why. Some would rock back and forth in prayer. Some would chant and kiss the corners of their tallit. And everything was just so…nice. It was inspirational, really. And it made me want more of that. I never really thought about why. I suppose I just assumed Judaism was always like this.
Tiffany and I have been exploring Judaism for a year now and we both realize that it isn’t always like this. We’ve been to a few different synagogues. Some are surprisingly churchy, and some are small and traditional, but none had that feeling of that one evening service, and I really had began to wonder if that night was just strange; a unique night that would never repeat. And I wondered if all I had read or known about Judaism, its emphasis on family and community and Torah was just a little bit of wishful propaganda.
I am happy to say that for one family, at least, it’s not a bit of propaganda.
My Purim article scored my family an invite to a Passover seder from a colleague, and that was very welcome, but also nerve-wracking, because we’re never sure what to expect, and we also don’t feel very good at any of this stuff, and when you feel like you can’t participate, you can’t help but feel like an interloper, or at least some kind of audience member coming to watch a show.
We all got out of our car and before we even got to the front door we were greeted with hugs and handshakes on the sidewalk from our friend and her parents waiting at the front steps. We were welcomed inside and introduced to about twenty people, young and old, and there, waiting for me, was my favorite thing in every Jewish home: the box of random kippot. My daughter got to wear a green one, her favorite color, and my one year old son looked adorable.
The meal itself was an event. Everything was done in turn and well described. They said why they were washing their hands and why they were dipping celery into salt water. And it wasn’t just for our benefit; they seemed to be discussing it for their own, as a reminder of what makes them who they are. We sang songs, both classic Hebrew songs and English songs set to tunes from the Lion King, and I’m thinking “Yes! You can do that, and it doesn’t look like a cop out! It’s awesome!” There were magic tricks! And the most magical thing of all, there was actually Torah discussion. People read Torah quotes from their custom made Passover program, and debated their meanings. There were literary readings, and conversation about what it means to be Jewish, and what responsibilities that comes with. And most importantly there was genuine celebration. They were so happy to be there, with each other, celebrating their faith. The evening was full and vibrant. It was the first celebration that seemed on par with the Christmases and Thanksgivings I had at my grandparents’ house as a kid, but better because it was mixed with something that actually felt important to me. It was significant.
This, I realized, was the religion I’ve been looking for. As much benefit as synagogue can give us, this is a religion that is meant to be practiced in the home, around a table, with family and friends. It’s charged us up again, reminding us that this is actually attainable. We’re excited.
Of course, eight days of matzot has taken a bit of the wind of our sails, but hey, at least we’re not wandering the desert, right?
(Image: anomalous4)