Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Passover is coming!

This is my favorite time of the year. I am Christian; my extended family is Jewish. I get to celebrate Easter, the arrival of spring and Passover all at the same time. And, theological implications aside, Passover is my favorite of all three. It is the fundament, the firmament and the joy all at once. It is the heartbeat in my spiritual year.

Let me describe what is the occasion of my annual joy -- for the past 25 years. Jack and Estelle are the patriarch and matriarch respectively of the annual Passover seder. Jack presides at a multi-hour, full-tilt-boogie, every-song-sung, every-verse-read (and many commented on) seder.

The matzoth are schmura, meaning they are hand made in special rabbinically supervised surroundings from wheat that has been tended and supervised through its life. They are round and delicious, not square and pasty like store-bought can be. The gefilte fish is home-made and incomparably fabulous. (Winter carp, people -- use winter carp!)

But it is more than the food, more than the adherence to tradition. It is the feeling of tribe, of family, of the same faces assembling, year after year to celebrate this Holy occasion. It is the only time in the year that I see most of these folks, and they enfold me into their midst as family. It is a place that I know I absolutely belong - without question or judgment. It has been a spiritual home for me when I had no other.

I have a threefold role that has happily evolved over the years.

1. I help Jack cook. Jack is the chef. I am the vegetable and fruit peeler. I will peel enough yams, potatoes, apples, onions, celery root, parsnips, carrots, beets for kugel, tzimmes, moror, chicken soup and whatever else Jack needs. There will be enough for two nights of 20 people each (even if he only has 1 night this year for 15.) I sit; I peel; Jack and I hold intellectual discourse; Estelle and I chat about life in general and in detail. It is a tradition. I love every second. This year we start on Thursday.

2. I arrive on seder evening with a series of odd facts about the liturgy. There will have been questions from last year. This year I will have researched the answers. I will also dig up side details that help us know more about the various people mentioned in the seder. I do this to delight and amaze Jack who seems to know everything there is to know about things Judaic. Finding a pearl about which he knows nothing is a challenge each year.

3. I am asked to read the same section of the Haggadah liturgy each year -- it is the closing prayer and it addresses G-d with wild abandon and thankfulness - it is a shower of prayerful joy, a flood of ecstatic praise. I will quote a tiny part of it here, but there is much more and at the end of it I feel both broken asunder and enlivened with praise. I read these words with millions of Jews around the world, and the world spins closer and closer to G-d, and He to us. :

To You alone we give thanks. Even if our mouths were filled with song as the sea, and our tongues with joyous singing like the multitudes of its waves, and our lips with praise like the expanse of the sky; and our eyes shining like the sun and the moon, and our hands spread out like the eagles of heaven, and our feet swift like deer we would still be unable to thank You L-rd, our G-d and G-d of our fathers, and to bless Your Name, for even one of the thousands of millions, and myriads of myriads, of favors, miracles and wonders which You have done for us and for our fathers before us. L-rd, our G-d.


Blogger alto artist said...

What a wonderful tradition! And the passage you read is one of my favorite parts of the entire liturgy. It's also read every Shabbat morning in the section of services called "Nishmat"--"soul." I read it and see those deer, waves, and eagles soaring as effortlessly as if they were fueled by the very breath of God.


7:47 PM  
Blogger Mata H said...

I love this section of the Haggadah -- the full prayer beginning with "The soul of every living being shall bless Your Name, L-rd, our G-d; and the spirit of all flesh shall always glorify and exalt Your remembrance, our King. " through to the finale seems like such a piece of divine music. When it gets to the section I quoted in the post I can feel my words take wing and start to lift from the commonplace. Each year the saying of it feels more mystical, more reverential. I am not sure I could read it every Shabbat and not burst into tears.

11:34 PM  
Blogger The Harbour of Ourselves said...

I sometimes wish I were Jewish - trouble is i like this guy jesus....

great post mata

9:46 AM  

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