As a public school child in the 70’s, my Valentine’s Day often ended in tears. I remember digging into my optimistically large brown paper bag in first grade to find only three envelopes, even though my mother had insisted I fill out mass-produced cards for every child in my class. “No one likes me!” I […]
“What matters?” Zoe likes to ask, her arms held up in the universal child-asking-a-question gesture. She thinks it means “what’s the difference?” To me, she sounds just like Yenta in Fiddler on the Roof whenever she says it, most often after I correct her pronunciation of a word. ( “Shrimp, shrump,” she shrugs. “What matters?”)
In the weeks leading up to Passover, I’ve been thinking a lot about what matters. Many years ago, I lived a life bound quite closely by halacha, Jewish law. While there were still decisions to make, many choices were cut and dry, and didn’t involve much weighing of personal priorities. I did things they way they were supposed to be done, and the way so many other Jews around me were doing. This life worked well for me when I lived on the Upper West Side, in a vibrant community of really thoughtful and relatively diverse observant Jews. But when I moved to a small Jewish community with very few observant Jews, I began to feel a need to balance my need for community with my love of (many parts of) traditional Judiasm. (What did it mean to keep shabbat all alone? What level of kashrut did I want when I no longer had to worry about who would and wouldn’t eat in my house?) When I married and started a family with a non-Jewish man, and essentially cast my lot outside of the traditional community forever, the questions became both more complicated and more urgent.
So this year, I decided to make thing easy for all of us. I’m working full time, teaching at a day school, which means I have the whole holiday off, as does my older daughter. So, I thought, let’s go to Bubbe’s for Passover. A great plan – no kashering the kitchen, no Passover shopping, and lots of quality family time. But, no Papa for the whole holiday??? That didn’t seem right to me. So, I re-thought, let’s do seders here and then go to Baltimore. But, well, my brothers were going to be at my mom’s and I wanted them to see the girls too. So, I re-re-thought, let’s have one seder here and then go to Bubbe’s.
As the one and only partner who really cares about how Judaism is practiced in our home, every decision is in my hands. And because I don’t feel obligated to halacha above and beyond all other values, each decision, each glass, each mug and each crumb, and what I do with them, is complicated. And fraught with a lot of hand wringing. And, somewhat inexplicably, guilt. It was so much easier when I was a “good Jew.” But I am learning a lot about….what matters. To me, anyhow.
ps, Here we are, one big happy family, searching for chametz. For the first time, at their request, the girls hid four of the pieces Keith and I to find. They loved helping us try to find theirs, but hadn’t quite reconciled their divergent definitions of “hot” and “cold.” Most often, we were both. At the same time.