I grew up celebrating all of the Jewish holidays, well almost all. I have to admit that as a child I did not embrace the minor fasts and did not experience Tisha B’Av until I spent my first summer at Camp Ramah. But all the major Chagim were marked by special foods (I still have never tasted anything like my grandmother’s gefilte fish, hamentashen or mun cookies) synagogue attendance, holiday rituals and family gatherings. Shabbat also played a constant role in my life, evolving as I left my parents’ home and made choices for myself.
I continued to embrace these traditions as I made a home of my own and my children continue to celebrate, sanctify and yes, eat! Yet, when was the last time I actually thought about why I celebrate? Why I make chicken soup (almost as good as my grandmothers) and why the rituals feel so right? Sure, I can give the easy answer, because. Because that is what we are supposed to do; because in my family we always have chicken soup on Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah and Pesach; because it just feels right. But what does it all mean to me?
Out of curiosity I read Abigail Pogribin’s My Jewish Year. Abby sets out to do something she has never done, for one year celebrate every Jewish holy day, fasts included. The task in itself was not so incredible to me as I know lots of people who do that naturally every year of their lives. What moved me was what she learned and what I, in turn, remembered. As Abby looked at the holidays with fresh eyes, she illuminated for me the fact that there can be new meaning in every ritual, if we just remember to look for it. What will I look for this year during Pesach?
This past Shabbat my Rabbi discussed getting rid of internal Hametz, the sourness that sometimes sits within us. The congregant sitting next to me, a very knowledgeable gentleman, really liked this concept, but it did not resonate for me. I don’t feel negativity within people; I usually am able to see the positive traits and good in most individuals and I don’t let ugliness sit inside me. I needed another path. For me Pesach is about taking the time to step back and appreciate the joy in being a Jew. I like being different. I like having customs that are unique to both my religion and my family. I like being able to share, both as a mother and a teacher, what makes me feel connected to age old and new traditions. I enjoy having one week out of the year that starkly sets me apart from almost everyone around me, especially in Tampa, Fl.
I remember my children being the only ones bringing matzah to school for lunch. Believe me they were far from the only Jewish students in their high school, but they visibly stood apart those few days every year. And they were proud. That is what I will look for this year. I will remember how Judaism, and Pesach in particular, allows me to feel a distinct pride in my culture, my practice and my traditions.
Reading about Pogribin’s journey allowed me to step back and reflect on the beauty of our Jewish year. The diverse nature of our Jewish communities allow for a myriad of ways to celebrate, each one bringing joy and meaning to the participants. My Jewish Year challenges us to keep our traditions alive and recognize that with Judaism the same is always new.