For me, Passover is all about the stories. Not just the central story of Passover – which is more of a meta-story – but the stories we tell in our homes each year that become part of the tradition.
I just couldn’t bring myself to celebrate Passover this year without Kimmy.
I know that’s silly. She was Catholic. How could her loss keep me from celebrating a Jewish Holiday?
Kim was a central part of my celebration for a quarter of a century.
Kim is part of my story. She always said her sister was my best audience – but Kim was my favorite person to talk to and to listen to.
So many stories.
There are the stories I remember from Passover’s growing up.
There were stories that my mom would start and that my dad would interrupt and say, “that’s not what happened” and then she’d say, “ok, you tell it.”
There were stories my father would start and my mother would decide he was telling it wrong or taking too long and she’d interrupt and take over.
There were the stories where they would begin them and interrupt themselves because it wasn’t on a Thursday it was on a Friday and they remember it because cousin Beth Ann – wait no, it wasn’t Beth Ann it was her sister Carol …
I’d listen and think, “wait a minute, that’s not how they told the story last year.”
Or I’d think, “we’re opening the door for Elijah, we’re going to hear about the year the cat walked in.”
Passover is about stories and family traditions.
We go to each others houses and swap stories and add to each other’s traditions.
One year Kim and Jodelle and Bill signed up for a Seder that was intended for non-Jews at a nearby reform temple. I went with them and had a great time. There’s a story we still tell from that seder.
The Rabbi led everyone through the recitation of the plagues where you dip your finger in your wine and dab the wine drop on your plate for each plague.
After the recitation most people put their finger in their mouth – you wouldn’t want to waste that wine.
The Rabbi said one of the purposes of that section is to remove a drop from your cup for each plague. If you put your finger in your mouth then you are “drinking” one of the drops that you removed. You should instead wipe your finger on your napkin.
We tell the story each year at that part of the service but we still put our fingers in our mouth instead of wiping it on a napkin.
Another year we went to my thesis advisor’s house. Initially his wife was reluctant to have us as she never included non-Jews at her table but she thought about it and welcomed us into their house.
That year the Seder fell on Good Friday. Kim participated fully in the Seder. The hostesses’ mother and father were there and Kim and I just loved them immediately. When it came time for the meal, Kim took a little bit of everything but passed on the meat. The father looked at her and winked and quietly asked, “Good Friday?” She nodded.
Our host, my thesis advisor, shared something at that Seder that stuck with me. It was a little thought but meant so much to me about the meaning of the holiday. So much of the meal talks about the Jewish people’s escape from slavery in Egypt.
Our host reminded us that while many cultures think back to a time when they were kings, it’s important to us to remember that we were once slaves.
It’s a sentiment I shared every year that we hosted a seder.
Another year we went to a friends house where the hosts were all non-Jews. They had somehow mistranslated the song “Dayenu” to mean “It would not have been enough” instead of “It would have been enough”.
And so instead of a grateful people, who would have been satisfied with lesser gifts, their translation amounted to us repeating, “really, that’s all you’ve done for us – that’s not enough”.
Kim kept looking at me until at last I quietly said something. “Oh,” said our hosts, “that’s very different.” Suddenly, the text made more sense.
It’s a story we told in our home every time we sang the song.
We used to watch the Rugrat’s Passover Special with the kids each year before our seder. I loved it. In that telling the babies were the Jews, as in, “Pharaoh, let my babies go.”
There’s a scene where the Pharaoh wants a bunch of babies thrown out – but then complains when it is time to take a bath, “you threw out the baby with the bathwater?”
Before we had kids we looked at our religious differences and commonalities as we prepared to get married.
We first met with the priest who married us at around Easter/Passover time. We were talking about how many traditions from each are similar. The priest told us that when he was at Seminary they had invited a rabbi to lead a Passover Seder. Midway through one of our priest’s fellow priests-in-training and whispered in his ear, “look at all the traditions they stole from us.”
Kim loved telling that story at our table.
Actually, my favorite expression of that story is one that I’ve told here and elsewhere. But on Passover we retell stories even if we retell them differently.
The fact that we didn’t have a Seder this year isn’t going to keep me from sharing it.
It was Elena’s last Passover and she sat between her grandfathers. She took the matzoh and passed it to my father. He looked at her because she held it back a moment. She looked him in the eye as she put it in his hand and said, “body of Christ.”
That is still my favorite Passover story to share.