Ladies and gentlemen, Jews and Gentiles of all ages, I bring you the first night of Passover. I begin with a joyous (?) Happy Passover to all that celebrate. I too will go through the rigors of trying to keep the Passover for the coming week. Living in an even-more-than-average predominantly Christian community, keeping the Passover is quite a challenge.
I began the journey a week or so ago, taking my ritual stroll through the local supermarkets to locate their single small table or endcap with Kosher for Passover products. On the plus side, every store I went into had at least 8-10 items available! Yes, yes, I know 8-10 items does not exactly sound like the makings of a weeklong Passover feast. But there have been years gone by where I could not find even that many items, and when I asked the customer service folks or manager where I could find the Passover foods, they’ve directed me to the “Ethnic Foods” aisle, where all the “Jewish” foods are conveniently marked, “NOT FOR PASSOVER.” And yes, this led to the common shrug and “Sorry.”
From a purely business perspective, I can’t say I blame the local grocery stores for not carrying a healthy selection of Passover products. The Town of Gilbert (250,000 or so)contains exactly NO synagogues. The neighboring City of Mesa (500,000) has ONE that I’m aware of, and it’s basically an on-property Jewish meeting group at a retirement “resort.” (Chandler has two synagogues, one we belong to, but I haven’t heard much said about Chandler grocery stores carrying massive quantities of Passover goods either.) When you have less than one percent of your population claiming publicly to be Jewish, it’s hard to stock your shelves with products that won’t be purchased. I get that. However, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t sting to have to search far and wide to find things I can use to cook, bake or simply eat in a Kosher for Passover manner. In the past, I’ve traveled up to North Scottsdale, a good 45-50 minute drive, to find a better selection…but I stopped making those trips a couple years ago, when the same stores that had a good selection suddenly had almost nothing, just like the stores in Gilbert.
Still, every year I manage to battle through the majority of the holiday in a Kosher for Passover-style manner. I’ll simply go to eat places where I can avoid bread products. For example, this is a great time of year to pay a visit to the local Fogo de Chao. No, I can’t have their yummy Brazilian cheese bread puffs, but the meat, the mashed potatoes, the stewed/fried bananas all work quite well, thank you. Unfortunately, at $50 per person per meal, it’s a one-time-only treat.
And now, to make a sharp left turn… My initial idea behind writing this blog entry was something more serious and closer to my heart. Not that we are a particularly religious Jewish family, but I like traditions. I miss the days, long ago, when Passover meant two trips to my grandparents home in Rogers Park (a northern neighborhood in Chicago) for big family Seders (festive meals wrapped in a mini “service” featuring the retelling of the Passover story–for those unfamiliar, see also The Ten Commandments or Prince of Egypt). I always knew that my grandparents, my aunts and uncles (on my mother’s side–my parents were divorced and my father’s parents were very casually Jewish…), great aunts and uncles, cousins, and so on would be present. I knew I’d get to hear my grandfather, or later my uncles, leading in songs that we all knew, even if we couldn’t read Hebrew–just because we’d heard them every year for as long as we’d remember. I remember going down into the basement fridge to grab the glass bottles of RC or Coke or Sprite (mainly for the adults) to be shared at the table. I remember watching my grandmother Sarah cooking and cooking and cooking all morning and afternoon long, putting away the regular dishes and taking down the Passover dishes. I remember searching high and low for the Afikomen (a broken piece of matzah hidden by my grandfather, grandmother or uncles for a kind of after-dinner treasure hunt) to get the silver dollars my grandfather would give the “winner” that found it.
For years, I tried to get to a point where I could emulate those Seders. Both my kids were diagnosed from early on with pretty severe ADHD and mood disorders, which made a longer sit-down dinner nearly impossible. I would still try–and fail glamorously–and tell myself that it was okay, as they grew older, I would eventually be able to get them into this fine tradition. One of the traditional sayings during the Seder is “Next year in Jerusalem.” For me, it became more like the eternal (until very recently) Cubs fan saying, “Maybe next year.”
Micah was fiercely proud of being Jewish–even if sometimes he acted as though he would prefer to be Atheist. He got in a schoolyard fight with a then best friend over telling that friend (at about six years old) that there was no such thing as Santa–he knew because he’s Jewish. He would regularly accompany me on my Passover shopping excursions and get very bent out of shape over the lack of Passover foods. Micah would be given the music for his Winter Holiday Concert and be ticked off that there was almost nothing about Hanukkah, but “lots of Jesus music.” It was scary how much religiously-themed rebellion I saw of myself in Micah. I guess, well you know, apples and trees and all. I really think Micah was heading for being a great analytical lawyer some day, if he didn’t become an NHL goalie or a professional singer first (his words, not mine). And this is where I actually started my thoughts for tonight’s blog.
A good chunk of my hopes for passing on this tradition to Micah have perished. Sure, Avi might decide to grab hold of and pass on this tradition, but the way Micah thought and acted, I was sure…I was positive…just give him a little more time to settle into his own mind and body…and now, emptiness.
Why is this night different from all other nights? Because this is the first First Seder that Micah is not sitting at my Seder table. He is not in the loft playing on his Xbox waiting to be summoned a second time. He will not sheepishly refuse to sing from the Haggadah, but then give in and remind us what a beautiful voice he was gifted with.
Perhaps Micah will come in tomorrow night when we open the door for the prophet Elijah. I guess we’ll know for sure if the next song we hear is “Betrayed” from The Producers or “Hasa Diga Eebowai” from The Book of Mormon.