This is the third year I’ve been invited to celebrate the first night of Seder with one of my good friends, but up until this time I’ve always either had work obligations or been intimidated by the prospect of squeezing into a studio apartment with 20+ strangers.
Man, am I glad I finally made it.
I should point out here that this family practices reformed Judaism, and the whole thing is more like a giant party than any sort of religious holiday I’ve been to. The vast majority of people didn’t practice Judaism, and even the hosting family practice Judaism culturally rather than as a religion.
While the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt was familiar from childhood Sunday school classes, this was unlike any Christian celebration I’ve been to. The entire evening, meal included, was written out in a book called a Haggadah, with the family’s own traditions sprinkled in.
There were songs in Hebrew that we all did our best estimation of pronouncing, but also family songs about Seder set to popular tunes – my favorite song whined about how cake, cookies, bread, and all of the best foods are banned during passover.
We put drops of wine on our plates to act as the tears of those effected by the plagues in Egypt, and ate herbs dipped in salt water to signify tears of the Israelites….
And then re-enacted the plagues by tossing plastic frogs, crushed ice (signifying hail) and miscellaneous toys (the plague of beasts) around the tables before mock strangling all firstborns in the room.
Look out! A plague of… laser stegosaurus?
Somehow, this juxtaposition between solemn remembrance of pain and joy with being surrounded by good food and friends – and a minimum of four glasses of wine – totally worked. Now that I really think about it, it reminds me of a Rob Bell video that I love as well; both this Seder and the Resurrection video below offer a hopefulness for this life that is not simply “one day you’ll go to heaven”, but instead that even when times are hard, there is hope in this lifetime, on this Earth, and with the people around us whether or not they are the sort of people you’d see in pews on Sunday morning.
I decided to take a page out of my friend’s book and celebrate Easter even though I’m agnostic; a cultural Christian, if you will.
A and I spent the day with his parents, and even after a year I’m still a tad anxious about being around them. They’ve been wonderful, it’s just hard to break the habit of feeling constantly judged that I picked up from interactions with an ex’s family.
I’ve tried to avoid any situations where I have to demonstrate competence or make extended conversation, but during this visit I took up both. I mean, in the grand scale of Resurrection and hope, what’s a little possible awkwardness? It actually turned out quite nicely, with the breakfast I made going smoothly and some time alone with his mom not being awkward at all.
To finish off my Easter I did my best to give grace to my family. Living with my sister and her fiance has been challenging at times and A has only heard me whine about them, so I made sure I talked about good things about them.
Being surrounded by liberals makes it easy to turn my nose up it my conservative upbringing, so I made a point of showing family pictures around. I put particular emphasis on ones that show my parents being affectionate to each other or myself and my siblings to remind me that as my parents they’re trying to help me become the best person I can be, even if our definitions of that differ.
I bragged about how good my mom is at playing the piano, how hard she had to work to homeschool all four of us, and how homeschooling made the rest of my schooling significantly easier. I talked about the painful work my dad does with elders in hospice, and how he has a passion for helping people that are preparing for the end of their life even though it seems like a hopeless time.
I talked to my mom for a bit, somehow managing to avoid the topic of religion even on Easter, and was pleased to be reminded that I really do like her; we disagree on some things, but she’s an amazing woman.
All in all, despite being agnostic, I’d say that Seder and Easter this year meant more than they have in a long time. Ironic, no?