Passing over the past on my way to the future

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Passover Seder. Miami, Florida (circa 1980). The author is the young girl on the right.

The older Cora gets, the more thought I am putting into how I will raise her to have a strong sense of Jewish identity.  Living in Central Ohio presents certain challenges to this goal that my parents didn’t face while raising me, my brother, and my sister in New York.  Being the parent of a new child and contemplating how one will pass on their traditions is hard enough to do; doing this in a new land, somewhere other than where one grew up oneself, is an even greater challenge.  During the major holidays, especially those like Chanukah and Passover which coincide with Christian holidays that dominate the cultural landscape of the Midwest, I feel what it means to be a stranger in a strange land.

My mother came from a BIG family – her mother was one of four children, her father one of ten.  So, as the photo above illustrates, when I was a kid, we had BIG seders.  Everyone new all the songs and we sang late into the night.  My great-grandpa Victor nestled into his perch at the head of the table and didn’t leave until we had sung “L’Shanah H’Baah B’Yirushaliym.”  (This made finding the afikomen easy; it was always buried in the pillows beside him.)  I was pleased to have Cora attend the Interfaith Seder at OWU with me last year, so she knows what a BIG seder is like too.

For the past four years, I have been in Ohio for Passover so I could help host the seder at OWU on the second night of the holiday. On the first night, I have hosted seders at my home.  My husband, step-children, and friends have gathered around the table with me.  We read from a Hagaddah I made that is humanistic in nature and makes connections to events and figures we can all associate with the Passover story.  I have been proud of these seders and enjoyed sharing my traditions with everyone, but  I wonder what kind of Jew Cora will grow up to be if she doesn’t grow up with more Jews around our table.

The seder at OWU is also an Interfaith affair.  I have enjoyed this event and came to believe, as I will tell those in attendance tonight: “Being here is now a part of my holiday tradition.  There were traditions established before I got here that I look forward to and others I have helped begin.  Tonight we will add something new to the mix and I hope you’ll share your traditions and hopes for this seder with me and members of Hillel over the course of the evening.  That way, with each year that passes by, this seder will feel more and more like home.”  Even as I speak these words, part of me will miss my family and long to sit around the table with them again to recall the Passover story and eat matzoh ball soup.

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