Trying to explain Passover to my son seems almost worse than explaining the birds and the bees (and I already got that out of the way; seed+egg=baby. Much simpler than discussing the parting of the red sea and ten plagues.)
“So, now I have to eat matzah just because the Jews of a long time ago had no other choice. I have a choice.” This is what I was up against – five year old philosophical thinking. Of course I did the whole “we have to fight our choices sometimes” speech “and do what’s right.” Which was intercepted by my son who asked, “But, who decides what’s right? Can’t I decide?” I now felt I had no other choice than to use the “I know what’s right because I am your mother” lecture, but that is not how I roll, so I stopped stumped. What was the alternative? Break into song and dance –“Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof? But that would not suffice.
I didn’t think it would be as difficult as it was. I also didn’t think I would feel as though I was telling a fable or fairytale, instead of a truth. Me? I wanted to be a Rabbi when I was a little girl. (Not marry one, but be one.) I wanted to lead the congregation in prayer, stand at the pulpit and relate the wisdom of the Torah to our daily lives today. I taught religious school, Hebrew school and even Jewish day school in the past and it all came naturally. But telling my own son about the cruelties of the world, death of a firstborn, plagues and miraculous partings of seas suddenly felt Harry Potter-esque.
For some reason I had lost my story-telling ability and the belief behind it. I lost the little voice that told me it was all true. I even pictured Moses as a fictional character – Charleton Heston in the Ten Commandments and the parting of the Red Sea a tram ride at Universal Studios that preceded Jaws. What changed?
Even though I was feeling this way, I continued with preparations for the holiday and educating my son. We did art projects, crafts and read from the Jewish Holidays book, but he was not convinced. Maybe I was just not convincing?
I took my son to visit the Matzah Factory in the Chabad House in Los Angeles and we even baked are own Matzah. Still, nothing.
What did he need? What did I need? Had I simply lost my faith? The story of Passover played out in my mind like a three act screenplay or even a musical. (I guess it also did not help that I worked on Max Azria’s Ten Commandments Musical at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles before my son was born.)
I wasn’t sure what would be or how our seder would go, but we still had a lot of prepping to do. Would I simply go through the motions as I had until now (although I was really trying).
Would the moment of clarity come? (And of course like any three act play, it did.)
The moment or series of moments arrived as I was driving around looking for parking at our local Kosher market. The lot that was usually empty or almost full on Friday mornings (for last minute shoppers, like me), was not full. Not only was the lot full, but the metered street parking surrounding it as well. It was a Monday afternoon, not Friday morning and Passover was still a week away. Women hurriedly emerged from the market with shopping carts filled with Passover goods in preparation for the holiday. (They were really up on the house-cleaning duties. Sheesh, I was there to purchase some bread for sandwiches for the next few days, before I even began my cleaning.)
I watched in amazement as everyone was preparing. It appeared as if the celebrating had already begun. It felt good to be there, sans parking spot and all. Seeing everyone rush into shop with an almost excitement, renewed my belief in the holiday. A holiday celebrating freedom, as it was apparent at the market; people free to shop in preparation for a celebratory dinner.
I watched through my windshield as kids munched on chametz snacks, knowing they would have to do without them soon. I watched the busy moms schlep their purchases to their cars. However, I still did not get a parking spot and would’ve only had a few minutes to shop anyway between all my errands, and those minutes were now gone.
I headed home. Although grocery-less, I did come home with something - a renewed sense of the holiday. I guess it must’ve shown because my son exclaimed, “I can’t wait for Pesach,” which also renewed my faith in Judaism, as well as my story-telling abilities after all.
Chag Sameach! Happy Passover!