My Shiksa Version of Passover
When my daughter was little, I decided to raise her in the Jewish faith. It was the heritage her father was born into, and I considered it to be the crown jewel of faiths. Atoning for your sins once a year and getting a clean slate from which to begin anew each September. The belief that life and how you live it are what matters, not doing good deeds in expectation of a fabulous hereafter. Education. Discipline. Family. Judaism had me at hello.
I am thorough. I studied the holy days and did my best to bring all of the traditions into our lives, like Passover, with the door left open for Elijah to enter and all the elements of the Seder plate, each of which has some symbolic meaning in this ritual that has been repeated every year for centuries. Centuries. Once a year. Imagine. I loved it. But it was the story that moved me the most. The fact that the Jews were celebrating God’s gifts to them – of sparing them from having to sacrifice their firstborn sons, and of their ensuing freedom from slavery. I’ve come to find this even more moving over the years, as I continue to learn about the ongoing abuse and mistreatment of the Jews at the hands of my forefathers – and yet, through all the peril they faced (and still face), they celebrate and give thanks and continue to believe. They continue to focus on what they have, not what they have lost over the centuries.
But while I wanted Sarah to have her heritage as one of the chosen people, I never felt that I could truly be one of them. One reason was my friend Merna, who loved me like a daughter but was quick to tell me that her son could never marry me because you can’t convert to Judaism. Not really. You’re either born into it, or you’re not. Please understand I had no desire to marry her son, who turned out to be not a great guy at all, but her point was that I couldn’t be in the club. So I admired the faith more from afar, rather than being part of the congregation.
Ever adapting to circumstances, though, I have come to approach my experience with Passover from a revised perspective that fits me and my life and experience. I might be a shiksa – a non-Jewish woman – but I embrace my shiksa version of Passover.
I have faced hardship in my life. Lots of it, actually. My daughter taught me to stop comparing our pain proportionally to those worse off than ourselves. That we are allowed to feel what we feel, and the fact that there are those worse off than us, either in that moment or in general, doesn’t lessen our experience of sadness or regret or anger. Great lesson. Fabulous person. So, while some of you might compare my fortune and seemingly easy life to your own and think, “She has nothing to complain about,” I know that sometimes I’m overwhelmed by what I have overcome or endured or escaped. It’s my history, and I can view it from my own lens.
So, as God made sure the killers “passed over” the homes of the Jews back in that time, I realize that I have had the good fortune to be passed over as well. I have survived. Nothing has felled me permanently, or truly held me back from a work in progress who is living a great life. Nothing that has happened to me has changed my belief that I have the potential to do oh so much more. That I am lucky. That I am filled with experiences for which to be grateful. That I can keep tragedy and pain in the rearview mirror, rather than in the road ahead. That something has kept me safe and alive and healthy for seventy years – and, with the grace of destiny, will give me another Passover next year to contemplate and celebrate and appreciate my incredible, flawed, productive life.