Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why was last night different?

One of the questions we ask at our Passover Seder every year is:  

Why is this night different from other nights?

Why indeed!

Last night Sariel and I hosted our first Seder together.  Surrounded by family, friends: new and old, some who've been celebrating Passover their whole lives, some who are discovering their Jewish souls and, I believe, some who are re-discovering their Jewish souls.

Okay, that's not so different.  

Jews around the world gathered last night to tell the story of when we were slaves in Egypt and how we became free.  We eat bitter herbs and matzoh and then have a big feast.  Those who haven't snuck out early, share the symbolic dessert - the afikomen - drink at least two more glasses of wine and end the night with our wishes to be together in Jerusalem next year.  And we musn't forget the singing - sending our guests home with containers full of food, on a wave of song.

But here's the 'different' part.

This is the first Passover since Sariel and I have been together that we haven't been in our own 'mitzrayim'  (literally 'a narrow place'; Egypt, land of our slavery).  

The mitzrayim of infertility and pregnancy loss.  

At least one year, I'm sure, I was surreptitiously drinking grape juice, trying to hide the early stages of yet another pregnancy.  

One year, plans well underway for us to host the seder, we had to change the venue because of where we landed in our IVF cycle.  

Ugh.  That was not a pretty seder.  We found out the morning before the first seder that, despite daily injections of $1000 worth of medication, for days on end, I was, in fact, a 'poor responder'.  There would be no retrieval, no icsi, no transfer...probably no baby.

We have been graciously hosted by friends and family over the years - and experienced the whole gamut of Seders - from the sublime to the ridiculous.  

Yet, no matter how sublime (or, for that matter, how ridiculous!) there was an underlying thread of pain, yearning, envy.  Passover, like so many Jewish holidays, is a family holiday.  We are commanded to 'tell our children' the Passover story.  For those who are single, childless or otherwise not involved in a 'traditional' family, these holidays can be very painful. 

During a holiday celebrating our liberation, some of us find ourselves still in personal bondage.

So last night was a big deal.  Not just the cooking for 15 (thank you, my hero, Sariel!!) and preparing everything and finding a Haggadah that would have at least a little something for everyone -- Oh, don't get me wrong, that was a big deal too.  

But the really big deal was the joy in our hearts as we welcomed people into our home.  We made a place for them.  We invited them into the family that we are - Sariel and I.  

I looked around the room as the Seder began, everyone waiting expectantly for me to begin, to lead them - and I felt a sense of completion that I haven't felt for a long, long time.  

I do not have children to teach, to lead and to share my love of Judaism and all it entails.  I will never have my own children.  That is sad and I honour that grief and live with it.  I am coming to accept that I will always live with it.

I still have a passion and a love to share and the gift of having created a welcoming, inclusive home where people from diverse backgrounds, can share and learn and laugh and break matzoh together.

That is something.  That's not just a consolation prize.  That is something substantial.  Something that Sariel and I have constructed intentionally, something we have 'birthed'.

At the end of the Seder as people were chatting and patting their full, satisfied bellies, one of the guests asked if she could share a few words.  This was a woman, originally from Canada, who had spent many years in the States, married, had kids, divorced and is now back in Canada to make a life here again.  She very graciously thanked us for including her in our Passover Seder.  Then she went on to tell us that, at the age of 61, this was her first Passover Seder.  She discovered 6 years ago that her mother was Jewish and, since then, many things clicked into place for her.  As she shared her story, I was proud of our guests, who accepted and celebrated her and enveloped her with love.  A few of us around the room shared knowing smiles, having walked similar paths and felt that amazing sense of homecoming.  

Her story, her courage to share it with a room full of people who just hours before had been strangers - what an amazing gift she brought to our home.  My heart overflows with gratitude not only to her, but also to G-d, the Universe who has taken me on this strange journey of peaks and valleys and brought me to the place I am now.  I can think of no other word but beshert.  That this year, of all the years, we got our selves together enough and found ourselves in a place of strength and healing to be able to share our Passover Seder with so many and include this wonderful woman.

I could go on and on, and maybe some of this will come out in another post, but I'll stop here. 

Sit back with a cup of tea, continue tidying and allow this smile and abounding gratitude to flow out of me and through me.

Chag Sameach.



  1. It's just such an interesting issue. Birthday party for Grandpa D on Sunday, and Grandma M doesn't feel free to forward the Tulips We Bring song on YouTube to Grandpa's daughter (with newborn twins), because there are "issues" about adopted grandkids. Those adopted grandkids are my kids. And wherever they belong, dang it, they just belong.

    Conversely, if someone wants to hide their kids away as possessions, it'll sure gonna bite 'em in the ass someday.

    Blessings on anyone who can figure it out, and just build some kind of belonging that holds up long enough to give a little simple shelter, like a booth open to the air, but keeping the hot sun off of one.

    And bless you for feeling strong enough to belong, and still remember your sorrow. Gratitude, when and how you can. Gotta love it.

  2. I am not Jewish, but I got a little teary-eyed reading this. You sound HAPPY. I am so glad!

    Some years ago at our church, right around Passover/Easter, we had a guest speaker from Jews for Jesus, who talked about the history & traditions behind Passover & described a seder for us, and the meaning behind all the different elements of it. I know they are a somewhat controversial organization, but it was absolutely fascinating to me -- particularly the similarities & parallels with our own Christian traditions. After all, as he reminded us, the Last Supper -- which we commemorate as our Communion service -- was a Passover feast!

    I've never really hosted any big family holiday gatherings. Partly because our house is very small -- partly because my FIL is one of the pickiest eaters on earth (insert eye roll icon here) -- partly because the very thought of all the work & stress involved makes me feel panicky. But I have to admit, our childlessness is probably a big factor too. You've set a great example for the rest of us to follow, Shlomit!

  3. I want to reach through the computer and give you a long, joyous hug. Mazel Tov on your escape from Mitzrayim! I'm so glad for you. Chag Sameach, my friend!