Take your light-encrusted pine trees, bright birthday bows on mystery packages and belting out “Oklahoma!” on stage and in the shower: It’s all good, but to me, Passover is the real ticket. How do I love thee, Pesach? Let me count the ways:
- Passover lands on a full moon at the height of everything out these windows turning fire green. Lilac are breaking my heart with their scent and color. Cottonwood Mel (named for my dead father) in our backyard is sprouting teenage-sized leaves. Tulips are calling, “Look at me!” and the redbuds are co-mingling their purple miniature flowers with the pale green of baby leaves in the woods.
- For so many years I can’t remember, we’ve hosted Passover for crowds at our house, renting tables and chairs (Anderson Rentals’ staff smile at me and say, “Passover again?”) and making the traditional Passover main dish (as deemed by us) when you have vegetarians, vegans, lactose-intolerants and carnivores all coming to dinner (which turns out to be eggplant-driven vegetarian shepherd’s pie but dear me, there’s no eggplant to be found ANYWHERE this year so I used lots of other vegetables instead). Hosting Passover means we truly clean the house, which makes me happy, and that we get to hang out on the deck or porch with dear friends, watching the sky and remarking on how beautiful everything is.
- I say “hosting” Passover, but I kind of lie because our Passover comes from collaboration. Judy, Reva and I — with our families — have done joint Passovers forever, folding in other families. Everyone brings something or two or three. No one is overburdened with cooking the whole enchilada (if there were enchiladas, they would have to be made of matzoh meal, which could be tricky).
- Our service comes from a small booklet Judy snagged years ago that uses myriad names for God, which is as it should be in my meager mind. God is called all manner of of names, including my favorite, the Popeye god, “I am that I am.”
- We sing. Relentlessly. Loud and even off-tune despite having some spectacular singers among us, the non-spectacular of us who have trouble staying on key — e.g. me — help bring it all down to what in Yiddish is called haymisheh — down to earth.
- We drink Manischewitz wine (and better stuff). A lot of it. Passover’s where my kids learned the perils of a hangover after the giddy tilting of being a little drunk. We drink because we’re supposed to and because it helps us sing louder.
- We eat great food: matzvo ball soup (and always make the same joke about the poor matzvo giving up his balls), gefilte fish with horseradish, salad and fruit salad, the shepherd’s pie mentioned earlier, macaroons and flourless chocolate tortes, and my favorite: matzvoh with choreset and horseradisk (the bitter and the sweet of life — according to the sedar, “have a taste of life.”).
- Did I mention we sing? Not just during the service but at the end when we belt out all kinds of Passover songs, found and created, that take musical or folk tunes and substitute the words (“Take me out to the sedar” to “Take me out to the ballgame,” plus “Horseradish, Horseradish” to “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”). We sing the traditional “Dayenu” so friggin’ fast that by the end only Judy and Reva are still on track. We do that strange drinking game when you have to recite increasingly long passages without a breath or drink a glass of wine. Then we belt out “Chad Gadya.”
- The dead are close to our hearts at this time, particularly those we celebrated Passover with for years. We have not just Elijah’s and Miriam’s cups of wine (inviting those prophets to drop by and have a glass), but Ben’s cup, remembering Ben Zimmerman, activist like no one else and very funny, loving man who was like family to us. This year, we’ll also be remembering Denise’s mom, Linda, and our friend, Maura. Passover is a holiday of liberation, and how can we not remember and honor those who gave us life or friendship or freedom along the way?
- Someone always yells, “Next year, south of the Wakarusa!” (our take on “Next year, in Jerusalem”) because we know liberation and life is where you find it, plant yourself and then pause to look at the ongoing beauty, joy and tenderness in the moment, such as the one tonight when I look around our odd configuration of tables and chairs where we make with our makeshift family a way to celebrate the depth of spring, community, song and ceremony.