“You know, Mommy, the 4 Questions aren’t really questions – they’re more like statements,” said Eliana.
Asher sang the entire kiddush, the prayer over the first cup of wine. Shaya did the 3 of the 4 Questions in Hebrew, showed us his paper-plate frog and sang “No, No, No, I will not let them go…”
Invoking the memory of my late grandfather, my children negotiated the return of the Afikomen (I gave them Barnes & Noble gift cards and silver dollars, just like Grandpa Artie gave me) and we ate matzo ball soup, hard-boiled egg in salt water, brisket and matzo seven-layer cake.
It was a blissful night and by the time we all fell into bed very late, the perfectly circular moon brilliant yellow in the night sky, we were connected in a way that I’d always hoped I’d reach with my children. We cuddled and watched the National Geographic special on the scientific plausibility of the 10 biblical Plagues before drifting off to sleep.
When I was a child, the Passover seder lasted an hour, with my grandfather presiding over the head of the table and everyone present reading an English paragraph or two. We sang a few verses of Dayenu, ate my grandmother’s strawberry fluff and homemade gefilte fish and strategized under the table how to steal the Afikomen from between the pillows on which Grandpa sat.
At my first Orthodox seder, in Jerusalem in 2000 alongside my then-fiance and 30-some of his relatives, I learned that I was obligated to ingest a gigantic shmura matzo sandwich with romaine lettuce leaves, haroset and horseradish – and I could not eat the real meal, nor even speak, until I did so.
I didn’t love it nor did I love the way my soon-to-be nephews fell asleep on the floor of the hotel ballroom because it was hours past their bedtime and the adults were so focused on following every single word of the Haggadah. Later, I hated the weeks upon weeks of preparation, scouring my house, locking up cupboards with duct tape, covering the counters and lugging trunks full of dishes from the basement.
For me, Judaism has always been a personal pilgrimage to meaning – not to rule-following nor to God-fearing. Just striving to find definition for our days, inspiration and the rich flavors of a shared heritage.
Last night, as we drove away from my parents’ house (we surprised them after our private seder by ringing the doorbell and proclaiming, “Elijah’s here!”), the kids and I spotted the very full yellow moon.
I almost couldn’t drive, I was so focused on the craters of the orb, so clear in the night sky. “I think the moon is coming closer to the Earth,” Eliana theorized.
“It’s like we can reach out and grab it,” I said.
“But we can’t, Mommy,” Eliana said. “It’s all the way in the sky.”
“Maybe there are aliens living there,” Asher suggested.
“Aliens aren’t real,” said Eliana. “Do you believe in aliens, Mommy?”
“Well…it’s hard to believe that we are the only living creatures in the whole universe,” I said.
“But people can’t live on other planets,” Asher said.
“True. So maybe other types of creatures can and they are aliens,” I said.
And we drove home, toward the moon but never reaching it, pondering the meaning of it all and the many definitions of existence.