Last night, I cooked until midnight, then crashed into bed exhausted. In my Orthodox life, I used to do this every week.
Of course, back then I didn’t work as much as I do now and I didn’t spend as much focused time with my children. I got things done. Make challah – check. Make brisket – check. Make chicken soup and freeze it in huge containers for several Shabbats in a row – check.
And when it came to Passover, I cooked for WEEKS, in my basement, using the 1960s Hotpoint (which is super cool and cooks better than my 7-year-old GE in the kitchen). I cut vegetables on a wood slab in the laundry room and washed dishes with special sponges in the utility tubs
And then I froze everything I’d made – brisket, chicken, roasted vegetables, matzo kugels, soup and matzo balls – because I was cooking in advance of the holiday so that I had ample time to clean every crevice of the house and change out the regular dishes with glass ones for Passover.
I covered counters. I taped up cabinets. I used special dish racks reserved only for this holiday and avoided the dishwasher for 8 days. And I didn’t begin the seder until well after sundown, which means my kids were never able to stay awake for even the beginning.
Not so now. Post-divorce, post-start-my-life-over, post-claim-my-life-and-write-my-own-definition, I have told you already how I now realize that the Orthodox life didn’t work for me. The Jewish one does, of course, and so it has been two years of deciding which rituals, which rules, which observances to keep and which ones to amend.
My ex-husband doesn’t like it and rightfully so – this isn’t what any of us bargained for way back when we first fell in love.But I just can’t sign on to a religious observance that made me miserable.
And so tonight, well before the sun sets but at the perfect time for my 3 angels, we will sit just the four of us around the dining room table, and recount the story that made our people a nation.
We will remember thousands of years ago when the Jews were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt. And I will tie in modern-day semblances, too – like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., just days before his death likening himself to Moses, who glimpsed the Promised Land but never stepped foot inside it.
And then we will spend a week getting back to basics. Together. We will savor the flavors of our heritage and we will all take part in the storytelling so that what we do today has meaning for all of us around the table.
And by the time night falls, we will climb into our beds and take comfort in the knowing that we are part of something bigger than just ourselves – but that each of us is a powerful individual without whom our tradition would have no relevance.
It’s not sacrifice the individual for the community, at least not in my house.
Both are equally relevant, equally powerful, equally poetic.
Have a good holiday everyone. Remember to savor the moments.