Today Christians around the world celebrate the most important religious holiday of our faith, Easter, while our Jewish brothers and sisters come to the close of their major religious festival: Passover. This brings me to memories of holiday past.
Looking back on my childhood as a young Boomer growing up in the sixties and seventies, I remember how my little Jewish school chums Vicky and Terry and Anita would be away from school for approximately a week in order to celebrate their holy days. I envied the extra time they got off school and I greatly missed Vicky, who was of my best friends. After their period of religious observance was over, they would come back to class with stories of a special meal shared around the family table with close friends and relatives.
As I remember the Easter of my childhood, with the beautiful Easter music at church (and the new outfit complete with hat, gloves and purse — my friend Elizabeth always had ruffles on her socks, another thing I very much envied!), and the little seed pots we planted during Sunday School class, there is one thing without which Easter would not be complete: family. As for my Jewish friends, food and family were central to our holy feast day too. There would be the big turkey that my mother would have placed in the oven early Sunday morning, so that the meal would be ready when we returned home from worship, and my grandmother and great aunt would be there to share the meal with us. Indeed, the celebration would not have been complete without them. And if my brother and I had not stuffed ourselves silly on all the chocolate eggs the Easter bunny had left us in the wee hours of the morning, we would enjoy a most delicious dinner!
Now I would be dishonest if I were to tell you that these holidays were perfect enactments of the happy family meals portrayed in shows like Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, the Donna Reid Show, Ozzie and Harriet or The Partridge Family. Our family dinners were not like those depicted in a Norman Rockwell painting. Far from it! While my great Aunt Maude bordered on sainthood, my father’s relationship with his mother was strained at the best of times and this often impacted our gatherings. But even with their imperfections, I still miss these special family meals, especially since four of the people are now gone and my eldest son is teaching far away in the Middle East.
These memories tug at my heart strings all the more this spring, as we enter our second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. How do we celebrate these special times without our loved ones near? Perhaps an answer can be found in the traditional Jewish Seder meal liturgy. As the family gathers around the table, a child asks: “Father, why is this night so different from all the others?” And the father (or now sometimes the mother) proceeds to share the story of their family history from long ago, how they were once slaves in Egypt until God freed them from slavery and brought them to a new land.
Today, friends, if you cannot get together with your family, use this time to write a letter to each of them, especially the youngsters. Tell them about the struggles, challenges and disappointments you have faced in life (we all have some!), and share how you got through them. Then remind them of the Hope of our faith and the Promised Land which lies beyond COVID and beyond all our heartaches, difficulties and sorrows.