Diaries Magazine

Mixing Passover, Easter, & Humanism

By M0derngirl @M0DDERNGIRL
Mixing Passover, Easter, & Humanism
This week is my 5th ever Passover, and my 7th and 8th seders ever. The first year, I was a complete nervous wreck - there was so many rituals and components to a seder. It all came natural to everyone else, but completely scared me. The second year was mainly the same - I think I cried to my fiance just before the seder began. The third year was finally different because I participated in 2 seders, and finally my first outside of my fiance's home. I learned that even though there is a "set" way my fiance's parents hold a seder, it's not the only way, and I'm not expected to have all the components understood. Last year, I also attended 2 seders, and wasn't really fazed at either one because I was beginning to get the hang of it.
Another big difference between year 2 and year 3 was I started learning basic Hebrew. Year 3 wasn't much of a success, it was really more of a frustration. I probably put in 20 hours studying Hebrew letters, sounds, and the 4 questions, yet none of it was familiar on that night. Year 4 was better. I had gone to an Orthodox wedding that previous fall, had been a bit more immersed in traditions, and my "reading" of Hebrew sounds had improved dramatically. Of course, I also probably put in another 20 hours of studying the language. I had started to recognize the songs, and at one seder, I could almost follow where we were on the pages by the first letters of each line of the songs.
I haven't studied at all for Passover this year. Given that I went to Israel in August, and did lots of studying before the trip, I feel I met my Hebrew crash course quota for the year. It might be a little foggy since that was 8 months ago, but I'll manage. I'm no longer really intimidated by seders (which is really good).
They are still long, and have way too much food, and happen much too late at night. But they're no longer scary, they are something that I almost look forward to. Given that I'm not Jewish, I do have a unique take on them. As a humanist, several components of the Haggadah clash with my personal beliefs, such as the focus on the plagues and the demonizing of the Egyptians. As a participating non-Jew, I also feel excluded by a lot of the language. As I wrote in 2010, there are various Humanist, Secular, Feminist, and Interfaith Haggadahs available that use a very different tone. Elements of these are tempting to me, such as re-framing the holiday to be about the importance of freedom for all peoples. And I always want to bring an orange to put on the seder plate. Or at least a water cup for Miriam.
This year (like in 2010), Passover is happening with Easter. I sound like a broken record, but my relationship with Easter is complicated. We never went to church on Easter but I grew up observing lots of "secular" Easter stuff. My Mom would lay out tons of chocolate and candy on the table for Sunday morning. We'd get sidewalk chalk, or skipping ropes, or hula hoops, and there'd be a big ham dinner in there too.
When I moved out to university, I kept the chocolate eggs and the ham dinner, but dropped everything else, especially the religious stuff. In my first year of graduate school, I dropped the ham dinner, and I started eating a few chocolate eggs around the Vernal Equinox (first day of spring) because that's the time of Ostara, which is a more historically appropriate time to celebrate with colorful eggs. Easter weekend was just another Labor Day, Family Day, or Victoria Day to me.
Except, I never got over the Good Friday stuff. In Grade 8, I microwaved some canned ravioli and was halfway through the bowl before I realized what I was doing. Maybe it was just guilt, or maybe it wasn't cooked long enough, but I was queasy after. In 2008 or 2009, I mindlessly made chicken stirfry for lunch and again was queasy before I made the connection to Good Friday. Ever since, I've tried to stay away from meat on Good Friday.
It's completely irrational. Even my mom, (who was brought up more religiously than I was) had meat last year on Good Friday. She even says I'm ridiculous for being this way. I fully acknowledge that. I'm not doing it because I believe in deity. I'm not doing it to obey the church laws or cultural traditions. I simply avoid meat on Good Friday because I do not like being queasy.
Anyway, Easter and Passover are co-occuring, and for possibly the first time ever, I'm attending a seder on Good Friday. I've warned my fiance that I mostly likely will not partake in the matzo ball soup (it has chicken broth). The first seder is at a relative's home who usually prepares turkey as the main course, so I plan to just eat the veggies. There's typically enough food at a seder that I would never go hungry even with cutting out the soup and the main entree. However, I'm worried about offending the relative - the second seder will have one vegetarian present so I wish the days had been switched.
I feel silly for insisting on not eating meat on Good Friday. It's just a silly religious law, it's not a scientific law. But then, if anyone who keeps kosher tries to get me to bend on it, or feel weird about it, that's really unfair. The laws of kosher, and particularly the laws of kosher for passover are just as unscientific and unsubstantiated as meatless Good Fridays. People who observe religiously dictated dietary laws really can't condemn me for it - except that I'm not a true believer, and I've always rejected my Christian background.
And that's perhaps the most disturbing part of this paradox. Although I'll always be a culturally-raised Catholic, I do not believe in Christianity. If anything, my agnosticism has been creeping towards atheism. Even Unitarian Universalism has become too dogmatic for me. I'm a stubborn free thinker who loves science.
So why am I so hung up on this Good Friday business?
Moreover, I find myself slightly more observant of a secular Easter this year. I forgot to eat Easter eggs around mid-March, so I rounded up some various Cadbury and Kinder eggs. I found a purple Easter basket (with purple "grass" and I placed the eggs inside. It wasn't a big deal, but that alone is the most I've done for Easter in 10 years.
Part of me feels like this has to do with my upcoming marriage. In less than 2 months, I'm getting married to someone with a different religious background. I know with all my heart he's the one for me. And I'd much rather marry an observant Jew than an observant Christian. And while my fiance is not particularly observant, I'm fully aware that he could become intensely observant in the future, and I'm ok with that. I'm ok with learning more Hebrew, and observing the Jewish holidays in our home, and helping him maintain his Jewish identity in anyway I can. I'm also ok with raising the kids to consider themselves as Jewish and to provide them with a sense of religious identity - as long as I can teach them to be open and tolerant to other religions, and as long as I can teach them about the holidays of their maternal grandparents. That means bringing them to my parents' to help them celebrate their grandparents' holiday. That means reading books about Diwali, Eid, Yule, and even making crafts or coloring pages to teach them about other cultures and other families' traditions. And thus far, my fiance is ok with this plan.
But it's still tough for me. We'll teach the kids that Passover, Hanukah, and Rosh Hashanah will always belong to them and their dad, while Christmas and Easter will always belong to my parents. But where do I fit in? Can I get both? Or neither? Or just the Jewish stuff?
There's no right answer.
We've worked out the Christmas stuff I think. No big tree in the living room, but perhaps a tree in the back den or basement family room when we have a home with a den or a basement family room. But what about Easter? Can I have my chocolate eggs, pastel colors and potato salad? Or do I have to suppress it?
It's especially difficult because in the next year, I will have to change my lifestyle dramatically. I'll be living with someone who goes over an entire week without eating bread, rice, pasta, pizza crust, cake, cereal, beans, peanut butter, and legumes. While I plan to fully participate (somehow), I know I'll do so for him and not for me, because I simply do not share those religious beliefs, and likely never will.
As much as I'm willing to support my fiance and to help him be "as Jewish as he wants to be," I am not prepared to fully assimilate and wash away my cultural heritage or my identity. Perhaps Easter really means nothing to me and that's all that this is about. Humanism doesn't come with the festivities, foods, decor and tradition that Christianity and Judaism do. My fiance's culture has so many traditions, rituals and rules, and mine doesn't. Maybe I'm just trying to over compensate.
So how do I get past it? If Judaism will never be mine, how do I learn to love and celebrate Judaism without losing myself? Water it down to a secularized/Humanist version? Balance it out with elements of my Catholic heritage that I don't sincerely believe? Or just rewrite the whole thing?
Although it's conceptually flawed, and commercially tacky, I'm tempted to create an Easter/Passover hybrid of a holiday that has an Humanist twist. Somethings like Chrismukah. Some celebration of freedom, equality, and rebirth with bunnies and matzah, potato salad and chocolate, songs in Hebrew and sidewalk chalk. Yeah, it's be a complete disaster.
I guess I just need to remind myself that it could always be worse. If I was a religious Christian, things would be much more complicated. I'd be trying to through Jesus into things, which really wouldn't work. I'm grateful that my agnostic humanistic beliefs don't clash too much with how my fiance actually thinks and believes. Despite our differences, we do see the world in a lot of the same way. It's just, Judaism is an overpowering tradition-heavy culture that I'm scared of losing myself in. I guess that's the way most Jews probably feel about Christmas.

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