Last night we celebrated the Passover seder. I had been carefully prepping Ari for a few weeks. We had a few books we read and a soft seder set, complete with springy matzah and a purple kiddish cup that Ari loved to have me "fill" and then glug down the wine--after the brucha, of course. He kept saying, "More wine, mama!" He learned some of the Four Questions, filling me with parental pride, and also learned "Eliyahu" and "Dayenu." I was thrilled and couldn't wait to show him off.
The day of the seder came and Ari had been sick for several days--with fevers of over 104. He was better, of course, but he was tired and not at his best. He refused to wear a kippah, wrestled with me and with Andi at the table, several times whacked our hosts and drowned out the seder leader during the seder. In other words, he acted like a 2 year old. Okay. Fine. Eventually we took him away from the table, bringing him in every now and again to listen to the songs. He wouldn't participate at all, except to raise his soggy stuffed kiddish up and say, "A'hayim" ("L'chayim!")
Our hosts seemed to be charmed.
Today was going to be a day off for me, to go to services. But since Ari had been sick, I had mounds of work to catch up on--I still do. Taxes and papers and job applications. I have been getting emails from peers asking me what I am up to next year. As if I know!--I seethe with silent mortification and do not answer.
I took a little break during the writing of one paper to peruse a book that I had pulled out for Ari for Passover but that he shunned--it was a little long for him, anyway. It was called "Make a Wish, Molly" and it was about a little girl who emigrates to the U.S. around the turn of the century and whose parents only speak Yiddish. She is only accepted by one girl at her school and when she is invited to this girl's birthday party during Passover she has to wrestle with her decision whether or not to eat beautiful American birthday cake--and what the consequences will be, either way. It is a lovely little story and as I read it I mused over Molly's point in time. We Jews have a tendency to locate ourselves in the past--in our heritage of remembrance. We keep a compact with our ancestors to remember them and what they went through. We ask our children to remember too. It means everything to us--to pass along these memories.
I thought about how, for many American Jews, there is a clinging to the point in time that Molly inhabits. The time when everyone spoke Yiddish and when to be a Jew was a clear cut thing. Americans may have hated and feared us, but we had each other and our own eternal wisdom to guide us. We were a people. Now American Jews aren't quite sure what we are. Many go to services and don't know the words of the Hebrew prayers. We are an isolated people.
Molly is remembering the more distant past, her ancestors who left Egypt. We remember her, our ancestors who left Russia. Yet we dignify that history with a glossy nostalgia. We forget how hard and sad and tormenting it was to be different then, to be alone, to struggle on. We are only proud that we did, that we maintained ourselves, that we are still Jews.
I realized as I looked through that book that there is a part of me living in and in service of the past. Not just my Jewish past but my Armenian past. I am trying to serve my ancestors, trying to remember them, trying to make certain that they live on in me. And I want Ari to do the same thing.
That isn't so bad. But what happens when in living for the past--or for the future--we forget about the present moment?
Here I am, a Jew blogging on Passover. Is that so bad?
This is the present day truth and where we are in time. I feel so blessed to have reached this moment. I'll take my son anyway he is--cranky, rude, and oblivious to his heritage, drinking pretend wine from a pretend cup.
Let's start a new Jewish tradition--of being in this present moment, exactly how it is. It does not mean we are absolved from our responsibilities in this world. But neither must we cling to a reality that is not our own. Somewhere, we can forge ahead, inhabiting things as they are.