As I blogged last year, Jewish converts in their religious holiday journeys often start out as staunchly traditional as a brisket, but equally often end up as easygoing as a matzah lasagna at a Passover seder. It’s not that we decide the weight and fuss of tradition isn’t meaningful. But as we come into our own as Jews and get a few years of personal Jewish history behind us, we no longer need tradition as a training wheel. We finally learn to relax into the melody of our holidays while feeling confident about improvising our own solo lines.
That said, last year I didn’t have the chutzpah to make the matzah lasagna I talked about serving at the seder Ryan and I host every year. This year, however, that main dish is going to be a Chicken Alfredo Matzagna all the way. Following my more traditional gefilte fish log and matzah ball soup. As my early 2018 Passover lesson has been, there’s no need to walk away from tradition–or community–just because you may not fit into it perfectly. It’s important to have ground beneath your feet–to know where you’ve been in order to know where you’re going. You can honor the fabric of the life that you live while adding to it and expanding it in new ways.
Besides, we just really hate brisket.
Here’s a roundup of my Passover experiences from the beginning of my Jewish journey to the clearly Pesach-relevant lessons I’ve learned and shared this very week. May some of my journey and my lessons have meaning for you as well, and may you and yours have a Happy Pesach–or a wonderful Easter–and everything else in between.
- Passoverwrought (2011): The strident Passover that ended early at Subway. “Plan all the phoney matzah meals you want, or avoid it completely and subsist on permitted meats and quinoa. No amount of advance planning will take all the sting out of observing Passover. Nor should it.”
- Passover and Stay Awhile (2012): The Passover I finally got it right. “What a difference a year makes. Last year I was Passoverwrought. This year, I saw Pesach coming–and happily counted the days.”
- Personal Pesach Posek (2013): The Passover I learned to chose my own way forward. “How the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin, and Sweet Brown led Ryan and me to a observe a seven-day Passover holiday.”
- Out of Apathy (2014): A first journey into the post-congregational desert for Pesach. “Jewish journeys are not always comfortable. They’re not meant to be. But you can’t reach the promised land unless you pick one. Especially at Passover.”
- “I Didn’t Realize How Much I Missed You” (2015): A once-in-a-lifetime reunion over Passover. “There are second chances, there are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and then there are miracles. On seeing my family again after 20 years apart.”
- The Point of Life Is Each Other (2016): A personal manifesto inspired by Passover. “The same people who doubt their stories have meaning are often the people whose stories help heal the world.”
- (What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You) Unaffiliated (2017): A second journey into the post-congregational desert for Pesach. “As Passover approaches we let go of our chametz. For the second time in three years, for us that includes giving up our synagogue affiliation.”
- The Anger and Emanuel (2018): On walking out of my personal Egypt days before Passover by pulling the weeds of anger that I had cultivated for so long–and falling on the neck of my old synagogue. “I’m so tired of being angry. All it does is get in the way of what I really mean to say. And what I should have said a long time ago. Like I’m sorry. Like I was wrong. Like I haven’t known how to say that for a long, long time.”
- Seven Years After Converting, How’s It Going? (2018): And on finally understanding that being your own, unique Jew and being a member of Jewish community need not ever be mutually exclusive things. “Your synagogue community will never be the be all and end all of Jewish experience you might at first hope–or expect-it to be. That’s a lot of pressure to put on anyone, much less on an entire congregation…Give yourself a break. Give your shul a break.”