A Sound Investment

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A Portrait of Pesach in 20 Egg Cartons

A Sound Investment

I was at a wedding the other day when the conversation veered, not surprisingly, towards Pesach. I admitted how much I enjoy the holiday, while another woman in the community kindly disagreed. She confessed she wished it were over already and made me laugh with her description of the scene in her home. It’s so demanding, she said. What’s more, I’m a short-order cook for the whole eight days.

While I concur with her on both points, neither makes me love Pesach any less. The discussion did, however, leave me wondering why I harbor such affection for a holiday that tries the bodies and souls of those of us making it. And it’s only now, as I write from the trenches of preparation more than a week later, that I can finally articulate an answer.

To me, Pesach is magical. It has been since I was a little girl sitting by my grandfather’s side, my legs swinging beneath the seder table, and it’s a feeling that has continued to grow over time. Why? Because the holiday allows us to do something we can’t do at any other point during the year – to time travel.

Through both our storytelling and our other observances, we go back to where we came from, gleaning spiritual wisdom from our collective memory as a Jewish people, reliving the tears of our slavery, and exulting in our redemption. The holiday demands that we live in the present, too, making physical changes to our daily norms – turning our homes upside down to shake out the chametz and altering how we eat. And lastly, it leads us, with the hagada as our guide, to holy places where we can question our role in the world and define what matters to us, letting the answers determine where we go next.

This perspective inspires me to pin a lot of hope on this holiday. What we create during Pesach will, I believe, help shape how my sons think and feel about their childhood and Jewish tradition. I want them to remember with warmth and nostalgia that there was good in all that hard work, that I wasn’t just sleep-deprived and cranky the entire week before we tasted the first bite of matzah – even though I will be sleep-deprived and the tiniest bit cranky – and that there was a lot of love around our seder table.

So I plod along, talking to God as I cleanse our home of chametz and kasher the kitchen, grate the horseradish and make the boys’ favorite Pesach delicacies. The next few days of preparation will demand a lot of me, as will the holiday itself. I’ll be exhausted, to be sure. But the long-term returns, I pray, will be worth it, and that seems like reason enough.

Wishing everyone a meaningful Pesach.

Merri

P.S. To read more of more my thoughts about Pesach, check out my latest column in the Jewish Week and the NJJN,  Honored Guests at the Seder Table.

Falling Madly, Deeply in Love with the Here and Now

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One High Holiday morning many years ago, when my oldest was still very small, the township began to remove the massive metal plates that had been covering the gaping holes in the road outside our shul for months. My son and his posse of friends stood there transfixed, watching the trucks and the men at work. We moms all agreed we could never have planned a better activity to keep them busy for so long.

The memory is imprinted with their childhood sense of wonder, that ability to shut out everything else and focus solely on some magical thing in the present. At a time when it was so much easier to make them happy than it is now, it was breathtaking to see them take simple pleasure in learning how things worked – that, and the thundering bang the plates made when they landed on the flatbed of one of the trucks.

As I drove home the other day, I had a bit of déjà vu. Several trucks were parked across the street. One worker stood inside a cherry picker, hovering above a tall oak, while a handful of others held tethers to the tree from below.  It was noisy, and at first I was frustrated, certain I’d never be able to concentrate on a writing assignment I needed to finish. Yet to my surprise, I let it go. In fact, I found myself smiling because the sight of a huge saw and a falling tree would once have been such fascinating entertainment for my sons.

Before I knew it, I had taken my cup of coffee and opened the front door to watch them work. I kept thinking, “I’ve got so much to do,” but couldn’t tear myself away. It dawned on me that I was reliving that cherished moment in front of the shul, a scene the boys – now young men – likely don’t even remember. They are blessed, thank God, not to feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. They are of the age when they are busy enjoying the here and now, paying almost no attention to the past, and to the future only on an as-needed basis.

To say it was out of character for me to just stand around like that would be an understatement. I’m the sort to carry my worries on my sleeve, to let them keep me awake at night, to allow them to distract me throughout the day. But as I watched that tree, and then the next one, come down, I realized how much I want to take a cue from my boys and let this living in the moment thing come more naturally to me. I want to enjoy, not just accomplish, to dream more and worry less, to stop moving at such a harried pace, and mostly, to master the art of making the time to enjoy it.

I’m not expecting I’ll become a different person overnight. I admit it’s going to be a struggle, especially for someone so nostalgic yet so anxious about the future all in one package. My first move is to try silencing the voice in my head that usually hinders me, the one saying, “I’ll wait until/when/after.”

Now I’m making big plans: to return to the days of weekly dates with my husband, to shut down the computer at dinner time, to curl up with a book a little earlier each night. Let’s see if this middle-aged dog can master a few new tricks. Let’s see, shall we, if I can fall madly, deeply in love with the here and now.

Check out my latest in Tablet Lessons from Sarajevo’s Jewish Refugees and the New Jersey Jewish News The Light Between Two Angels.