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I had no sooner walked through the front door with Son #1 when I was attacked and hugged by a delighted child, Son #5. I have never, ever been greeted so enthusiastically, anywhere. Son #5 had seen me the past two years when I went to the @iWe home for the Passover/Pesach celebration. He was either very pleased to see me (or was counting on my reading him some stories during my stay). Then Son #1 instructed him matter-of-factly to take my carry-on bag and backpack up to my room, two and one-half flights up. And this same Son #5, uncoached, pulled out my chair for me at the Seder meals. Did I mention he is seven years old and 4’1” tall (so he tells me)?
When I entered the iWe home, I had entered the space of timelessness and antiquity, of celebration and remembering the suffering in leaving the slavery of Egypt. This Pesach celebration, like the past two years, was a time of sweetness, poignancy, history, and memories. The iWe family takes both seriously and joyfully their celebration of Pesach, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else to connect to my Jewish roots with both moments of sadness and much happiness.
Although I’ve only been to one other orthodox Seder, I believe iWe when he says theirs is not the ordinary Seder. We follow the order of the meal (seder means order), but everyone is encouraged to ask any question about Pesach. Silly questions don’t earn a piece of candy, but good questions do. I even asked a pretty good question this year, and iWe kindly acknowledged its relevance (although I suspect he says that to all his guests). The three oldest boys carried on a fascinating discussion about one portion of the Exodus story, running up and down the stairs to bring Jewish source books to back up their arguments. Their joy in possibly identifying a new way of looking at this 3,000-year-old story was palpable. (It’s hard to know if anyone outside the room would have accepted their theory, but it was very bright and creative.) And the singing, ah, the singing. When iWe sings with his older boys in sweet harmony, we are all transported to a time of deserts, hardship, freedom, and joy.
So many moments stand out for me from the Seder meals and the lunches over two days: fabulous food by Mrs. iWe, including a chocolate cake to die for; iWe laughing until he is red in the face at a very funny remark by another son; Mrs. iWe quietly coaching son #6 through the Four Questions; thundering feet up and down stairs to be the first to find the Afikomen; and much more than I can include here.
But even more than all these experiences was the intimacy I felt with the family and the sense of their including me in this special time. Mrs. iWe reminded me that I had now established a tradition that I must go there every year for Pesach! (She told me that last year, too.) And a number of the family members said that they were glad that I came.
There was the walk I took with Mr. and Mrs. iWe and Son #2 that deeply moved me. I told them that I was making sure that my sadness and frustration with my personal practice wasn’t marring my Pesach experience, but I felt as a Jew returning to the faith that I wasn’t doing enough. iWe said all Jews feel that way; Son #2 shared a couple of thoughts about relationship to the faith. But Mrs. iWe really connected with me when she suggested that instead of focusing on all the things I wasn’t doing, to make a list (it turns out we both love lists) of all the things I was doing. At that moment, something changed for me. The idea of acknowledging to myself the steps I was taking to deepen my relationship with G-d, and doing it in such a tangible way, was liberating. It allowed me to enjoy the growth I had experienced and gradually find new ways to move forward.
Last night when I said my goodbyes, I felt a loving connection with this very special family. When they said they were glad I had come, I think they meant it.
Next year in Baltimore!