Saturday, April 15, 2006

Tradition! With ecumenical linkage

This morning in the kitchen while Mermaid Girl was pouring herself some kosher-for-Passover cocoa cheerio knockoffs, I was idly thinking about how she'll remember this, with the sensory memory of special Passover foods, the way I remember the boxes of kosher-for-Passover chocolates that my grandparents always sent us.

I hope she'll remember standing on the stairs singing the Four Questions on Thursday night, with her friend Soralie holding up the puppets and MG getting to be kindly but slightly bossy and showing her which puppet to hold up when; and tossing cotton balls around for Hail when we got to the Ten Plagues; and gobbling up the parsley on the plate; and all handing around the pitcher, ritually washing our hands. How Soralie played the Pharaoh's daughter, and MG played Miriam, popping up out of the alcove by the sideboard and asking, "Do you want me to find someone to nurse that baby for you?" while Soralie cradled the doll-Moses and cooed "He's so cute!" How we all danced around at the end of acting out the story, MG/Miriam shaking her penguin tambourine/timbrel, singing the Miriam song that we learned at the Groovy Synagogue, and being so happy that we'd escaped from slavery and crossed the Red Sea (my scarf on the floor) into freedom.

I was thinking about all that, and about how I'd be tickled if she grows up to want to be actively Jewish, but that even if she doesn't she'll have all those memories, and the knowledge of the rhythms of the Jewish year, the holidays and the history that goes with them. How yesterday she ran all across the mat in the indoor pool by herself and splashed into my arms and I said, "It's a Shehecheyanu moment!" (The shehecheyanu is the prayer for new things, good things, first-time things, like the first day of a holiday or even losing a tooth) And she said, "Mommy, let's wait till we get home. Let's start a tradition of saving our Shehecheyanus for Shabbat night, and say them all and sing it then."

Now, probably she said that because she didn't want me to sing this foreign and weird and possibly embarrassing song in public, but my heart swelled--I swear it did, I could feel it--at this daughter with her sense of tradition. Tradition! Everyone who's seen "Fiddler on the Roof" knows that's the watchword of Jewish culture. But she gets it, on a deep level. How traditions make a link between you and the past. How you can change them, make them your own, tap them to keep the past alive and make your own present-day life deeper.

I mean, I'd be tickled if MG grows up to be actively Jewish, but even if she doesn't, she'll have all this: the shiny candlesticks, the play, the songs, the strange aural taste of prayers in a foreign language, even the ritual of getting dragged to shul every couple of weeks. She'll be able to explain what a seder is to her college friends who only know from the Easter bunny. She'll know that not everyone celebrates Christmas, that not everyone believes the same things. She'll remember--I hope--not to oppress the stranger, for her relatives were strangers in Egypt. She'll know that slavery of any kind is wrong, that injustice must be fought, that difference, in herself or others, is not to be feared. That the past--her own, or a people's--can be a touchstone and a guide for the future.

So, I was thinking all this, in an aimless, nonlinear, kitchen-pottering-around way, and then RW took the Girl out for an egg hunt (Did she score, or what? Growing up in an interfaith household has its charms. (Actually, I have very fond memories of dyeing eggs myself. Both my parents are Jewish, and we never had a tree or anything, but I distinctly remember hollowing out eggs and dyeing them lovely colors. And I SWEAR the Easter Bunny came to my house on more than one occasion. Go figure.)). I had the house to myself and so I meandered around my sadly-neglected blogroll. And read Grace's lovely bittersweet piece on Good Friday and the Good Catholic girl who still lives inside her.

And I started to write her a long, long comment about what you take with you from growing up in a religious tradition. And it got too long, so I deleted the comment and wrote this instead.

Chag Sameach, all. And Happy Easter.


Blogger Phantom Scribbler said...

This is beautiful. I'm saving it. And your puppet-friendly seder sounds marvellous.

We colored eggs, too. I think my mother went through the formality of calling them Passover eggs, but whatever they were, we colored them. I made do-it-yourself weebles with mine and played with them for weeks afterward.

4:59 PM  
Blogger susan said...

Yes, I like the puppet idea quite a bit.

One of the reasons I liked growing up in New York is just the absorption of so many different traditions. I somehow missed any notice of Protestants (college was a big shock when I discovered WASPs in large numbers), but I did grow up with a real awareness of Christian and Jewish calendars (and to a lesser extent Muslim and various Indian ones), and I value that. And the immigrant mix, too, taught me that there are so many different religious/cultural traditions.

I'll have to think about the religious tradition itself growing up, though. I'm not sure it was so positive for me, but I'll have to think.

6:55 PM  

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