It's that time of year that every Jew dreads. Eight days without bread, pizza, pasta or anything else that leavens.
But not in our house.
I grew up in a traditional Jewish home. For a time, we were even Kosher. (Well, Kosher-ish. The kind that permits Chinese food on paper plates.) I went to a Private Jewish Day School from grade 1 to grade 8, and had both a bat mitzvah and a confirmation (where you graduate from Hebrew School at 16). We went to synagogue on all of the holidays, and even sometimes on the Sabbath just because.
On Passover, I kept the faith. Even when I was a teenager and I was tempted to "cheat" by eating croutons on my salad or *gasp* popcorn at the movies, I felt a pressing guilt. Betraying thousands of years of history was not something I was willing to do.
My husband, on the other hand, spent his formative years in a different environment. His family paid lip service to their religious and cultural traditions. They celebrated the various holidays to make the grandparents happy, and not out of any sense of belief or community. In fact, he was raised to NOT believe -- instead of being exposed to the beauty in the traditions of his faith, he was taught they were a chore, something you do to please others, and events to be avoided at all cost.
When we decided to get married, and had the all-important, "How should we raise our kids?" talk, we agreed that we would bring them up in a Reform Jewish environment -- traditional, but not religious. We would join a synagogue, and as a family, have regular Friday night dinners, celebrate the holidays, teach our children the history of their people, and the reasons why we do things. The kids would go to Hebrew school, have bar and bat mitzvahs.
I believed that the kids wouldn't be able to make their own choices of how they wanted to participate in Judaism, or any religion at all, if they weren't exposed to it in an unbiased environment. I had a sense that my husband didn't have connections to our religion because he wasn't raised that way. It would be hard for him, but my husband also promised to keep his skeptical views to himself so the kids could get the full experience (which he sort of did, but not really).
Now, we have three teenagers who aren't that keen on doing what they call "religious stuff," despite my best efforts. In fact, two of the three have asked me why they have to be Jewish just because they were born that way. (That is a very good question, and one to which there is no easy answer.) I don't know if it's that I've raised them to be critical thinkers, to research and inquire, or just the simple fact that they're at the age where they question everything they didn't think of on their own.
Regardless, they don't believe. They're not interested.
And I'm tired.
Of pushing the envelope, of trying to make them see the value in something that I think is important, but that they do not.
Of spending hundreds of dollars on special Passover food when I know they will eat pizza when they're out with their friends.
That's why we don't keep Kosher for Passover anymore. It's not worth forcing the issue at the risk of alienating the kids further from their traditions.
I know that we have been able to instill a semblance of Jewish identity in these kids, which is going to have to be enough for now. Even though they call themselves atheists, they still have discussions about the existence of God, the purpose of religion and where they fit in the world. I truly think they see the Jewish community as a place to belong. I've come to realize, however, that ritual and identity are two sides of a coin when it comes to Judaism, and that thing called a "good Jew" (which I always endeavored to be) is an amorphous concept.
Personally, I feel a sense of loss that my family doesn't share my love of the physical traditions. In our religion, it is the mother's job to create a Jewish home. I can't help wondering if I've failed in some way. What I need to remember, though, is that I can't control what my almost-adult children think. Especially if I've done my best. I also need to be mindful that while one of the greatest things about religion is that while it can bring people together, it can also tear people apart.
So, instead of insisting everyone take on my beliefs, I've instead tried make myself more flexible. Taking the religiosity out of the rituals has enabled my in-laws, who don't believe at all, to sit at table with my late-father, who had a semblance of buy-in, with my mother, who is pretty much all-in.
When I think about what Judaism really, down deep, to the core, means to me, it is belonging. When all of us are sitting around a table that is weighted with food, I feel the warmth of inclusion. It's not the matzo that makes it so.
It's love. And history. It's family.