Lindsay Cutler April 19, 2016

“Where did you order your KFP (Kosher for Passover) nuts from?”

“Oh. I got a great deal online. What about your berries?”

“Where are you having first night’s Seder?”

“We are hosting 26 this year!”

“Say hello to a week of constipation!”

So many Passover insider insights and that isn’t even during Passover itself. People begin talking, with loving dread, about Pesach months before it arrives. Then, the night of, if you are lucky enough to get an invite, you are once again revealed as outside the tribe. The songs, the ritual order, the wine, the food, even the etiquette, are all inscribed in each person so deeply. That is, so long as you grew up observing the holiday.

I grew up in a big suburb of San Diego that has a large Jewish community. I was privy to break-the-fasts, though they were usually at noon. Over Passover, my friends proudly brought their matzah and cream cheese sandwiches to school. So, I thought I knew. But it’s much, much more than that.

As I met and married Scott, I was brought into his conservative family’s traditions. They were (and are) so incredibly warm and welcoming and have always included me with love. After we had children, we had to decide how best to observe each holiday. Suddenly, traditions were writ anew. Most couples blend family traditions – do you open presents on Christmas Eve or morning, do you go to church on Easter? But we had to blend a ton! Chris-Easter was the least of it. Now there was Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and of course the lovingly dreaded Passover – the suffering we crave and despise simultaneously.

We spent years experimenting with different combinations ranging from do nothing to celebrate with our family in nature, to going to shul, or observing with friends. My first Passover, I lost four pounds by eating only salads for a week (being vegetarian made it way harder).  Four years ago, we went to Hawaii where the Jewish guilt hung out at the fringes but never made it into our meals. Three years ago, we were invited to a big Seder at our old neighbor’s house with her family and friends. It was a beautiful dinner with people we hardly knew. Two years ago, we flew to Los Angeles to attend a Seder at Scott’s family’s house. That was nice but not feasible yearly. Last year we cooked a family dinner and invited my mom over. That didn’t feel right either – it was so quiet and easy, with just the 6 of us. This year we scored an invite to a good friend’s Seder. It’s like we are finally part of the community.

Two of our children attend religious schools – one at a day school and one at a synagogue preschool. There they learn the four questions and quite a few other songs inherent to the holiday. I see where traditions are born and carried on – and it’s beautiful. When they started, I thought I bore a mark on my forehead, singling me out as non-Jewish. Eight years later, I am normally the one in the relationship people think is Jewish, not Scott.

What changed is me. I was (and am) shy, unsure how to introduce myself, nudge into a conversation, smile and say hi. I am now much bolder, friendlier, more inquisitive, opinionated, and active in my community. I used to be independent and productive. Now I am part of a bigger web of humans helping each other to raise kind children, celebrate good times, and support in hard times. Judaism has become my heart. The loudly debating, laughter-filled, deliciously fragrant, kids running around, messy homes that I have the luck to be invited into are my new tradition. I’m learning the words to the songs and someday I’ll sing loudly and off-key with the rest of the group but for now, I feel home because my heart opened up and my walls tumbled down. For us, it turned out not to be about inventing new traditions but rather in spending time to grow into ancient ones.

Lindsay is a mother of three (wild and crazy) boys. She designs backyards and front, urban food systems, wild gardens, and just plain fun and beautiful gardens. In her free time, she…oh, wait, there isn’t any! Well, she loves running, writing, reading, and skiing.