Passover

Consequences: A Holiday Story

March 31, 2009
image

I had just located the parsley, hidden in a back corner of the refrigerator, when the phone rang. Extracting myself from the fridge, I found my twin sister Amy on the phone.

“Hey, Shelley,” she started in a cheery voice. “Are you all ready for the seder?” I looked around the chaos in my kitchen. “Well,” I answered slowly, “eventually we’ll get there…”

“You know I have more time to get ready,” she responded, “since we’re not doing seder ‘til later in the week. It just works out better with the boys’ sports schedules. You know how that goes. Speaking of matzo, did Barbara call you today?”

Barbara – my childhood best friend. “No,” I answered. “But the day is yet young. Maybe she’ll call later. What’s up with the matzo?”

“Oh, Barbara called me this morning from the train, and she said she was going to call you too. I forgot to tell her that yesterday I finally tried out the matzo brei recipe she gave me last year. You fry onions and add an extra egg to the matzo goo. It was great. The boys saw the matzos I’d bought and they got into the matzo mood. They didn’t want to wait ‘til Pesach. So we had a little matzo brei party early.”

I surveyed my long to-do list, wondering when my children and husband would be back from their store run so they could help me. “Um, sounds delicious,” I responded after a few moments.

“O.K., you sound rather preoccupied over there,” Amy surmised. “I think I’ll talk to you another day. So, happy Passover. Enjoy.”

As I started on my charoset I pondered the topic of friendship and twinship. Growing up as twins, we shared many friends in common. But there were a couple of friends who were really just Amy’s or mine. Barbara was all mine. We’d met at the temple religious school when we were about ten and became fast friends. We’d spend hours on the phone, and at temple youth group activities we’d hang out together. We had a typical teenage girls’ relationship, complete with petty competition, long heart-to-heart talks, and on and off spats and reconciliations. On Yom Kippur afternoons we took long walks during the break or the rabbi’s sermon.

When I spent a summer in Israel after eleventh grade we exchanged scores of letters. Barbara addressed mine to “My Nearest and Dearest Friend in All the World.” We went to different colleges in Southern California, but we stayed in close touch. She went off to graduate school in Boston, but we continued to write letters and get together when she visited her parents. She always called on my birthday and right before Yom Kippur. Instead of saying, “Hi, it’s Barbara,” she would start right in with singing our favorite song from the Yom Kippur liturgy, “All the World Shall Come to Serve Thee.”

Barbara settled in Boston and later became engaged to her long time non-Jewish boyfriend, John. She invited both me and Amy to her wedding in Massachusetts. Amy had recently returned to school, and was living on a tight budget. She sent a note pleading poverty as her reason for not attending the wedding. I sent a gift and a card, which I’d spent hours composing. I told Barbara that I loved her and that our friendship was important to me. We would continue to be the best of friends, not just the type who exchange holiday cards, even when we were old and grey. I would always be there for her when she needed. But, I could not condone an inter-marriage.

Barbara accepted Amy’s declining to go, but she was angry and disappointed in my “rejection.” She wed without me, and it put a heavy strain on our friendship. She stopped calling before Yom Kippur, but continued calling or sending a card for my birthday.

A few years after Barbara’s wedding, Amy got married in Los Angeles. Barbara flew in for the wedding. It was just like old times. We had a wonderful reunion. When I got married a year later, to a religious Jew, Barbara was there. When we both got email, staying in touch became easier, and we emailed in fits and spurts, sending jokes and sharing news.

Last year I was at Amy’s the morning before Yom Kippur. Amy was preparing a meal for before the fast. Her husband Greg was preparing to go to a sporting event with their two sons. Before he married Amy, Greg had converted to Judaism, but he was never an enthusiastic shul goer, and in response to his strict Catholic upbringing, he was not keen on traditional religious observance of any kind.

When Barbara called Amy on the phone that morning preceding Yom Kippur, I was surprised at my feelings of jealousy and hurt. I headed outside to avoid being asked to the phone.

After Amy hung up, she came to console me. “Don’t you get it?” she asked. “Barbara and I talk before every Jewish holiday, because it’s just so hard for us. We are so jealous seeing all those happy families sitting in shul together, doing the same thing, sharing the same way of life. We don’t have that in our families. Sometimes the boys will go to shul with me if they don’t have something better to do, but Greg’s basically out of the picture. So is John. During the rest of the year it’s not so bad, but at holiday times it’s really difficult. Don’t be hard on Barbara. She isn’t excluding you. Unfortunately, she’s including me – but not for a happy reason.”

I thought of the Mishna in Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers): He (Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai) said to them (his disciples): Go out and see what is the proper way to which a man should cling…. Rabbi Shimon answered (that a person should be): One who is “roeh et ha-nolad” who considers the consequences of a deed. The classic commentator Kahati adds: He considers in his mind and with the eyes of his soul what is likely to come out of an act that he is about to perform. This vision prevents a person from doing something whose outcomes are bad and damaging and it encourages him to do a thing whose outcomes are good and useful.

Barbara and Amy had fallen in love with men who did not share their interest in Judaism, even though they agreed to let them “do their own thing.” These women were not far-sighted enough to look down the road, while in their twenties, to consider how they would feel in their thirties, and older, when they would have children, and would yearn for a one-for-all-and-all-for-one type of Jewish family.

They had the illusion that their spouses would come around, and join them in a love of Jewish traditions. They did not consider that their children would feel torn between parents who believed differently, and practiced differently. They did not consider the possibility of the profound loneliness they would feel as they were destined to celebrate Jewish holidays solo, or with unhappy participants.

It’s not easy to be “roeh et ha-nolad”(to see what it is coming) when you are caught in the moment. It takes a long term view which demands energy, honesty, and planning. I thought of that as I boiled the eggs and prepared the salt water. I had planned ahead, and here I still was pressured to get finished before the sun set. I comforted myself by reminding myself that I had bought afikomen presents a month ahead of time, as I had considered the ramifications of reaching the seder without them. I had put up my chicken soup early in the morning and I wasn’t really doing too badly. I determined that I would endeavor to be “roeh at-nolad” for the small things as well as the big.

I lit candles with thanks that I had made it to this season. The phone rang, and I heard the message from the answering machine. “Shelley, it’s me, Barb. Rats, I must have missed the deadline. I gotta get more on the ball. Well, I just wanted to wish you a happy Pesach. Good yoniff!”

Michelle Kay is a journalist and mother. She lives with her husband and two children in Israel.