Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Swedish Greek Jews

All dressed up for Passover. Someone isn't happy
Yesterday my seven year old approached me and said "Mom, I know why dad didn't go to the Passover Seder. It's because he is a Christian!"

There are so many ways that I wanted to respond to that...

Your dad, is not a Christian, he is an atheist. He likes Christmas trees and Easter ham. He is not a Christian.

Even Christians have Seders.

Even if your dad was a Christian, he still should have come to celebrate a holiday that is important to my heritage. After all, I don't hide in my bedroom Christmas morning because I'm a Jew. 

Just before we were married we had a mandatory counseling session with the reformed Rabbi who would marry us. She sat us down, looked us in the eye and asked point blank how we would handle our interfaith family. What would we tell our kids? We were twenty-five and had an easy answer "We aren't religious." It didn't matter to us. We would give our kids a bit of this and a bit of that. My husband wasn't a church-goer and I did not have plans to keep Shabbat. Religion didn't matter.

I still do not consider myself a religious person, and neither is my husband. Neither of us believe in the immaculate conception or the parting of the red sea, which is why I am just as comfortable attending a Seder on Monday and welcoming the Easter Bunny this Sunday. So what has changed? I have. I have come to realize the importance of my Jewish heritage to my identity. Although it's been years since I have attended synagogue on a regular basis the songs and prayers are familiar, they are a warm memory of  childhood. 

My husband has all kinds of traditions that tie him to his past. A Greek meal on New Year's. Swedish smorgasbord on Christmas. His very name is Greek, and now mine is too. Christmas and Easter are celebrated loudly and without apology in our society. Target is lit up in red and green from October to January. The isles of the grocery and drug stores are crammed with jelly beans and chocolate bunnies from March-April.He doesn't have to work to keep his family traditions alive.

My heritage is tied to religion and not geography. I'm not a Russian or an Israeli, I am a Jew.  The stores don't market our holidays. If I want to acknowledge the traditions of my past, I have to make an effort. I must seek out a Jewish community, I must host or go to a Seder, I must attend Yom Kippur services. And I must take my children with me, so that they will know where they came from.

Monday night, I took the boys to a kid's Seder at the Berkeley JCC. I didn't have the energy to host a Seder. I grew up attending large Seders in our home or the home of our friends. They were crowded with members of our synagogue, friends and family. We said the prayers, ate the matzoh and drank the sweet red wine. We sang and hunted for the afikomen. My mom always made the matzoh ball soup. It was tradition. It was home.

The JCC had a 5:00 service for families of young children. I told my husband that he didn't have to come, I knew it was early for him since he usually doesn't get home from work until nearly 7. He also had tickets to a basketball game. I would take the boys myself, it would be fine.

Glass, before it was spilled.
The Seder was held in the auditorium, it was packed with unfamiliar faces. We spread blankets on floor, as the event was to be "picnic style."  My toddler managed to destroy several packages of Matzoh, and spill several more glass of juice, since everything was on the floor. I found myself apologizing to the strangers around me again and again. Julian was out of control. But who has a Seder on the floor with a room full of toddlers? The service was run by a Rabbi who specializes in creating family friendly religious events. She kept it light and fun and the boys enjoyed themselves well enough. We didn't sing the songs that I grew up with, and it was different from what I am accustomed to, but at least my boys were there, celebrating Passover. Then came dinner. Good Lord. "Dinner." Please see the picture below, there is no need for further explanation. The boys were disgusted with the cold chicken and cooked carrots. In classic Zachary fashion, my son looked at me and said "I guess the JCC doesn't have a five star chef." I guess not.
This is the box just as it was opened. Not too appetizing.

I found myself wishing that I had made a Seder at home, one with friends and matzoh ball soup and hot chicken.When Zachary told me that his dad didn't come to the Seder because he was a Christian, my heart sank.  At that moment I decided then that we were going to celebrate the Jewish holidays the way we do the Christian ones, with energy, enthusiasm, tradition and the whole family.

At twenty five I didn't know what would be important to me as a grown woman with a family. Lucky for me, I did know the man I that I was marrying  would support me and help me grow. As a mother,  I want my children to know me, to know their father, to know their grandparents,  to know their history. They have two parents who grew up differently in many ways, but now we are one family creating the memories and traditions for their future.

And honestly, what could be better than a Swedish Greek Jew?


  1. Beautifully put. L'chayim, oppa, and skoal!

  2. No reason you guys can't welcome the easter bunny AND enjoy a matzoh brye! (OK, I don't actually enjoy matzoh brye, but there are Passover foods I like, like flour-free brownies.) While we do not keep Passover like many around us who switch out their dishes, spices and even toothpaste for the week, we do enjoy our family Seder complete with songs and matzoh ball soup. You CAN appreciate the heritage and cling to the tradition without changing your life or beliefs. I am living proof.

  3. sounds like your seder was a bit of an adventure!