I go to two seders every year, but I grew up attending three. The first two were the typical Passover gatherings, one at cousin Danny's on Long Island, the other at Aunt Betty's in Larchmont -- same Haggadah, same undersalted matzo ball soup, same chocolate macaroons, same thirty people around the table. The third seder was the feminist adaptation, co-conceived by my mother, who seemed to be the only one of the five so-called Seder-Mothers not dressed in a bohemian caftan. I remember feeling moved by a room full of articulate, animated women sitting on cushions on the floor, making the themes of the Haggadah relevant, seeming interested in my nascent opinions. But that same comforting circle would turn on each other in later years -- fighting over who should be invited -- and the event would sour in my mind.
I know I've inherited my mother's superstitions. I close the shades when there's a full moon, toss salt over my shoulder after it spills, and say "tuh, tuh, tuh" when a bad thought creeps into my head. My fear of tempting the evil eye goes even further than my mother's: I feel convinced that cancer is just around the corner and I've written notes to my children in case I go down in a plane.
I've tried to resist my mother's prejudices: her cringing at Christmas carols playing in every store, the involuntary recoil at the sound of a German accent, the sense that Jews are the supreme sufferers. I'll never forget, when I was dating Michael, that I was stupid enough to venture to my mother that Jews are not the only people whose ancestors had endured massive, premeditated persecution. I mentioned the Irish potato famine as an example. Not wise. You're comparing the Shoah to the Potato Famine? She looked as if she wanted to disown me -- rip her shirt as is the Jewish custom when a child is considered symbolically dead.
Michael was a great boyfriend, but there was undeniably a cultural chasm between us. He didn't "get" my family's mishigas, let alone find a way to deal with it. And when I was with his family on Easter, sitting quietly around the table, I missed my family's tumult. It was unsettling to go with him to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, no matter how merry. I couldn't imagine my children taking the sacrament and crossing themselves. Baptism was out of the question. It bothered me, when we watched the film Music Box, about a woman who discovers her beloved father's Nazi past, that Michael had no personal link to that story. We didn't share an indigenous sorrow. He would never feel entrusted with or obligated by the responsibility to carry Judaism on. I realized that no dash of Christianity, however modified, would ever be palatable for me. I also realized I'd have to work harder to keep my own family Jewish than I would if I'd just married another Jew. I wanted the Jewishness to just be there: in my children's faces, in their food, in their celebrations. I wasn't sure enough of my own faith and history to be confident I could effectively pass it on.