Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter and Passover

The past few days, I sometimes wished I was back in the Old Country, doing my Passover shopping in New York and replying in kind when people said "Happy Passover."

We live in an area of Western Massachusetts where Jews are few in number. If you go 15 minutes in either direction, to Northampton and Amherst or parts of Springfield and Longmeadow, there are more of us. I am not especially religious, but I do feel that Jewish traditions and culture are important, so I sometimes feel like a stranger in a strange land around the major holidays. Let's not even get started on Christmas.

Every cashier said, "Happy Easter." Our local supermarket chain, Big Y, had a billboard that wished its customers Happy Easter. They have a small table of Passover goods, so you'd think they would know they have some Jewish customers.

Once during the week, when a cashier said "Happy Easter, " I said, "I celebrate Passover, but Happy Easter to you." I usually just say "you too" to the Easter greeting, but occasionally it doesn't hurt to point out that there is another major holiday. Some people don't seem to know when Passover is, which is odd because the last supper was a seder.

You can feel like a stranger in a strange land, which isn't all bad, because that's what the Jews were when they were slaves in Egypt. The level of our disconnection can't even be compared to what it must have been like for Jews persecuted then or other times, or to what it's like for any persecuted people. But since it's the time for remembering the suffering of our ancestors, our small experience of separateness can maybe give us an entrance into the reading of the Haggadah.

Don't get me wrong: I always liked Easter.

We decorated Easter eggs that my mother put in the window of her Lexington Avenue jewelry store. She got us new pastel-colored dresses that we wore while walking on Fifth Avenue in the "Easter Parade." We had Easter baskets and went on egg hunts in the apartment. That part ended when my parents found out that when the Easter bunny came at night, I lay trembling in my bed due to fear of that large animal bouncing around the apartment.

Anyway, back to the present, after a week of Happy Easters, I felt so good when Springfield's own Gwen Ifill signed off her program "Washington Week" on Friday this way: "Have a blessed Passover and a Happy Easter."

I hope everyone's Easter and Passover celebrations were indeed happy, with many more to come.


Nelle said...

One of the things I love about where I live is the diversity. There is a heavy Jewish presence and I have friends who have taught me much about their religion and I have answered questions about mine. In my neighborhood I know where to go for good matzoh ball chicken soup and they know where to find Irish soda bread. In the local supermarkets around holidays we are all wished "Happy Holidays" this is done at Passover/Easter time as well. It makes it so much easier for everyone. If you personally know someone of course you wish them a happy whatever they are celebrating. I am having macaroons with my tea now. :)

Saul Wisnia said...

Loved this column, Ronni. My dad always did the "Actually, I celebrate Passover/Hanukkah..." thing when I was a kid in stores and it drove me crazy, but now I sometimes do it myself too. It does amaze me that in the Boston-area there are so many people who are completely clueless about Jewish holidays. Good point about the last supper too!