Friday, April 3, 2009
The Jewish Easter Bunny
My mother has always been the "Easter Bunny" in our family. It was tradition for the whole extended family to gather at her house for Easter dinner. I have old photos of all my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, great-aunts and great-uncles sitting around my mom's table. She had to string three tables together to accommodate everyone, creating one long table that reached from the kitchen through the dining room and halfway into the living room. My mother went all out. She made her famous egg-shaped cakes surrounded by dyed green coconut "grass" and decorated with jelly beans. She made Easter baskets for all the kids. She brought out the best crystal and china, linen napkins and sterling silver. My husband and I flew back from Philadelphia most years for Easter dinner at my mom's.
My husband and I lived in the Philadelphia area for sixteen years. There were many Jewish families in our neighborhood. I became aware of the Jewish holidays being celebrated all around me. As Rosh Hashanah neared, I heard people in the supermarket wishing each other "Happy New Year". I knew a holiday was being celebrated when I saw all the cars parked in my neighbors' driveways as the guests arrived. When I walked down the street I could smell the special holiday foods cooking. One Easter when we had to stay home, our next-door neighbors invited us to come to church with them. As it happened, the sermon that Sunday was given by a rabbi. Everything the rabbi said made sense to me. I had never known much about Judaism, so I started reading about it. I had had a Catholic education, and it mostly seemed scary to me. It was difficult for me to distill God's word out of all the rules men had made. (I hope I don't offend anyone, but this is how it seemed to me. I felt I was being told what to believe without understanding why.)
We decided to visit the synagogue to see the rabbi we had heard in church. We were surprised how much we liked the service. I was moved by the prayers and the music. The people were warm and welcoming. We kept going back for services, and we met with the rabbi a couple of times. To make a long story short, we both ended up converting to Judaism. This took several years and involved taking classes. I learned Hebrew, and read about Jewish history and philosophy. In Bible study classes I enjoyed how people were free to discuss and debate. I enjoyed being around people with so much intellectual curiosity and who shared my love of reading. We made many good friends, who remain our best friends today. We had no Jewish family in the area (or anywhere for that matter) so many families "adopted" us to come to their homes for holidays. We attended Passover Seders in many homes, and one year I hosted one in my own home. The Seder became a meaningful event for me... to take part in a tradition that has come down through the years, and to share it with family and friends. I have many happy memories of those Seders.
When we moved here to Kentucky to be closer to our families, we moved away from our Jewish neighbors and we are far from our best friends. We are back to the area where I lived as a child. My family is close to us now. My mom had to stop hosting Easter dinner a few years ago. She is in her mid-80s and it's just too much for her. One of my sisters hosts Thanksgiving and the other sister hosts Christmas. Also, they are both busy with small children. So, I took over Easter dinner from my mom. Now I am the one who makes the Easter baskets and brings out the good china and sets up the tables.
We go back to visit our friends and neighbors in Philadelphia as often as we can, but we still miss our Jewish community there.
And now my friends all tease me for being the "Jewish Easter Bunny".