Hello from North Haven!
I cracked my car windows on the drive home from the gym yesterday, partly to let the funk from a bowl of cabbage leaves out, and partly to let the warm evening air into the car. I hadn’t thought the word warm in a while, not since I’d uttered it in disbelief in January. Then we got spanked with blizzards in February and March and even April Fool’s Day. But suddenly, the sharp cold edge of the air had been dulled.
The cabbage leaves were from our school greenhouse, and their destiny is to be blanched and filled with “meatless crumbles” for stuffed cabbage at my annual seder. My daughter and I will be the only Jewish people at a table of 18, but the gathering every spring makes me feel more connected to my community than if we had a full minyan of other frozen chosens. I struggle in the Christmas/Chanukah season to find ways to make Chanukah independent and significant for my daughter, and to have it acknowledged in the community, but nobody conflates Passover and Easter, even though they both have some eggs.
As I drove past a waterlogged field, the sound of peepers rushed in, obliterating All Things Considered on the radio. Reports of White House Spokesman Sean Spicer’s jaw-gapingly inappropriate comments comparing atrocities were bringing back that gasping, nauseous post-election feeling that had been starting to fade. But the peepers washed it away, leaving just a trace of discomfort, like the last trace of snow scribbled in the margins of the field. Their chorus dopplered away as I drove up the road, starting up again at the next marshy lowland.
Just as menorahs are lit when the Winter Solstice steals the sun, it’s no coincidence that the eggs and parsley and stories of liberation come in the spring, when life tentatively returns to the world. Very tentatively, sometimes, here in Maine. The ponds thaw and refreeze, apple trees tell their buds to swell and then it snows again, newts and salamanders cross the road only to burrow back under the mud. It’s the Exodus in miniature. Two steps forward and one step back, not just for Jewish people, of course, but for anyone whose identity or culture has been suppressed at any point. Is being suppressed now.
I came home to an empty house. Two out of three cats came to the door to say hello.I put the cabbage leaves in the refrigerator with the green apples and walnuts for charoset. When my husband, daughter and dog came back a few minutes later from their very long walk through the park, the sound of the peepers followed them through the open door. My daughter was coatless and she had cold hands and a big smile. She had a present for me, a dried plant gall, like a tiny, fragile, grey balloon. She gave it to me, and then took it back, saying she would hold on to it for me until Christmas or Halloween.
“No,” she said. “‘anukah isn’t close to here.”
Two steps forward, right? And one step back.