Passover and Easter Bring Out the Best in our Island Community

Hello from North Haven!

The Passover Seder is over and we’re living off of leftover stuffed cabbage, faintly purple (from rainbow carrots) matzo ball soup, and matzo in every possible incarnation, from matzo brei (scrambled eggs with matzo) to matzo crack (toffee and chocolate on matzo). We had 21 people around the table (even though I somehow counted 18 and we had to scramble a little to find chairs and plates; it all worked out). My island bff came early and helped my husband and I set up chairs and tables and daub each plate with bits of charoset, parsley, horseradish, hard boiled eggs and a bowl of salt water. I found a wizened parsnip in the bottom of a produce drawer to play the part of the pascal lamb. Past stand-ins have included celery, carrots, and a dog toy.

I try to include new faces around the table each year, to widen the circle of friends who understand this little slice of my Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish culture. There were plenty of veteran participants there too – we estimated that this was the 7th seder we’ve hosted in our “new” house, with this group of friends. We had four kids under the age of 10, including one stalwart 9 year old who’s read the Four Questions for the past few years, and my own daughter, who laughed hysterically while goofing around with a hard boiled egg during some of the more serious parts, but is cute enough (and young enough) that it was fine.

On North Haven, there aren’t abundant opportunities to participate in cultures and traditions outside of the island norm. I love the enthusiasm with which my friends participate in the narrow dietary guidelines of Pesach, and the gusto with which they sing and read, doing their best with the transliterated Hebrew and the religious text (I’m secular, but use my grandfather’s Union Haggadah because it’s what my family always used.) It’s my favorite holiday, and I’ve had non-Jewish friends out here say the same. A dinner party with 21 people is a major undertaking, so I really only do it once a year, but the warmth, lively conversation, and free-flowing Manischewitz wine make it a winner.

The other half of the cultural exchange happens on Easter Sunday. Although I’m not motivated enough to get up for the sunrise service and participate in that aspect of my friends’ culture and religion, I bring Penrose to the park each year for the egg hunt and Easter Bunny photo op, put on by our Rec Council.

Penrose at last year’s Easter Egg Hunt, equally dubious about the giant rabbit.

Secular Easter is a little bit of a mystery to me – my own Four Questions go something like “Why on this day do we hide eggs? Why on this day do we take pictures with a terrifying giant rabbit? Why on this day do we allow our children to eat candy before noon? Specifically, why on this day do we eat a lot of jellybeans?” – but it’s hard to find fault with a bunch of kids in cute clothes running around outside.

Best of all, most of the older kids look out for the younger kids, helping them find eggs and sharing their own spoils. Two of my students shared their stash of jellybeans, which could only be obtained by interacting with the Easter Bunny, whom Penrose was giving a wide berth (“It was a funny bunny,” she told my sister warily over Facetime later). Others guarded eggs in the toddler hunt area for her – we arrived a few minutes late, and missed the bulk of the treasure. She still came away with a green blow pop, candy necklace, and enough eggs with stickers and tiny candies in them to keep her entertained for a while.

When Penrose told her teachers that we were having our Passover dinner, they asked her what that meant, hoping to draw more information out of her. She announced, proudly, that it meant she was Jewish, and we would tell stories and sing songs and eat with our friends. With her next breath, she yelled “THE EASTER BUNNY IS COMING!” She’s a child of two cultures, with the island’s culture layered on top, and I hope it continues to bring us together with our friends and bring out the best in the community.

Courtney Naliboff

About Courtney Naliboff

In addition to this blog, I'm a contributing writer to kveller.com, a Jewish parenting site, a blogger and book reviewer for reformjudaism.org, and the author of Salt Water Cure, a column in Working Waterfront. I report news from North Haven for Working Waterfront and Island Journal, and was a speaker at the Maine Conference for Jewish Life in 2015. Follow Frozen Chosen on facebook or visit my Web site for more writing and free music to download!