The Second Most Challenging Holiday for a Nice Jewish Girl

Hard on the heels of Passover, Easter would arrive. The window of our downtown Woolworths would herald  the holiday’s arrival by placing  a few dozen pastel downy baby chicks inside the store’s front window to spend their early and most likely final days milling about with their doomed brethren. I was too young to understand the long term implications of this tradition, so each year I would be invariably charmed and delighted with their appearance.

It would not be incorrect to say I craved a lavender chick of my very own.  When I shared my desire with my Mother, never doubting her opposition to letting this small animal into her immaculate house, she would ask me what I’d do with it when it grew up. Stymied for an answer, her question made me back off. As I got older and continued to raise the cute -chick-as-pet idea, she switched tactics to matter of factly state, that Easter chicks all die if brought home. A sobering thought. I wasn’t prepared to deal with a dead chick.

baby chicksOh, but the Easter baskets!  Another visual delectable.  The  stiff pink cellophane that made the inner world of the basket look like a technicolor dream, the woven baskets, the shiny green cellophane grass in which the goodies nestled.  The perky marshmallow chicks. The sugared eggs that held a pastel world within.  The hollowed out milk chocolate rabbits.  All forbidden.  Why?  Because it was Passover too and Jewish children were supposed to make due with disgusting red, orange, yellow and green jellied candies, not-so bad chocolate matzohs, and horrible Manischevitz  canned coconut macaroons, which might have been delicious if they had been baked freshly.  mini jelly slicesAt some point it became ok for me to create an Easter basket for my brother.  As I remember, I put together some wonderful creations.  I also remember, that I never got to eat any of the candy I put in, nor was my brother ever thankful or impressed by my creativity.

My home town always had an Easter parade on Easter Sunday, called the drag. Each year of my childhood, I was allowed to walk in it with my cousin. We’d get all dressed up in  a new dress, hat and spring coat.  If I was lucky, I’d get a fresh corsage to pin on my coat.  This being Massachusetts in late March or early April, it was always too cold or too windy for comfort, but that did little to deter us as we walked up and down Northampton Street masquerading as Christians, but forbidden to eat the candy that everyone else was enjoying.  We’d be sorely tempted to “break” the covenant, but rarely did so.  Such good girls.

It now seems obvious that the conflicting messages I got at the Christian holidays were because my mother, coming from an Orthodox Jewish home, was herself conflicted. She tried to give me a taste of the mainstream culture, which I’m sure she never had. It was confusing, yet tantalizing for a child.  Kind of like saying, look but don’t touch.  At Easter, I got to dip into the world of the majority, probably more so than most Jewish kids, however, I never lost the feeling that I was in disguise, waiting to be called out as an imposter.  These days, I eat whatever I want, but somehow the forbidden marshmallow bunnies have lost most of their appeal.

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The Jewish New Year Demise of the Fabulous Red Petticoat

The Jewish New Year is bittersweet for me because it requires looking over my shoulder; in particular, it means missing my parents.  My husband might be described as memory neutral when it comes to the religious impact of his childhood.  Therefore, any acknowledgement of the holiday, be it going to services, eating a special dinner, etc. must be initiated by me.  I’ve gotten lazy over the years and no longer care whether I attend services or not.  This admission brings Jewish guilt.

blessed

THE SETTING

The Jewish New Year brings back memories of my childhood and time of year that was of great importance to my mother. She was not a particularly religiously observant person, but she fervently held on to the High Holidays and expected her children to follow suit without question.  This meant going to religious services at our conservative synagogue for both the first and second mornings of Rosh Hashonah, an inevitably dull and tedious affair for me.

Because the synagogue wasn’t large, if there was a crowd of congregants, children had their own boring services in the ugly basement of the temple building.  Teenagers could move out of the basement and into the sanctuary.

At least in the sanctuary of the synagogue, I was able to stare at the stained glass windows to relieve the tedium of a service in a language I could read but could not understand.  I did enjoy the traditional music and would come to life when they were sung because I knew the lovely old melodies and had memorized the Hebrew words. Continue reading “The Jewish New Year Demise of the Fabulous Red Petticoat”