Passover: Grief, Freedom, Harry Potter and Chocolate Chip Cookies

The family was hanging out in the kitchen this morning. One of the girls asked about our plans for the Seder tonight. I paused.

“We’re doing a small Seder,” I said. I glanced at my husband, who was standing next to me. He gave me a sympathetic look. I took a deep breath. “The truth is, girls, Passover is a hard holiday for Mommy and Daddy.”

“Why?” asked Oldest. She was sitting on a barstool at the counter eating her breakfast.

“Remember yesterday, when we watched Prince of Egypt in honor of Passover? Well, you know the part about the ten plagues? How the Egyptians suffered the terrible plagues when the Pharaoh refused to let the Jewish slaves go free?”

The younger two girls looked up from the books they were reading on the couch.

“The worst plague of all was the killing of the firstborn son of the Egyptian families. The houses with Jewish children were passed over, which is why the holiday is called Passover. But as Jewish parents, it’s really painful for Daddy and me, because we lost our firstborn son.”

Oldest’s eyes grew large as she immediately made the connection. “Matthew wasn’t passed over. Is that why you cry sometimes during Seder?”

I nodded. “Yeah. In fact, yesterday in the morning, I was a bit of a wreck. After I took your sisters to Sunday school, I cried and cried. I was just so sad. Seders are hard. But I came home and talked to Daddy about it, and I felt much better afterwards. That’s what I do when I’m upset. I talk about it and get the feelings out.”

“So Daddy was like your therapist?” Oldest wanted to know.

“More like her partner, in this situation,” Daddy commented. “Mommy talked to me because I understood exactly what she was feeling. After all these years, not many other people are still thinking about Matthew. That’s the thing about grief. Over time, everyone else eventually forgets. For most of the family, Passover is just another holiday, but Mommy and I will always remember losing Matthew and how it makes Passover especially hard for the two of us.”

“Well, I never knew him, which is why I can’t remember him,” Oldest explained.

“I remember Matthew,” Middle interjected from the couch. “I think about him all the time. I write to him in my journal, even though I never met him. You don’t need to meet someone to remember them.”

Youngest piped in, “I remember him, too. I won’t forget.”

“Daddy, good job being a good partner to Mommy,” praised Middle. “That’s what marriage is all about. You get five points.”

“I think he should get ten points,” Oldest suggested.

“I want points!” Youngest exclaimed. “Points for Gryffindor. I’m reading the fourth book,” she announced proudly. I smiled at her.

I turned to Oldest. “You get 50 points, because you made us a family.” Her face lit up with a big grin.

“Then A should get 40 points for joining the family next and C should get 30 points for joining third,” Oldest proposed.

“No, each of you gets 50 points,” Daddy said definitively. “Because you each added equal value to the family.”

“I’m a GryfflePuff,” Oldest said. “I tested to see what house I’d be in on Pottermore, and once I came out as a Gryffindor, and another time I came out as a HufflePuff.”

“You would be a good HufflePuff,” I told Oldest. “Or a good Gryffindor. I think I’d be in Ravenclaw.”

“Why?” asked Middle.

“Ravenclaws are really into academics,”I replied. “And you know how Mommy is always reading books and learning.”

“What house would I be in?” Middle wanted to know.

“Probably Ravenclaw too. But, then again, Hermione is really brainy, and she was in Gryffindor.”

“The cleverest witch of her age,” Daddy agreed.

Youngest stood up and announced, “I’ll be in Gyffindor because Harry was in it and they have a really good Quidditch team. I’ll be a Seeker. Who is Ludo Bagman? I’m reading the chapter called ‘Bagman and Crouch.’”

Middle called to me from the couch, “Can you make your chocolate chip cookies for me to bring into my class tomorrow for my birthday?”

Daddy observed, “I’m guessing the cookies won’t be made with Matzo meal?”

Oldest said, “You could bring chocolate-covered Matzo.”

Middle protested, “No, I want normal chocolate chip cookies.”

Youngest reasoned, “Well, Passover is hard for Mommy because her baby wasn’t passed over. So she probably doesn’t eat a lot of Matzo. And if you make chocolate chip cookies, I want one. Will you save me one?”

“Yes,” I told her. “I’ll save you one.”

“I’m sorry, Mommy,” said Middle, “that your baby wasn’t passed over. That must be so hard.” She hugged me fiercely. “There are 21 people in my class, so that’s how many cookies we need.”

“No, we need 22,” Youngest reminded me. “Because I want one.”

“23, actually,” interjected Oldest. “What, the adopted child doesn’t get a cookie? Oh, gee, thanks.”

And with that, they bustled out of the kitchen to get dressed and ready for school. I sat there for a few minutes, drinking my coffee, pondering our religious freedom and thinking of the enormous costs that so many have paid for our freedom.

I moved through my morning, grateful for the way that children can bounce so easily from topics of grief and loss into the realm of fantasy and chocolate chip cookies.

*          *          *          *

“Since I just had my Bat Mitzvah, can I lead the Passover service?” Oldest asked.

She did a beautiful job, carefully inviting each person around the table to read. Even Youngest read a good portion of the service, her six-year-old voice high and sweet.

We talked about the Seder plate, the Four Questions, the Passover Story, the meaning of finding freedom. We washed our hands; we placed glasses of wine and water near the front door for Elijah and Miriam. We set aside the Afikomen to be hidden after dinner.

When Oldest reached the part in the service about the ten plagues, I prepared myself for the familiar and lonely sadness.

But then Middle, who was seated beside me, slid her hand into mine. She squeezed my fingers and leaned her head against me. “I love you, Mama,” she whispered.

Youngest, who was across the table from me, cupped her hands into the image of a heart and gestured that she was sending love to me. Even Oldest paused in her reading and held a long moment of eye contact with me before making a silly face to try to lighten the mood. I made a silly face back.

The service continued.

Predictably, we soon reached the next version of the Four Questions:

“When are we going to eat?”
“Is it time to eat yet?”
“Can we start to eat now?”
“Are we EVER going to eat?”

And with a final reminder that every Jewish generation should remember the binds of slavery as if it were happening to us today, so that we will work to help others find freedom as we did, the service concluded.

Youngest practically dove into her Matzo ball soup. After slurping down two bowls, she looked up.

“When is dessert? Are there chocolate chip cookies?”

She endured as long as she could while the grown-ups ate a large, traditional Passover meal.

And, then, at last, amidst macaroons and mandel bread and meringues, there were indeed chocolate chip cookies. Skeptically, Youngest tasted one of the cookies made with Matzo meal. “It tastes like nothing and deliciousness all at once,” she proclaimed and proceeded to eat three more.

As Passovers go, it was one of our best.


Carrie Goldman is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter

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