by Dr. David Sanders
P is for examining the past, for procrastination, for purging possessions, for preparation, purpose, possibility. For Passover.
With the passage of time we are enjoined to not be passive. Passover, at its essence, is a time to examine what we have accumulated and become accustomed to. According to Jewish tradition we actively examine and remove before Passover “Chametz”– food that contains leaven. Kabbalah, which always opens to a metaphoric appreciation, broadens what is considered Chametz to things that keep one stuck in the past.
Two weeks ago a unique Passover preparation opportunity presented itself. My mother, who is 88 years old, needed my help for her upcoming relocation from New York to Israel. She was leaving a home she had lived independently in for over 30 years and moving to an assisted living community in Jerusalem. I had a long weekend to get her organized and packed. She was leaving much of her life behind; friends, neighborhood and possessions. There was a steady stream of in-person or phone call goodbyes. Along with reviewing hundreds of photos, my mother was saying goodbye to a physical home and to objects she had accumulated and held onto for decades. She was confronted with constant choices: Which clothes would travel with her, what jewelry did she want to keep or disburse and what art would adorn the walls of a much smaller living quarter?
Many of the tasks were predictably busy work but the surprises started almost immediately. My mother wanted to inspect her Seder plate which she knew was damaged but to what extent, she was uncertain. The Seder plate was the envy of all who celebrated Passover with our family. Its striking feature is a rainbow-like luminescence and a thick gold painted border. The cracks though were far too extensive for even a master of Kintsugi to salvage. This beloved family heirloom had seen its last Passover.
My mother had already, with the help of my siblings, disassembled her wedding album. The sepia toned photos brought me back to the youthful excitement of my parents—before jobs, children, losses, illness and aging. My Mother wanted my opinion on whether she was beautiful when young as she marveled at how dapper my Dad looked in a top hat. As we looked through the photo albums she or I would pause a moment to reminiscence. My Mother’s younger brother was in one of the photos, her “baby brother” that died at age 33 from a rare leukemia. I later found a hand written note from him in which he informed his sister that he had been diagnosed. It brought back a memory for me of my uncle taking me for a spin on his motorcycle a year or so before his death.
There were correspondences between my parents and me during my late adolescence and young adulthood. Some of the challenges that were expressed I recalled, others I had no memory of. There was a letter in which my Mother was pleading with me to come home earlier than I had wanted from study abroad. I found it peculiar that she expressed her feelings in such a vulnerable fashion as that was highly uncharacteristic of her.
As I was sifting through my Mother’s Chametz, her accumulated belongings and the memories and stories they contained, I was sifting through my relationship to our shared life and confronting narratives that had “leavened” for years, some which I could now see were only half-baked.
Passover prep is not passive. To revisit what has accumulated over the past year (and longer) is a way for us to question our assumptive needs, beliefs and narratives. Then we can be present, liberated from that which may clutter our spaces, thoughts emotions, spirit and, when possible, fill the cracks in with gold.