365 days ago, I was a newlywed, sitting at the Passover table with my husband, Jacob*, and his family. Laughter, love and good humor were in abundance. The warmth in the room was palpable. As I readied myself to make a toast celebrating my new family, I felt a lump in my throat, unable to finish the toast without welling up with tears. Six months before, marrying Jacob had brought me many gifts — one of them was this family. I already loved them dearly.
My mother in law’s seder plate had been beautifully laid out as a centerpiece on the long table, and I’d spent a few hours helping her prepare the room for dinner. I felt then the kind of contentment that comes from being part of something meaningful — family, tradition, love. Posting a photograph on Facebook the next day – me standing in the middle of a long row of Oster* family members, my caption said, simply: “Happy Passover! LOVE the Oster Family!”
It was a happy Passover indeed, and the one before that and had been just as special. It was the first one (actually, the only one) that Jacob and I hosted together in our apartment after I moved in with him. Passover that year fell just a few weeks before we got engaged. He handcrafted his own Haggadah; he wowed my parents and my friends with his color-coordinated table settings. There was effort, commitment and love. Again, just as last year – an abundance.
This Passover, I’m awaiting the final document that will render me divorced. It’s still shocking to me that after seven months of marriage, Jacob suddenly decided he didn’t want to be married, and last year’s Passover feels like a lifetime ago. I’ve had a year of bewilderment, sadness and grief. A year of crafting a new beginning out of the ashes of a beginning that had only just begun. A year of figuring out who I am when I’m not a newlywed who’d just started a new chapter with Jacob, with his family. It’s been a year of identity shifts. A year where the most personal of revelations came out of my husband’s mouth as I sat dumbfounded on the sofa across the room. Ultimately, it’s been a year in which I grew, learned, and survived.
Passover––a holiday which tells of rebirth and renewal––celebrates a narrative of finding a path to freedom and teaches about taking responsibility for yourself. It takes place this year during the very same month that my divorce will be finalized. For many reasons, it feels important to host my own Seder this year – the first of my new chapter as a single woman.
Pesach means, literally, “skipping over.” Passover also has two other Hebrew names, translating as “festival of spring” and “time of liberation.” These meanings feel fitting at this particular juncture in my life – the beginning of a new phase, a kind of spring after a long winter. Because even in my grief, I still feel poised to jump to a place of liberation — to jump off the hot tin roof of divorce lawyers and waiting in limbo to receive the final document which will confirm that I am no longer Jacob’s wife. I don’t know where I’ll land, but I want to jump gently and with grace, while at the same time embracing the traditions I value.
Grief doesn’t just go away, but I have no choice other than to move forward. The sharing of a Passover meal and the telling of the story provides a kind of road marker for me. Sitting at the table enacting the same rituals as last year, I can reflect on my state of mind, on my growth within the year. I can ask myself if I’ve progressed or stayed in the same place.
When I remember dipping the maror in the charoset last year, and how my eyes stung with happy tears, my heart full of hope as it was, I know that I was different then. I am not, 365 days later, in the same place as I was then, or even as I was last month or last week, and this feels reassuring. I hope that each telling of the Passover story as the years go by will inevitably find me in a new place; that it will bring new interpretations and understandings.
As I prepare to lead my own Seder for the first time, I want to think of how I was, for many months this year, quite enslaved by my grief, by my sadness. Passover celebrates the Jewish people’s declaration of independence: I want to acknowledge my new state of independence; it feels like a hard-won triumph after the most difficult of four seasons.
During Kadesh, we drink to sharpen our experience, to remember and to transcend: a beautiful way in which I plan to begin my Seder. To transcend from the mundane worries of life to the more awakened place. And then dipping the maror in the charoset, tasting the sweetness that always accompanies the pain will, I expect, feel more poignant this year. My family, my friends and my loving kitten are always reminding me how sweet life can be, even during the hardest parts. Bitter herbs being dipped in something sweet is a contradiction that is present in life – there is a strange sweetness to the security of the slaveries we can create for ourselves. I can and desire to break free of my personal enslavements, most of which are in my mind.
As I arrange the karpas on my Seder plate, I’ll think about the fact that it offers a visual reminder about the freshness of the spring. And, of course, the egg is steeped in meaning – not just that of birth, but also that the egg gets firmer in hot water, a cliché that rings especially true for me this year. Water representing the tears and sweat of enslavement feels fitting for a woman starting again after a very painful divorce––I felt a slave to the divorce this year, unable to move fully forward until its completion. Finally, eating the afikomen can be seen as symbolic, too–reclaiming the pieces of myself that were missing. As a newly single woman, I am reclaiming, rebuilding.
Miriam’s Cup, the modern Passover tradition in which we honor women in our personal history who have nurtured and healed, feels an apropos ritual to introduce this year. The women in my life (and a few men, too) have been anchors of support, inspiration and love for me this year.
Right before Passover, many among us do a spring cleaning. We clean house literally, but metaphorically, too. We dust away the remnants and clear away the ghosts of a past that no longer serves us; we aim to find a more spiritually aware state of being. Passover reminds us that though the path can be arduous, there’s sweetness, too, and there is, eventually, freedom. The messages of Passover echo the messages I tell myself during this transitional time in my life, and I look forward to the next chapter – one in which I am more free, where I am heading into a new season, a new spring.
*Names have been changed.