Worth revisiting before Pesach
Luisa Igloria's "Trill and Mordent"

A Passover letter to my son

Dear Drew,

This year, like last year, your experience of Pesach won't include our formal seder. For reasons of familial logistics and timing, we won't begin the seder until your early bedtime of 7pm. It's just as well; at sixteen months you are a creature of habit where bedtime is concerned, and we will all be well-served by giving you the pre-bedtime ritual of cuddling, books, and familiar lullaby which is part of your daily routine.

I've been singing Pesach songs to you in recent days. Sometimes when you and I play in Dad's and my bedroom, I take out my guitar and play the niggun I use for singing the order of the seder. You like flipping open and shut the metal clasps which hold the guitar case together. Sometimes, when I start playing, you beam at me. I sing the order of the seder to you, I sing Dayenu to you, I sing Eliahu HaNavi to you -- three musical motifs, the seder in a nutshell.

I've tried reading you Sammy Spider's First Passover, which I read to you last year before you were old enough to be bored. These days you push the pages of the book faster than I can read them, annoyed that they contain so many words. I've taken to summarizing: "Sammy Spider sees the Shapiros cleaning their house!" (Flip) "Sammy Spider wants a seder too!" (Flip) -- that's about where your attention span is, these days. Maybe by next year you'll be more interested in the story as it unfolds.

But not yet. This year, your Pesach consists of me singing you some songs and attempting to read you a storybook or two. We'll cut up a matzah ball for you and see if you like it. I'll bet you'll like haroset, if we can make some in which the nuts aren't a choking hazard. And I'm curious to see what you'll think of matzah -- the storebought kind, and also the kind Aunt Melissa's friends make from scratch. This time last year, you weren't eating solid food yet; all of these tastes and textures will be new.

So many of the seder's most powerful memories are evoked by melody and by food. The seders you'll grow up with won't feature some of the foods whose flavors are most evocative for me (we don't do gefilte fish at my sister's house), nor some of the tunes (we sing Echad Mi Yodea to the tune your cousin Max learned in school, not the tune my siblings and I grew up on) -- and you won't grow up surrounded by a tremendous tribe of cousins who each year compete to find the hidden afikoman even though everyone gets a prize.

Then again, you will grow up with traditions which weren't part of my childhood. Miriam's Cup, the orange (and olive) on the seder plate, a homegrown haggadah full of poetry, the sounds of guitar at the seder table. I can't know what your most cherished seder memories will be, but I hope that these things will be as resonant for you as my deepest seder memories are for me.

The seder I grew up attending wasn't geared toward children. Our seder was led by and for grownups, and while of course the children had our cherished roles -- singing the Four Questions chief among them -- in my memory we mostly ran around Uncle Bill and Aunt Sylvia's house and hunted the hidden matzah. Though I was always the kind of kid who wanted to be part of whatever the adults were doing; I think I remember staying at the table a lot. Once I knew how to read, I loved being called-upon to read in Hebrew or in English. And I loved that on the second night of the festival we repeated all of the songs and stories over again.

I don't know whether you'll be the kind of kid who will enjoy a grownup-style seder, or whether you'll need to take in the story and its meaning in a different way. Will you learn best through movement (re-enacting the Exodus with your feet), through creativity (painting pictures of the sea parting), through story, thrugh song? Over the years you'll experience all kinds of seders, I'm sure: from the kids' seders we'll do in Hebrew school to the synagogue's community seder with all of its commotion. And our home seder will probably continue to evolve, too -- though I hope we'll be able to keep the tradition of celebrating with your Boston family, and with your grandparents when they're able to join us, and with friends.

Will you grow up in love with liturgy, as I did? I have no idea. You will become whoever you become. I do hope that you will come to cherish this holiday, this season when we retell the story of how our people came to be a people, how we were lifted out of slavery and constriction by God's mighty hand and outstretched arm. How it is possible that even though this is a once-upon-a-time story, it happened to each of us -- it happens to each of us even now. I hope you'll thrill to the songs and the flavors as each year's new spring unfolds. I hope you'll ponder the question of what it means to be free.

For now, you're the cipher among the haggadah's four children: not the wise one, not the wicked one, not the simple one, but the one who does not know how to ask. In the traditional haggadah we read "and you shall tell your children on that day" -- and the "you" is a feminine word, which tells me that it's the mother who's meant to do this teaching; pretty cool -- "it is because of what God did for me when I came out of Egypt." It's my job to teach you why we celebrate, what God has done for me. I hope I can live up to that awesome task.

And I hope that encountering your not-knowing, your blank slate of consciousness waiting to be filled, will help me rekindle and cherish my own places of unknowing. Every year we ask a child to chant the Four Questions -- someday that will be your job, God willing! -- and those of us who've been coming to seders for years on end know the questions already (and also their answers.) But we still have to ask, even if we think we know the response. Each year the seder comes to teach us again that telling stories and asking questions are central to who we are.

We always have to ask, who are we? How did we get here? What makes tonight different from all other nights? What does our story mean?

I can't wait to find out how you'll answer those questions in years to come.

All my love,