Rosa Doherty

My Easter egg Seder nights

There are unexpected benefits when you come from a multi-faith, muddled, blended family

April 17, 2019 15:15

You always want what you don’t have. This is especially true of people of my generation; millennials, avocado munching babies, upset with our lot in life and always scrolling Instagram to see how we might make it better or different. We are always wishing we were doing what other people are.

When I look at other people’s social media, I see them chucking in their jobs and going travelling, baby in tow. For a moment I wonder if I should be doing that as well — distracting me from my real life, where I’ve very happily just got married and bought a house.

Growing up I probably wished more than most that my family was ‘“normal.” My family was not so much nuclear as explosive — imagine a melting pot and then set that on fire.

I grew up in a blended family before blended was the norm. Today you might not be surprised to hear that my parents were separated, although you might raise an eyebrow when you heard that Dad spent a lot of time in our house. But you’d probably still find it odd that we lived with another couple and their two children.

Our household confused my friends — even if their own parents were divorced or separated. They’d be baffled to walk into my mum’s house and find my dad in the kitchen, cooking our dinner. For us it was totally normal to see dad at home for dinner and wake up with him not there in the morning.

It was complicated in the playground when other children asked who the extra man and woman were that I lived with. No, I explained, they weren’t my parents’ new partners. To this day the English language does not provide an appropriate word which acknowledges Alan and Liza, or their children, my sort-of brothers but not actual brothers, who lived with us half the time.

They are like my family but not my family is the best explanation I have ever come up with and I hate that because I love them just as much as the people I share DNA with.

Being a blended family allowed for wonderful moments and in one sense it was very Jewish — think north London kibbutz, with a much smaller vegetable patch. My sense of community was strong, it was just different from most people’s.

One of my favourite memories as a child and of my blended family has always been spending Seder night with my grandparents every year.

I loved the routine, the ritual with purpose, the comfort and the food.

I love the food so much that the Seder meal would probably be one of my top contenders for my last meal; yes I even love salt water and egg. I loved the performance element of Passover. I loved being able to lean on the table in front of my granny who was a stickler for table manners, I loved watching her lean too.

I remember giggling when my grandpa would fill Elijah’s cup and open the door so he could come in.

The excitement of waiting. Grandpa would kick the table so the cup would spill over as proof that the prophet had been and drank.

I loved flicking through the Haggadah and acting out the plagues. And I know my dad enjoyed the guaranteed four cups of wine.

His participation, and willingness to don a kippah, as an Irish, former Catholic, now ardent atheist was an example of the respect he showed my grandparents and his children’s culture.

And while it is wrong to say I was raised in two religions, my parents managed to divide education around religion and identity so that while I was given roots in Judaism as a faith and culture, I was exposed to and taught about the religion of my Catholic grandparents while embracing my Irish culture at the same time.

Most importantly the multi-faith, multi-cultural, dynamic was always seen as a positive, not a compromise or a choice but a celebration in equal parts.

My Jewish granny’s reward whenever I found the Afikoman was always an Easter egg, wrapped up, of course, in a plastic bag placed neatly by the door for when we left, perhaps a small acknowledgement of our blended family.

When people express their panic over the collapse of the nuclear family or panic about a marriage of two faiths I wish they could have had a glimpse of my childhood.

Yes it was chaotic; yes it was muddled and sure sometimes it was confusing.

But doesn’t that prepare you for life?


April 17, 2019 15:15

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