Why do I miss my non-Jewish mother on Passover?

Posted on March 1, 2017 by Amy Rubin

My mother, Amy Heinel Garthly, of blessed memory, passed away in 2009. Not surprisingly, there are many moments when I miss her and yearn to be able to tell her of some news, or hear her advice on some issue. My mom was wonderful at many things, and a patient and loving presence. It is a blessing to have loved ones who linger in our thoughts and hearts.

What I have often found curious, though, is that I miss her keenly as I prepare for our Passover Seder. The first few years after her passing, it surprised me that I was deeply saddened by her absence around Passover. You see, my mother wasn’t Jewish and never attended one of my family’s Seders. Why would I miss her at such a distinctly Jewish time?

I pull out my fine china, and think of my mother’s china in the cabinet. I polish the silver, and imagine my mother’s hands carefully and patiently polishing the serving pieces. I arrange the pots on the stove, planning how each will be used, and recall my mother holding court in the kitchen. I spread out the tablecloth, and memories of my mother doing the same at Christmas bubble up.

The first few years, this feeling bothered me. It felt wrong and out-of-place. My efforts to compartmentalize my life just weren’t working. I had a difficult time reconciling my feelings of grief with the hope that Passover represented.

Eventually, I figured out that I miss my mom whenever I’m making a special holiday meal – be it Thanksgiving, Passover or a big birthday dinner. During the hubbub of preparing for a loving family celebration, it’s natural to remember my mother. Eventually I gave myself permission to stop worrying about compartmentalizing and to welcome the fond memories as part of the holiday joy.

This blending of worlds is the blessing of being a Jew-by-choice. As I make my way in the Jewish world, I’m not cut off from the influences of my previous, non-Jewish self, just as I’m not cut off from my Jewishness when engaging in a secular activity. My non-Jewish mother’s love can shine through me onto my Jewish family, on this Passover, on every Passover.

Miss you, Mom!

Amy Rubin

Originally published in the March-April 2017 Shofar

Photo credit: Marian Rubin