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!
Originally published in the March-April 2017 Shofar
Photo credit: Marian Rubin