Rarely, in my memory, do Passover and Easter coincide so directly as they did this year.
Last Friday night, first seder matched what is called “Long Friday” here in Sweden (Långfredag — which does make one wonder, how is it “Good Friday” in English?). And, I realized as last week wound down to an end, it matched my need for spring celebration, and for a little bit of vacation.
Despite being such a nonreligious country, all of Sweden takes off Friday and Monday for Easter weekend. On Thursday afternoon at our office, we had a theological discussion about which days were what for the Easter holiday (when was the crucifixion? the resurrection?), and how the Church took over a pagan holiday that celebrates spring and rebirth.
Passover is also a celebration of spring and fecundity. I confused at least one of my colleagues by telling him that the Last Supper was a seder, and that led to a discussion about timing and the Jewish lunar calendar, the Exodus from Egypt and so on — yes, that was before Jesus.
Frankly, I haven’t had to explain Passover like this in ages. I am wondering if that’s because I have usually been surrounded by a lot of other Jewish people in my life, or if Americans know more about Judaism, or what. I cannot quite parse it. It’s not like there is not a venerable Jewish community here in Stockholm.
On Friday night, we went to the first seder this year for Passover at one of my colleague’s homes. She had also invited me to join her family last fall for Rosh Hashana, so I had met the patriarch and various members of their tribe.
This time Matt got to join, and he got the full treatment after it became clear that he is not Jewish — the patriarch explained everything to us in English, after reading in both Hebrew and Swedish. It was both touching and amusing.
Which has led me to dwell a bit on other philosophical questions. To some extent, this Swedish Jewish family is still a family of immigrants (the patriarch arrived here after World War II, sick with pneumonia, after passing through what he calls “Hitler’s pensiones” with a dark and bitter laugh). The next generation is Swedish, but also spent a lot of time in Israel, and I think they have split loyalties there. And the youngest generation is still very tentative when you ask them: Do you feel Swedish?
So is this part of being an immigrant family in Sweden? Perhaps it takes a few more generations to blend in that it does in a place like the US, where within two generations people tend to meld more into the melting pot. I feel very strongly that if I were to scratch my Jewish friends in the US, most would say they are American first, then Jewish. Are Jews in Europe still Jewish first? I don’t think so. It’s more likely this family’s culture.
I have no idea. I am speculating wildly here. It is also true that people who are not Swedish can still feel “exotic” here in Sweden, even if they are German or Swiss or American or Canadian, I would hazard. We went to Easter brunch with a group of German speakers, and got to eat some of their traditional dishes (mmmmm, Easter pie!), as well as a Swedish dish or two (mmm, Västerbotten cheese pie!!!).
Perhaps it takes quite a large mix of different cultures and a ton of people to get a melting pot in the way that the US has managed, even as its “minorities” can maintain their identities, sometimes without penalty. (Hence, Irish parades on St. Patrick’s Day and so on.) I am not naive: I know that there are still problems blending in for today’s first generations arriving in the US, whether from Mexico or India or China. But somehow, their kids will be engulfed by American culture, whether their parents like it or not. That must be true of immigrant families to Sweden as well, in part evidenced by the sports stars here with Brazilian or Serbo-Croatian surnames, who all speak Swedish.
This digression may seem unrelated to Passover (or Easter for that matter). But Passover is a story of immigration, of welcoming the stranger, and of being a foreigner in a strange land.
Pesach is also the holiday during which I miss my family the most. We have our own traditions within the tradition, our own family recipes, our own tribal customs. I miss those, and I miss my family.