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Apr 15

Passover and Kansas City

I’ve been lost in thought a lot, over the past day or so, thinking about the shooting in Kansas City and what it meant for me. For a woman who struggles with Jewish identity, and what it means for my children. For a woman who brings her baby to the Worcester JCC twice a week.

I grew up in a small Catholic town a little bit east of here. It’s not true that there were no Jews in my hometown, but it was true that I didn’t really know any. I didn’t know what anti-semitism was, not really. It wasn’t real to me. And when I converted to Judaism, the beit din (the rabbinical court) asked me why I would want to convert to Judaism, a religion and a people who had such a history of persecution. My answer then was that I was certain that someone who was bent on the destruction of the Jewish people wouldn’t think twice about killing me, I was the wife of a Jewish man, my children were all growing up Jewish. Converted or not, I was always going to be aligned with the Jewish people, in part because of the people I love, and now, because of the life that I was living. I said that, not knowing that it was true. Because it is. I am Jewish, and if I had undergone a conversion or not, I would still have been singled out for death by that man in Kansas City.

But as a convert, I know better than most that a Jew isn’t any different from a non-Jew. Not on the the most basic, human level. The three people who died in Kansas City weren’t, in the end, Jews. That doesn’t make their deaths any less terrifying, any less tragic or any less horrific. It also doesn’t make it any better. It was a grandfather and a grandson, and an older woman. The grandfather/grandson combo hurts me the most I think. I keep thinking about that poor mother, that poor daughter. To lose a son and a parent, at the same time, and to such irrational hatred and violence.

I’ve been busy, cooking and Seder-ing (is that a verb? It should be) and throwing myself into Passover. And while I’m doing all of that, I’m achingly aware of the example I’m setting for my daughters and my son. They’ll remember this – they’ll remember the matzoh brie and the chicken soup. They’ll remember that we take the first two day of Passover off from school and work, and they’ll remember that we spend time together, with family and friends, celebrating that we are free. Celebrating that we are not slaves in Egypt. I wish that my next thought wasn’t that they should also be aware that we are still the focus of hatred and violence, and that if that had happened in Worcester instead of Kansas City, we would know the victims. We could have been the victims.

I can’t get that out of my head. And I don’t know how to tell my children, because I don’t want it in theirs. But the reality is that this could have happened here. That could have been me. That could have been my father in law, and my son.

Today is the first day of Passover, a holiday that’s usually one of my favorites. As much as I might hate matzoh, I love the Seders, and I love how involved my kids are. We Seder it up in my family.(See? I really want it to be a verb.) We went to one last night, we’re going to one tonight. Tomorrow night, we’re running a Seder for a Church over by West Boylston, and Saturday night, we’ll host a full Seder and have a giant Open House for whoever wants to come. I can’t stop thinking about what an enormous act of courage it is, to have a Seder. To attend one. To proclaim our Jewish identity, and to celebrate that we are alive and free.

Tonight, when we celebrate our Seder, I’ll be thinking of the lives lost. Not just in Kansas City, but also all over the world. All of the people who were killed because they had the audacity to be Jewish. All the people who suffered and sacrificed and struggled so that we could sit here today. I’ll remember tikkun olam, the phrase in Hebrew that means to repair or heal the world. I’ll wonder if it’s possible, and I’ll remember the Talmudic wisdom that states that is it not my job to complete the task, but it not permissible to ignore it either. I’ll look at my three children, my daughter who’s about to become a Jewish adult, my son who wants so badly to be just like his dad, and my baby girl. My baby girl, the one I take to the JCC for preschool. I’ll hold my breath for a minute and pray that we never have to have that conversation, where I explain that some people really, really hate Jews. I know we will, but I’ll pray anyway. Because that’s the only way I know how to do this.

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  1. 2014 - My Favorite Posts | Melissa Anne CohenMelissa Anne Cohen

    […] Passover and Kansas City […]

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