Every spring my husband and I discuss
the long-dead animals in the Cadbury commercial
running since we were kids: pig, cat, lion, turtle,
bunny. The wrong animals audition
to become the clucking bunny. This is the American
symbol of Easter, which I didn’t grow up with,
except for jelly beans and chocolate. (When my father
was a boy he would use a chocolate bunny’s head
as a goblet for his milk.) Instead I had the ten plagues,
parsley dipped in saltwater, buttered and salted matzoh,
opened door. Judaism is all about the symbols
and the stories and the food and the funny-sad. The minor key.
The tragic violin and exuberant clarinet, the klezmer absurd.
Vegetarians, my family put a Milk-Bone on our seder plate.
The Passover seder is the story of enslavement and then freedom,
and never forgetting that there were those who hated us
from whom we had to flee. And that when oppressors die,
we must not rejoice in their human pain. Sure, sure,
but who wouldn’t cheer as tyrants fall, as the waters
whale-gulp them down. Saltwater means tears, food is a story
of survival, and parsley means the green coming back to the yard.
The seder means, Here is who hated us and tried to kill us
and here we are still. Now, my sister chops apples and nuts,
brings the haroset in the yellow bowl that Stanley, our terrier,
once ate from. He’s there, just outside my dad’s kitchen,
our perennial digger and yard escapee, thief and planter of dolls
whose miniature limbs would protrude from the dirt, the tiny undead.
Stanley sleeps under the yard and not alone, long ago buried
and returning to us with the trees and grass and apples and spring.
We will not forget. I will not forget Charna, my grandma’s spunky friend,
jovial baker of mandel bread, and how she had survived the camps.
Grinning, she divulged to me and my sister how she told
the Nazis to their faces that they needed more food, thicker soup,
and her demands were met. What did she give up in negotiating this,
and what did she earn, a secret skeleton of steel and courage and love.
We also learned that the women fashioned and passed around
a bloody menstrual pad as protection, to try to ward off rape
by crafting the guards’ disgust. What seeds existed in her
that nudged her to ask Nazis for anything, to scavenge fabric
and blood and deliver it from woman to woman, clutched and folded,
a love letter, a ballad about generosity and pain, lantern-bright.
Where does this bravery in the midst of horror
come from, and how can we get more. Why is this night
different from all other nights, a question we ask ourselves
every year, when we should ask, How is this time different
from all other times, how is this agony different from other agonies.
When someone suffers, the Jew also suffers,
says the Passover story. And we want this to be true.
But between suffering and safety, there is a heavy door.
Closed. On this side, we eat apples and chocolate
and eggs full of candied yolk and drink simulated tears.
On the other side, all we can barely look at or hold in our
minds, the flame-ravaged house we could be chased from,
the thirst and loneliness of the exiled, the small hands
reaching up from yard’s cold mud that we see silhouetted
in the twilight and call broadleaf, dollarweed, thistle.