As a child I could get a little rambunctious at the grocery store. I clearly remember that when my brother and I got exceptionally crazy mom would threaten us. She’d point to jars filled with gelatinous covered white orbs and say, “If you guys don’t cut it out I will buy this and make you eat it.” We’d squeal and make faces and wonder what poor kids had to eat those creepy floating things. Into adulthood I’d walk through the Ethnic Food aisle and shudder a bit on my way to the pasta and salsa looking into those clear jars. Still I wondered who ate that stuff.
My senior year of college it happened. I met a boy, and one day he took me home to celebrate Passover with his family. The Seder began and we ate parsley dipped in salt water, raw horseradish root in an apple dish called haroset. All ceremonial foods, all different, but all edible. I enjoyed the readings and the novelty of the celebration and learning about a new culture.
Feeling moderately comfortable at the table the first course of the actual meal was served: gefilte fish. Someone set in front of me an albino patty with gelatinous quivering globules glistening on its surface cradled on a bed of lettuce. All around me strangers I wanted to impress covered their helpings with fluorescent pink horseradish and dug in with apparent glee. Here in front of me was the nightmare of my childhood and I had two choices: be “that disrespectful new girl” and shun this foreign food or face my fear and try a bite. There was not an option to run screaming from the room. This was before the days of smartphones so I couldn’t snap a picture and send it to my mom with an eww, like I did for this blog post. I had to put on my big girl shoes and face my fears if I wanted to be respectful. I don’t think I made it through half of the fish and I know I drank an entire tumbler of water but I ate enough to not make a scene. The rest of the meal followed without incident.
Twenty two Passovers now, give or take. I’ve watched guests come and go and seen the judgement passed down upon those who do not try. I’ve learned that no one thinks it wrong that I enjoy my fish with a piece of Matzo, which at least hides the horrible texture with a bit of a crunch. I bought the New York Times Passover Cookbook and with fear read the gefilte fish recipes only to learn that it really isn’t that scary. Just whitefish cooked in broth until the broth congeals. I could make it myself, but I don’t. I don’t buy it either. Instead I make the haroset, hard boil the eggs, make the dessert and bring the wine. I feel at home with the ceremony.
I also learned that my husband will always eat the second half of my patty. I push it onto his plate and yum yum he finishes it off and asks for another. No judgement, we are so cute sharing food. I always help clear away the fish plates and bring out the matzo ball soup, which I love. Before I sit down I refill the water glasses. It still takes me an entire glass of water to finish off my fish half.
This life we live, it’s filled with scary slimy fish isn’t it? Things we reject without a thought or a consideration for being different and gross, and really they might be different and gross to us even once fully understood and experienced. Things we threaten our children with because you’ve got to make them behave in the supermarket somehow. Every year at Passover I think my lesson is one of overcoming the fear of the unknown, different, and strange and while not embracing it – and certainly not enjoying it – at least learning to tolerate. For my husband’s Jewish family and their ancestors more tolerance would have changed history. And really, isn’t that an acceptable lesson? Maybe we can’t embrace each other and all join hands in unity, but a little tolerance – even if it requires a big glass of water – goes a long way in this world.
Happy Passover, happy Easter and happy spring to you readers. May you find tolerance for yourself, your beliefs, others, and other’s beliefs in your own little corner of the world.