Passover is my favorite Jewish holiday for the very simple reason that it is the holiday where we are commanded to ask questions. In addition to having the chance to celebrate together with family and friends, it is a time when, as Jews, we cultivate our curiosity by telling the Passover story and by engaging our minds with questions.
One of the contemporary questions that we have asked at our seder is this: If you were forced to leave your home in the middle of the night and flee to safety, what would you bring?
For each person, that answer is different, depending on what you cherish most. For some, it is family albums and heirlooms, for others it is computers and legal documents. There is no correct answer, just as there is not a single answer to the question: What do you value most about your home?
I love the home my family has created. We moved into our house with our 2-year-old son, Josh, when I was seven months pregnant with my daughter, Lauren. It was 105 degrees that smoldering July day in Tucson almost 28 years ago, and we have remained here ever since. Our home contains a lifetime of memories, milestones, stains and artifacts that reflect, more than anything I could capture in words, what our family is like and what we have devoted our time and energy to as we raised our family.
Early on my husband and I began to create rituals for our family. Some were secular, like bath and story time before bed or having special mom and me/dad and me “date nights” with the kids. Others were Jewish-oriented, like buying Shabbat cookies every Friday afternoon and having seders in our back yard in a tent where we sat on pillows and blankets. These rituals grew as we did, and we continue to this day to find new ways to celebrate the holidays using Jewish stories, art, music and food.
But one of the things I treasure most is that we created a sacred, special place in our home for Jewish art. When our kids were little, we devoted a shelf to items they created. From tzedakah boxes decorated with stickers to macaroni menorahs that glittered, we proudly displayed these pieces and used them for the holidays. Our shelf grew to an entire cabinet, with beautiful Jewish pieces we acquired from our travels to Israel and abroad. Today, I have more menorahs than shoes (which is saying a lot), and much of the art on our walls has a Jewish theme or is by a Jewish artist.
There is a lovely concept in Judaism called Hiddur Mitzvah that encourages us to elevate the performance of Jewish rituals and mitzvoth by using beautiful ritual items. The idea is that in order to capture the fullness of performing the mitzvah itself, for example, lighting holiday candles or saying the Kiddush over wine, we should experience it in all of its glory, beauty and splendor. The beauty and importance of the action is matched by the quality of the “tools” we use to perform the act. So having lovely candlesticks, perhaps passed down from a parent or grandparent, or using a special wine cup rather than a paper cup to say the Kiddish, actually raises the act to an even higher level of observance.
Hiddur Mitzvah is a win-win proposition. It encourages us to try out Jewish rituals as a family that we might not otherwise do, engages and strengthens our family bonds, and inspires us to bring beauty and meaning into our homes with Jewish values as the foundation.