The sun is now up past bedtime. It peeks through the little edges of the blackout shades, sneaking into the room, tiptoeing to my eyelids. Granted, bedtime at the Safek household is around 9-9:30pm. We hit the hay early and get up early. But still, the sun is coming back, regaining his dominion over life here in the subarctic.
We are also fast entering that season that is unique to Alaska…breakup. In other places, snow melts in a relatively orderly manner. Here, it takes a month or so and is a season unto itself. Everything is melting and then sometimes re-freezing, only to melt again. Mud is everywhere. Puddles are deep enough I’m a little nervous driving our all-wheel-drive truck through them.
It is against this dramatic backdrop that we prepare for Passover in Alaska.
For me, it fits. It makes sense. We have been buried in snow and cold for months, living in darkness. The Jews of Exodus had their own winter of slavery. Their spiritual life was dormant, buried. They were in darkness and it probably seemed it would never end, that spring would never come. Alaskans can certainly relate. And yet, as Moses comes to them and they begin to see and experience the miracles G-d made, it’s much like their world thawed and burst open. It’s messy and chaotic and beautiful and exciting. The newly freed Jews are pulled into the light, blinking.
On a practical level, it means we generally do our Seders early, so that no one has to try to stay up for sundown and THEN an entire Seder. Our Seders at least begin with sunshine that looks like mid-afternoon streaming through windows. It’s hard for Eliyahu to sneak up to our house. We try to drag things out past sundown to get a little darkness to help him out.
Passover in Alaska also means ordering…almost everything. We have meat and basics shipped north from Seattle and place orders through our local Chabad house. When the shipment comes in, everyone picks up their groceries on the same day. We can’t count on much being available in the local stores. They’ll often try to sell things that aren’t kosher for passover in the tiny display they do have, which isn’t labeled. It’s a quiet endcap on a random aisle. The fact we’re not doing gebrokts until the last day this year helps. Our needs become smaller to fit what’s there and trying out this custom means we need fewer specialty Passover products.
And then, as always, there’s the conversion dimension. Passover is one of the BIG holidays and it’s one that has special laws as to what a Jew can do and what a non-Jew can do. Conversion candidates live in some space in-between the two. A safek? Even more so. A regular conversion candidate is encouraged to keep as many of the Passover laws as they can, to practice for the day when they will be obligated. They are encouraged to learn about kashering their kitchen for Passover and practice what they feel comfortable with, to clean out chametz and use it up or sell it, and to observe the Yom Tovim. However, what they are able to participate in varies widely from community to community. In some communities, they are not allowed to be invited to a Jew’s home for a Yom Tov meal. In others, they can be invited for a Yom Tov meal, but not a Seder. In others, they can be invited to a Seder, but they can’t eat any of the Afikomen. In others, they can participate fully. It generally depends on where they are in the process as well as what the local Rav holds.
For a safek, all bets are off and often, we can ask a question and the Rabbi’s just won’t answer because there is no way to know. We get used to unanswered shailas and doing the best we can. I like to believe that G-d understands we’re trying and is forgiving.
Generally, we host our own holiday meals and we gather up others who don’t fit elsewhere for guests. Other conversion candidates are welcomed to our Seder table as are patrilineal Jews. Our Seders are usually full of joy…even if they aren’t full of Jews and most of us don’t know the tunes to the songs.
We aren’t quite free yet, even as we celebrate and sing and say, “Next year in Jerusalem!” The exodus still remains a promise for us, set in a future where obligations will be clearer.
The snow is melting, though. It’s coming.