My heart is full today. Yes, it is snowing again and the roads are a mess and the Spring that seemed so close by last weekend now feels like it has fled south to the lower 48, but…this weekend is our first weekend in our Shabbat RV and we have invitations to both Seders from a wonderful family for Pesach!
If you can’t tell from my words, every time I think of both of these things, I nearly scrunch up my face in glee, like my daughter when she gets a new stuffed animal. It’s that kind of joy.
The RV was our Rabbi’s idea, the practical answer to a halakhic issue, but in true Alaskan style. Since our house is too far from the shul to walk on Shabbat, we will camp out in the shul parking lot in our tiny 22 foot RV. Mr. Safek has carefully combed over every manual for the RV, figuring out what can and can’t be done to make sure the RV itself is shomer Shabbat (following all the laws of Shabbat). I’ve cleaned it almost as much as the rest of the house this month, adding to the already long list for Passover preparations. The kids have tested it out and figured out which sleeping spot is theirs. Now, tonight, it’s really going to be put to the test.
Candle lighting times (the time when Shabbat begins) edge later and later now and we don’t light tonight until up to 8:26, so the plan is for an early dinner, then drive to shul, park and prepare, and then light candles and make the blessings over wine and bread there, with dessert as a treat before the blessings after bread and tumbling into bed. Similarly, the days are long here and we won’t be doing havadalah (the blessings that end Shabbat) until 10:15 Saturday night. Soon, we’ll probably just go to sleep in the RV Saturday night, waking to do havdalah. It’s always better to add more time to Shabbat than take any away and it won’t be long before havdalah is in the middle of the night for us.
But for now, I’m just happy knowing we’re getting back to being (mostly) shomer Shabbos again. We’ll still need to intentionally do some melachah before havdalah if we haven’t made any mistakes because non-Jews are forbidden to fully keep Shabbat, but this helps us prepare for the day when we can, G-d willing.
Conversion candidates are often at the mercy of the kindness of others, but one of the good things about that is that we’re often surprised by just how kind others can be. Being in a position of needing help means that you sometimes get to see the very best of someone and you also give them an opportunity to help.
So it is with our Passover Seder invitations.
In the 7 years we’ve had Passover Seders, we’ve had plenty of guests, usually a rowdy bunch of non-Jewish friends who didn’t quite get what we were doing, but really enjoyed the food and novelty. However, the kids and I have never sat at someone else’s Seder table. We’ve sung songs my husband couldn’t teach us the tunes to, making up our own tunes. Even if he where he remembers them, music, singing, and carrying tunes is not among Mr. Safek’s many talents, so we’re on our own. For a few years, I made an amazing Yemenite Charoset…not realizing it was kitniyos (a food that Ashkenazic Jews won’t eat on Passover). I learned to cook for Seders from recipe books and we collected haggadahs (books that have the text for the Seder and sometimes commentaries) to liven our Seders up.
But, I’ve always longed to be at someone else’s Seder, to experience a “real” Seder among Jews. I’ve always wanted to hear the tunes to the songs, the “real” tunes.
This year…we have that chance!
There was some nervousness when we were invited after the initial, “YES!! What gift can we give them for hosting?!” My heart sunk as I realized they might have invited us without knowing our halakhic status. I didn’t want to tell the kids in case they got their hopes up. Mr. Safek discretely spoke with the head of the family, just to be sure he understood our unique situation and to let him know we would not be offended if they couldn’t host us. Different communities have different customs when it comes to having non-Jews at Yom Tov meals, let alone Seders. In one community, we were allowed at lunch meals on Yom Tovs (festivals), but not dinner.
Happily, Mr. Safek was told that the family already knew and that we were definitely still welcome.
To me, that a Jewish family would be so generous to host a family of four in our circumstances is not a small thing at all. For one, kosher food is not cheap in Alaska and that is four more mouths to feed. For another, often there are tricky halakhic issues to deal with when hosting non-Jews. It helps that the husband of the family is a Rabbi himself, but it’s still an additional burden on a night when there’s a lot to keep track of.
My heart is full of gratitude and I feel like our little family is very blessed as we prepare for Passover. May it be a taste of the freedom we also will one day enjoy after our long wanderings in the wilderness!