As I cooked, I cleaned out my cupboard for Passover, a little cumin at the bottom of the bottle, an old spice mixture I made, it all went into the pot, then I threw the jars away. I will never clean this cabinet again; I’m selling my house and moving to Australia. The metal measuring cups, the orange nesting bowls, and the seasoned cast iron pan are not worth the shipping costs. Almost everything will be discarded, donated, or sold, and the few things I take are carefully scrutinized. As I dealt with the stressful, sometimes overwhelming preparations, Passover added structure and meaning to my move.
I never thought I would visit Australia, let alone move there, but that was before my daughter met an Aussie. I have always lived in New York and to me Australia was so far away that I never gave it much thought. It took the birth of my grandson, and the pain of good-bye at my last visit to make moving there feel like a necessity. As in the Exodus, my move was unexpected, and there will be no turning back.
When I travel and people ask where I call home, I have to pause. America was the only place I’ve ever lived, but with both my children far away, and no family nearby, sometimes I feel like an exile here, especially at holiday time. But leaving the place you were born, where your parents and grandparents were born is hard. I sort through the detritus of a lifetime in every closet, cabinet, chest, and drawer, and that’s the easy part. Much harder is letting go of the places where memory lingers: the Lower East Side where my father grew up in a tenement, the elevated train that took me to my grandmother’s when I was a child, the zoo and botanical gardens where my parents always took me. I will never see these places again. Then I remind myself that tearing up roots and moving is part of the Jewish experience.
Like our ancestors who left in a hurry, I must leave so many things behind. As I went through the house, I found ‘chametz’ in every corner, old, outdated, useless things, but even the few things I won’t part with will be hard to stuff into only a few suitcases. I felt a twinge as I placed my childrens’ school reports on the discard pile, but I told myself, ‘people are more important than things’ and this culling is necessary. Besides, soon I won’t even miss them. In the save pile went my copper seder plate, my parent’s old Haggadah, and the Tribes of Israel trivet inherited from my mother-in-law. As a typical Jew of the diaspora, I’ll take only what’s needed on my journey, for spiritual as well as physical sustenance.
Passover celebrates our freedom from the house of bondage, but it also reminds us that our ancestors had to shed their belongings to attain spiritual growth. I remember the joy my grandmother took in her annual Passover housecleaning. I hold onto that thought as I hesitated at this huge letting go. There’s my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine, my mother’s dishes, my children’s hand-made pottery, but the world can have my things.
Present hardships can lead to great rewards so at the end of the seder, I will say “next year in Melbourne.”