This is a holy weekend, which is to say, it’s a confluence of Christian and Jewish holy days. That makes it a holy weekend in this country perhaps but not in many parts of the world where other religions—or no religion at all—may dominate the culture. But in the United States, the arrival of Good Friday, Passover and Easter, is seen as a big deal.
The American Humanist Association, of which I am a member, notes the media stories about this special weekend and asks “On this Easter/Passover weekend, how should humanists accommodate family members who observe these religious holidays? How should they accommodate humanists?” My immediate response would be “with mutual respect.” Then again, perhaps it’s not that easy. I’m in a low-stress situation—one full-time sibling who doesn’t mark religious holidays and no one else to accommodate. I might attend a Seder if asked but wouldn’t go out of my way to find one. Same with Easter dinner, which at least has the advantage of being separate from worship services, which take place elsewhere. Passover, on the other hand, is all about the Story.
So what sort of accommodation needs to take place?
Families are unique and expectations vary. I was born to parents who practiced a low-key kind of Judaism. I found Seders to be both fun and uncomfortable as a child: the companionship was fun, the group participation was fun, some of the food was fun. The larger concepts of One God, the Chosen People, or the “next year in Jerusalem” were foreign concepts to me from my earliest memories. Perhaps I was born without the religion gene (or the ethnic identity gene, for that matter). I seem allergic to tribalism, although I do identify as an American, with occasional qualms. At any rate, when I became old enough to skip them, I did.
Then during graduate school I found myself sharing a house with an observant Jew, so I was back to pitching in at Passover as did my other non-observant housemates. It was a communal event. Later I married an ex-Catholic whose parents attended midnight mass every Christmas. I went with them a few times. As long as I could distance myself and be distanced from the particulars of any religiously-oriented holiday, I went along with it. I was an observer, an anthropologist participating with interest in the traditions of others.
These days, I’m disinclined to attend any kind of religious service. I don’t recite prayers, at least none that I’m aware of. The older I get, the more I want to escape ethnic presumption (“You’re Jewish, right?”) or assumptions of shared belief (“One nation, under God”). I am old enough and unencumbered enough that I don’t have to make accommodations (although if a dear friend or family members specifically asks me to a wedding or a funeral, I’ll value this or her needs far above my temporary discomfort). At the same time, I can relate to the spiritual feelings that certain religious observances engender. I can appreciate the rituals, especially those on those holidays that coincide with spring.
So bring on the bonnets and pass the matzo. While I may not have a particular deity in mind, I can see how this weekend would be very uplifting. Spring is here, flowers are in bloom and we share an appreciation of the capability of the human spirit to inspire, aspire and feel awe.