My most memorable Passover is the one I spent with my future husband. At the time, we were two thirty-somethings about a year into a relationship.
He asked me to come home with him to Atlanta.
Although I had enjoyed a long career as a serial dater, I had never been invited home with someone as his “girlfriend.” He, on the other hand, was an old pro at bringing home girls for Passover.
This was a double-edged sword. Not being the first took some of the pressure off me, and yet, if I wasn’t the first, I probably wouldn’t be the last.
This anxiety was nothing several glasses of Manischewitz couldn’t cure however, and so I went, with a bag of prunes in tow. Matzoh is very binding and if there was one thing I was not going to be, it was the bloated ex-girlfriend in the dusty photo album.
Although my husband was born and raised in Atlanta, his parents are Israeli immigrants. He speaks Hebrew fluently, as do his family and their friends. I can read it, like any faithful Sunday school kid, but knowing what I’m actually saying is a different story.
Now, as his wife of three years, the language barrier is not an issue -- let’s be honest, not understanding what people are saying at family functions is usually a blessing -- but at the time, it made me nervous.
Yes, his family spoke English with me, but they were obviously more comfortable speaking Hebrew. If I couldn’t contribute to conversations, how could I make people like me? Funny and charming in English, I could do that. Hebrew, not so much.
To make matters worse, his 85-year-old grandmother was flying in from Tel Aviv for the occasion. I was usually a lock with grandmothers! They were my go-to at all family functions. Nobody could shoot the breeze at louder decibels about the price of seedless grapes or Pete Sampras like me. This time though, there would be no jabberjawing over a bowl of Fiddle Faddle. Without the grandmother’s approval, where was I? Back in New York for Passover next year, that’s where.
It turned out that all of my worrying was for naught, really. No one expected me to launch into a Hebrew rendition of my life story or pronounce hummus “hoomoose.”
It was okay that I was not Israeli.
And the grandmother? Beyond lovely.
As a matter of fact, one of the coolest ladies I had ever come across. Her self-sufficiency was formidable, and she could accessorize like nobody’s business.
Sure, she liked me. But did she love me?
The same went for his parents’ friends. Like any insecure thirty-something facing her first time home with a boyfriend that I really liked, I knew I wasn't getting any younger. I needed to lock this up. And to do it, I had to go big at Seder.
As more than twenty-five of us sat around card tables pushed into a giant “H” for the occasion that night, I eyed my Haggadah warily. Some of the adult children were reading in English, but for the most part it was a Hebrew affair.
As the chain slowly snaked its way over to my side of the “H,” I counted forward to what I knew would be my contribution. Rehearsing my piece over and over in my head, I vacillated between heroism and cowardice.
Could I do this? What about my accent? Should I just stick to English? Who was I kidding? Why risk it?
Suddenly, it was my turn.
With a deep breath, I channeled my inner Esther and went for it. When I finished, red-faced and discretely perspiring, I was rewarded literally with a round of applause. Some may even have stood.
And the grandmother? The look we exchanged spoke louder than any words, English or Hebrew, could have. I was in.
Zoe Fishman is the author of Balancing Acts. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and son. Her forthcoming novel is "Saving Ruth: A Novel" (Harper Collins April 17, 2012).