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Traditionally Speaking

April 10, 2012

Each year around the same time, we stop what we’re doing and celebrate. Whether it’s Passover, Easter, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Thanksgiving, even the Fourth of July, we head to the same places, set the same tables, see the same family and friends, eat the same meals, say the same blessings, and connect the same way. And why do we do these things?

Tradition.

Like that fiddler up on the roof. But while we repeat these same processes year after year, whether it’s eating matzo or not eating meat on Fridays – how often do we stop and ask: Why are we doing this yet again?

During the drive from New York City to my parents’ house in Massachusetts for Passover last week, I listened to Mitch Albom’s book “Have a Little Faith.” A fan of “Tuesdays with Morrie,” I was pleasantly surprised to find it similar as half the book was conversations with his aging childhood rabbi. Keeping my eyes on the road – which was tricky as the book was a tearjerker – I made mental notes. “Tradition,” Mitch’s rabbi said, is what keeps us connected to our past. We do these things because our parents did them, as did our grandparents, great grandparents and so on. Whatever your tradition – whether religious or cultural – it’s the act itself that keeps us connected to our past.

For a while, the faces at our annual gatherings stay the same. Some years there are new faces, while other years there are missing ones. In remembering those missing faces we perform the rituals they left behind. Baking their favorite cookies, playing Rummy Q while dessert is being served, or even repeating the same corny jokes they loved. In doing these things, not only are we evoking the traditions of a lost loved one, but we are passing it down to those who might not remember. And in that way, traditions are preserved.

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