A Long Dinner In Brooklyn

Winters seem never-ending in New York City. There's something about the way the air whips around the buildings and down the avenues, or rushes at you when you ascend from the subway, that makes winter here feel harsher and colder and longer than in other places. Or perhaps it's just that the city is grey and lifeless as people rush around with their heads down, bundled in dark coats and scarves, unwilling to interact, even to say hello. And though I have a fondness for the cold and snow and winter sports, as March nears its end, I look forward to spring and a long dinner in Brooklyn.

For the past two years, I have spent the last week of March pondering the question: what does it mean to be free? The obvious answer for liberal-tarian minded people like me, is that freedom means absence of interference from the state. But the question I really want an answer to is more specific, and more personal.

My eagerness to characterize personal freedom started in Crown Heights around my friend's Seder table. We go there to celebrate Pesach with her family, a Jewish holiday that commemorates the physical deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. We all read from the Haggadah and drink wine and eat bitter herbs. Her children ask questions about Pharaoh and sing songs about the seven plagues. We break the matza, hide the afikoman, and dip potato into salt water.

I like the ritual and the prayers, and I don't even mind that dinner starts at 8 in the evening and ends at 2 in the morning, and that for the majority of that time we are not actually eating. But the real reason I go to Brooklyn every Passover is because of something my friend said after dinner one year: "I'm so glad you came to celebrate with us because it's not just about Jews and freedom from slavery in Egypt. It's also a reminder to free ourselves from whatever holds us in bondage." Passover reminds me to be a better person and to keep on striving. Of course, that's easier said than done, but I like that the end of winter and the beginning of spring is tied to a long dinner in Brooklyn, and to a reckoning about what it means to be free.