Celebrating Easter and Passover with Traditions, Memories & a Bridge of Common Ground

So many beautiful images and powerful symbols embody the spirit of Easter, Passover, and Spring.  In fact, Easter and Passover are linked by their symbolism and by their positions in the calendar governed by the sun and the moon.  According to Wikipedia, “in most European languages, Easter in English is termed by the words for Passover in those languages, and in the older English versions of the Bible, the term Easter was the term used to translate Passover.” The history behind each and the reasons for observance may be different, but many of the rituals and the meaning for each is essentially the same.  We light candles, we fast, we celebrate moveable feasts, we pray, we worship, we sing, we honor tradition, we congregate with our communities, friends, and family, we thank God for eternal life and salvation.  We also celebrate purity, rebirth, and new life.  Wikipedia does not share the most teachable lesson: that despite the differences in history and even now, we are all children of the same God, and we can learn so much more from each other than our society imposes through religious structure, doctrine, and varying interpretations and beliefs.

For me, one of the most iconic images of Easter is that of President John F. Kennedy and his beautiful family emerging from the Kennedy

Compound in Palm Beach, Florida after attending mass at St. Edward’s Roman Catholic Church, a church where I have prayed and celebrated happy occasions many times, including on Easter Sunday. On that same weekend, my mother had the good fortune of having a very unexpected private “meeting” with the President.  Her father, my grandfather James B. Donovan (Cold War lawyer played by Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies”), had just returned from his final trip of many trips to Cuba to negotiate with Fidel Castro for the release of the Bay of Pigs prisoners and their families.  While his mission was officially on behalf of the Cuban Families Committee, he was also unofficially and very proudly representing and working directly with the President, his brother Robert F. Kennedy behind the scenes on behalf  our country.

My grandparents’ best friends from their seasonal residence in Lake Placid, NY had a fine jewelry store in Lake Placid that remains to this day, as well as at Royal Poinciana Plaza in Palm Beach, Fl. The Palm Beach store happened to be right next door to the famed toy store FAO Schwarz. One day before that Easter Sunday, my mother was in the store visiting the Coopers and her best friend, their daughter Carol Cooper, when Mr. Cooper said to my mother, “Do you know who is next door shopping for his children? The President! Do you want to meet him? I can arrange it.”  Needless to say, my mother was beside herself.   As her father had just returned his final trip to Cuba, it was a meeting that was “negotiated” fairly quickly!

My mother met with the President by herself (and the Secret Service) for 45 minutes, picking out toys with him for Caroline & John. Later that day, he saw her in the crowd waving to him in the open-air convertible from the sidewalks.  He spotted my mother amidst the crowd, got out of the car and went over to her to give her a big hug. She said he was the most handsome man she had ever seen (besides my father of course!), and that his outfit was so vivid that she will never forget it: pink pants and a black Lacoste shirt. I have similar memories of his son John as a young man, running into him countless times on the streets of midtown, the Upper East Side, and Soho in Manhattan. Every time I saw him, his beyond Hollywood face stopped me in my tracks, but his down-to-earth demeanor and warm smile drew anyone in.

The iconic photo of John Jr. as a child with his sister Caroline is timeless, even though we all know it was the President’s last Easter. Just like that picture, the story of my mother meeting the President transcends time as a cherished memory and as a reminder that we are all here for such a short time and that we are all one here on this earth, regardless of whether it’s Easter, Passover or Ramadan that we celebrate.  We are all children of God and are all headed to the same place after life here on this Earth, so bridging our differences to meet on the common ground of humanity that we all share is paramount on this Easter Sunday and always.


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