SM’s Helpful, Non-Comprehensive Passover Primer

It is that time of year again, folks! By which I mean: Passover. Heretofore referred to by the Hebrew name of Pesach, because that’s how it is in my head. (Note: all of the following refers to Ashkenazic practices of Pesach. Sephardic practices are very different, but I am not familiar enough with them to write a compare/contrast piece.)

 

 

For those of you who don’t know, Pesach is, to borrow a friend’s favorite suffix, crazypants.

This friend also laments the fact that when you see Jewish characters in fiction, the only holiday they usually talk about is Hanukkah, as if that is the big poobah of the Jewish calendar. To that we say, HA. Hanukkah is one of the least important Jewish holidays from a religious standpoint, since it was instituted purely by the rabbis and not by the Torah itself, and also requires relatively little action, both during the holiday and in preparation for it. Basically, you gotta buy candles or oil and dust off your menorah (which you probably got for your bar or bat mitzvah, or else you can get a cheap one from the internet or your local bodega or whatever) and be home around sundown to light it. And if you get home later than sundown, okay, you light it then. Different customs may require that you don’t do anything more strenuous than reading a book for about 30 minutes after lighting the candles. Very intense.

Pesach…whooooo boy. Where do I even start.

Well, there’s the fact that if you live in America, the first two days and the last two days of Pesach’s eight days are, unlike any days of Hanukkah, capital-H Holiday days, which I’m using here to mean that they are basically two-day Sabbaths in the middle of the week. No electricity, no driving, no public transportation, no writing with pen/pencil and paper, no igniting fires (alas), no sewing, no talking on the phone, no texting, no internet. (Fun fact: Josh Malina, the actor, once tweeted, “Good Shabbos!” and when asked what that meant, he explained, “It’s Hebrew for ‘I don’t have access to google.’ ” High fives, Josh.)

Capital-H Holidays are different from the actual Sabbath in a couple of ways, the major one being that you are technically allowed to cook on Holidays for what is immediately needed. Although since you are still not allowed to ignite a fire, there are obviously limits on what kind of cooking you can do, and therefore most people who are planning to be at home and eating all their own food for Holiday meals have to do a metric boatload of cooking and baking beforehand. You do not want to know how many quiches and kugels and casseroles and lasagnas we (read: mostly my mom) have made in the past few weeks. And that’s not counting the desserts —brownies and blondies and cookies galore.

And THAT’S not counting the fact that Pesach has its own dietary requirements. As in, you’re not allowed to eat almost anything you normally eat. Or anything that was in close contact with anything you normally eat. The technical prohibition is against chametz, i.e. leavened food, but for practical purposes (since what is leavened food anyway) chametz includes everything EXCEPT water, raw fruits, vegetables, and items that have been officially certified on their packaging as Kosher for Passover, or kasher l’pesach.  You basically need to completely restock your fridge and pantry for this holiday and cook everything with flour substitutes such as matza meal and potato starch. Also, you have to boil, cover, or temporarily replace all your dishes, pots, pans, silverware, countertops, table tops, and anything else that may have been used for chametz. Plus you must clean every nook and cranny of your house to find any other possible chametz that might be there. Lurking. Waiting to pounce.

I like to think of it as the ultimate holiday for OCD, sanctioned and encouraged by Jewish law. On the eve of the Holiday, you even get to burn the chametz that you didn’t manage to get rid of. Partay!

 

 

Lots of people avoid all this by going away for Pesach. They go to visit family who have turned their houses upside down, thereby sparing themselves the necessity of doing it to their own homes. Or they go to a hotel, which is sparkling clean already and serves them their Kosher for Passover food.

My family has never gone away for Pesach. This is probably due to a) more family in one house for 8 days? No thank you, b) a family of nine in a hotel for 8 days? Pfft, ain’t nobody got money for dat, and, probably most importantly, c) my dad is the rabbi of a local congregation and the rabbi MUST be available on Pesach to answer questions regarding Jewish law on a holiday that is this completely neurotic and overwrought, and as I said before, for at least 4 of 8 days, phone calls and internet are not allowed, so he must be available for face-to-face consultation. Also to give sermons, which he is very good at since naturally he takes after me.

Additionally, the congregational rabbi must be around very close to the beginning of the holiday for another reason — he is the congregants’ representative to sell all the chametz that was not able to be cleaned/eaten/burned/flushed down the toilet/fed to pets/hidden in gifts given to “friends”/etc. This means that in the week or so leading up to Pesach (and, let’s be real, at midnight on the last possible day), people come to our house, meet with my dad, fill out a form delineating the value and location of said chametz, exchange an object of a certain minimum value (e.g. they hand a pen back and forth), and thus my father is authorized, as is traditional, to go to a gathering in Riverdale with the rest of the New York rabbis who hold all the forms from all their congregants and sell their chametz to a non-Jew for the duration of Pesach. (There are of course stricter opinions that say this is not allowed, but we will ignore those for the time being.)

I have to admit that I find the whole selling-chametz-to-a-non-Jew to be, well…kind of hilarious, to be honest. The basic way it’s done is that the non-Jew (who is a lovely Christian gentleman who used to live locally and now comes in every year specially for the sale, which is incredibly sweet in itself) pays about a penny or two upfront, with the agreement that he will pay the rest of the untold millions of dollars the day after Pesach, or the sale will be voided. And even though this is clearly a charade and everyone involved knows it, there are apparently six different ways that the rabbis ensure that the sale is solid and legally binding, even though it will be voided in a week. And when I was there with my dad one year, in the room with like 50 rabbis, the meeting kicked off with a check on the exact value of gold or silver or something on the stock market or whatever that morning, to make sure that the pennies being paid upfront are of enough value to bind the sale. The whole affair is compulsively neurotic in that adorably Jewish way.

Lastly, of course, is the tradition that most people have heard of if they’ve heard anything about Pesach: the seder, or sedarim in plural, since in America, we have two of them, on the first two Holiday nights. You can probably Wikipedia it and get more information about the technicalities of seder procedure than I can possibly give you (four cups of wine, dipping of parsley into saltwater, recitation of the Haggadah, festive meal, singing of incredibly repetitive Hebrew and Aramaic songs, et al), but what it probably won’t tell you is that since a seder is a family or communal get-together, no two sedarim are alike, just like no two Thanksgiving dinners are alike, even though most of us Orthodox Jew types are reading the story of the Exodus from the same Haggadah.

A seder can be huge (we host our synagogue’s seder every year on the first night and this one had close to 50 people in attendance) or not terribly large (a friend of my was bemoaning the fact that his sedarim were going to have only his parents, brother, and grandmother, so he’d have to be very present and talkative and unable to slink off unnoticed). Our home seder often serves as a mini communal seder, topping out at 16 to 18 people, who can range from “fun guests you enjoy having” to “that guy with terrible hygiene who mutters incoherently to himself half the time and spends the rest interrupting people’s conversations to complain that his sister refuses to host him anymore and he can’t understand why.” Win some, lose some. In ancient times, it was typical to invite as many people as possible to your seder because the korban pesach, i.e. the Passover Sacrifice, i.e. an entire roast lamb, was required to be eaten before the dawn of the next morning; leftovers had to be burned. And while the base text that we read from the Haggadah is fairly standardized, people are free to, nay, encouraged to expound and elaborate and offer up additional thoughts, possible lessons learned, and questions about the story and the rituals of the seder. A common answer given for “Why do we do X Random Seder Ritual?” is “So that the children will ask.” It is a holiday of questions, although the answers may range from the satisfying to the creative to the ridiculous.

*

Independently of one another, my 13-year-old little sister and my 21-year-old little brother have already said to me this holiday, “You know, I really don’t like Pesach,” as if this is a surprising revelation. It’s really not. I obviously find many aspects of it amusing, but I can’t necessarily claim to like it. I’m sure there are people in the universe who like stressful cooking and compulsive cleaning and having strangely unbalanced guests at their table and having to read huge chunks of Hebrew text before getting to the actual meal and having to eat obscene amounts of charred-cardboard-tasting matza and not being able to eat normal food and stammering through neverending songs in foreign languages, but I don’t think it’s all that scandalous or presumptuous to say that most of us, y’know, don’t.

This holiday is nuts. It’s over-the-top and designed to drive anyone bonkers.

It is also clearly designed, in the way that it has evolved over the centuries, to force members of families and communities to interact with each other, forging and reinforcing connections between them. The preparation for Pesach is a massive undertaking, and would not get done in my house if everyone didn’t pitch in, at least a little bit. We band together against our common enemy: Pesach. And even if you don’t have a huge family, turning everything over from chametz-tik to kosher for Pesach isn’t always something you can do alone; this year I was hired by a family friend to help her lug boxes down from her attic and restock the kitchen. It forces people to ask for help that they might not otherwise ask for, and for people to provide that help because we get it, we understand that we are all at the mercy of this nutty holiday and can’t in good conscience make it even harder for someone else.

And the evolution of the system of selling chametz, in addition to creating a situation where rabbis of various communities have a forum in which they are able to get together once a year (no other holiday has such a thing built into it), also forces people to have face-time with their community rabbi. Depending on your rabbi and your comfort level, this can be a fate worse than death or it can be kind of nice. The old joke is “What’s the difference between a rabbi and a therapist? Therapist costs money.” And many a chametz-selling meeting has taken a turn for the therapeutic, I can tell you that. I found out this year that you can sell your chametz online, and I can’t help feeling like that kind of misses the whole point.

Pesach is supposed to be a time where we celebrate our freedom, how we were Exodused from Egypt. But I see Pesach as having more in common with the slavery we were freed from than the freedom we’re supposedly celebrating. It’s kind of a holiday of endurance, not celebration. In essence, in its present incarnation, I see Pesach as a trial by fire that we have to go through every year with our families and our communities, and hopefully come out stronger on the other side, and THAT’S when the enjoyment of our freedom can kick in. We are reenacting the Exodus, people! Freedom awaits at the end; you just have to survive long enough!

Although, of course, there is also the fact that absolutely nothing in American law prohibits any of this crazypants holiday. We can be as weird and bizarre as we want and our government does not care one whit. That is freedom, folks. Freedom to be complete whackjobs and fruitcakes and never having to fear for one minute that anyone will stop you. Enjoy that. Savor it.

Chag Sameach, everyone.

 

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This post was originally published in slightly altered form as a Facebook Note on April 17, 2014. There were, sadly, no gifs in the original.

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Like this post? I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you (yes, you, you wonderful and very attractive reader) that my GoFundMe campaign is still open — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive. The proceeds no longer go toward automotive school tuition, because I have paid off my loan in full, but you can still commission me to write anything you want. Like, you can force me to watch ANYTHING and review it for you. Anything. Real-Housewives-of-Atlanta-kind-of-anything. Hit me with your best shot.

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#ThrowbackThursday — “Tish’a b’Av Thoughts 2013”

It comes around every year, so I’ll probably repost this every year.

Original post was a Facebook Note from July 16th, 2013.

 

Tish’a b’Av Thoughts 2013

Tish’a b’Av is not a day of action. There are no extensive Judaic rituals like a seder to conduct or a bundle of plants to wave around or a rickety booth to construct in your backyard.

It’s not a day of prayer, either. There are a few specific prayers, the kinot, that are particular to Tish’a b’Av, but there are nowhere near as many things to say as there are on Yom Kippur, and no one is expected to spend the entire day in the synagogue with a prayerbook.

It’s not a day of atonement. We’re not asking for forgiveness and absolution and a fresh start.

The only way I can think to sum up this day is that it’s a day of, “Just be wrong. Just stand there in your wrongness and be wrong and get used to it.”*

It’s a day of wallowing. You’re ideally not supposed to do anything that will distract you from that, at least for the first half of the day. You’re not supposed to eat, you’re not supposed to watch TV, you’re not supposed to read, I’m not supposed to be writing this. You’re not even supposed to study Torah until after chatzot (midday).

It’s a day of mourning, and a day of regret, and a day of guilt. Very Jewish.

I have never been any good at feeling the things I am supposed to feel. I’m pretty good at doing the things I’m supposed to do, because I can usually come up with my own reasons to do them. But I’m bad at believing what I’m supposed to believe, and feeling what I’m supposed to feel.

Supposedly, God does not command your feelings. I remember in school when we got up to the “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God” verse in the shema, and the teacher raised the question, “How can God command anyone to love him?”

I don’t remember what answer she gave, which means that I must have found it completely unsatisfying, because I remember satisfying answers while unsatisfying ones evaporate from my memory, leaving the questions stronger than ever. (She probably said something like, “Doing all the commandments will lead to love of God, so it’s not a separate commandment, just a natural result” and no, that is not how it works.)

But the fact that this is a question means there’s the idea that God doesn’t command our feelings, only our actions.

But aside from what God technically commands, it’s undeniable that the Jewish calendar has demands on your feelings. Be happy on these days! Be sad on these days! Be introspective! Be celebratory! Be depressed! Be grateful! We have holidays for all of them, sometimes well spread out, sometimes smushed together like a bad mood swing.

Some people have the mental discipline to direct their thoughts and feelings toward all of these at the right times of year, and are able to take advantage of this varied spectrum of emotional experience. Me? Nope. I tend to get bitter and cynical when faced with “BE HAPPY NOW” and feel upbeat when everyone around me starts doing the sad thing.

I’m an emotional contrarian. I’m bad at feelings.

And I’m especially bad at guilt.

Because the fact is that I am a bad Jew, a Jew who doesn’t believe properly, who doesn’t care enough about Jewish things, doesn’t have enough tolerance for people who don’t think like me, and if there is a Messiah, I may very well be one of those people who is preventing him from coming, because I am just not good enough for that, and am bringing the rest of you down with me and my unworthiness. Because we Jews are all a team, and my failure somehow radiates out to impact all of us.

And I could feel guilty about that. I could let it own me, let it crush me, let it weigh on me every minute of every day.

It used to. It used to be this constant horrible presence in my life, berating me, hammering me, until I reached a point where I realized, “Yo, guilt! It’s either you, or me.” And I chose me, and over time, I uprooted and cast out every last shred of guilt I could find.

Guilt is not something I have been able to find a balance for. In order to function, I need it gone. Completely. I understand that guilt in moderation is a healthy thing, ensures that you’re not a sociopath, but I can’t handle it, so I’ve walled it out. I can recognize my mistakes, I can think to myself, “I shouldn’t have done that,” or, “That was wrong,” and I usually do my best to apologize and make it up to the person I’ve wronged, but I can’t feel bad about it anymore, not for more than a second or two, with very rare exceptions. I don’t have any real, sincere regrets. About anything.

I have tremendous respect for people who have a capacity for guilt. I respect people who can feel their mistakes, people who have deep regrets, and live with them every day without letting them take over. Guilt destroys me, and I am frankly too afraid to let any of it back in, because I know what it does to me.

So even on this day of guilt, for better or worse, I sit behind my walls and refuse to feel my wrongness.

 

 

*President Josiah Bartlet, The West Wing

 

 

 

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Like this post? I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you, wonderful reader, that my GoFundMe campaign is still open — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive. The proceeds no longer go toward automotive school tuition, because I have paid off my loan in full, but you can still commission me to write anything you want. You can force me to watch ANYTHING and review it for you. Anything. Real-Housewives-of-Atlanta-kind-of-anything. Hit me with your best shot.

#ThrowbackThursday — “Thoughts on Passover, About Passover”

I’ve been neglecting these Throwback Thursday posts, because I’ve been super busy since returning from Israel — I’ve been babysitting a lot, raking in the cash; I took a trip last week to tag along at Harvard Law School with a friend, which served only to reaffirm my career choices because ick, law school; and of course, Passover is coming.

 

Here’s my handy guide to this insanity, originally posted as a facebook note last year, April 17th 2014. It features a super long intro which you can feel free to skip to get to the Passovery stuff.

 

 

Thoughts on Passover, About Passover

 
I haven’t written any notes recently, not since February, apparently. I could say I’ve been busy but that’s not really the reason. Reasons are:

1)  I’m up to the hundredth note, which, while it is a thoroughly arbitrary number, obviously carries this huge pressure to make it special, to write something brilliant and substantial to mark this momentous occasion. Which of course means that whatever I think of writing is going to fall into the (also thoroughly arbitrary) category of Not Good Enough.

2)  I’ve recently been through another breakup, and contrary to popular opinion, I am not an open book with my online presence, and I almost never post anything about my relationships without the consent of the fellow relationshipee. (Aside: it occurs to me in this moment that “former fellow relationshipee” sounds so much better than “ex.” Maybe I’ll call them FFRs from now on. Or not.) And perfectly understandably, he would prefer that I not blab my thoughts about us all over the interwebs. Which I of course respect, but so much of what my brain wants to write about loops back to the relationship and what I learned from it, ergo — writer’s block. Well, poster’s block. There’s plenty written, but it is not for public consumption.

3)  I’ve been trying to come up with a way to write about things about me that I haven’t written about before, things that somehow you don’t or can’t get a feel for from reading my notes. Who I really am in human form, not in text form. How I trip over my words sometimes when I talk, how my voice is deeper than what I consider feminine, how I pick at my scabs and chew my nails, how sometimes I have nothing to say and get away with just a knowing smile, how I can be a lot warmer and more approachable than it may seem from my notes but not always truly empathetic, how needy and fragile and frightened I can get, how detached and unemotional I can get, how sometimes I just chatter to fill the silence, how I forget how deeply anxious relationships make me until I’m in one again, how lazy and unproductive I can be. But I’m not talented enough to capture these imperfections in writing, because as soon as I put them into words, like I’ve done in the past with depression and with insecurity and with loneliness and with music being an emotional trigger, they sound…strong. They sound authoritative. They sound articulate and well-thought out. Which is precisely what they are not. And so I could agonize and try to figure out once and for all how to solve that paradox and do it right, but because I am lazy, that might mean no more notes for like 20 years. And we can’t have that.

So to get around all of these, and to get over that 100 Note hump instead of letting it loom larger and larger until it’s insurmountable, I’m going to write about something totally different: Passover. Heretofore referred to by the Hebrew name of Pesach, because that’s how it is in my head. (Note: all of the following refers to Ashkenazic practices of Pesach. Sephardic practices are very different, but I am not familiar enough with them to write a compare/contrast piece.)

*

For those of you who don’t know, Pesach is, to borrow a friend’s favorite suffix, crazypants.

 

This friend also laments the fact that when you see Jewish characters in fiction, the only holiday they usually talk about is Hanukkah, as if that is the big poobah of the Jewish calendar. To that we say, HA. Hanukkah is one of the least important Jewish holidays from a religious standpoint, since it was instituted purely by the rabbis and not by the Torah itself, and also requires relatively little action, both during the holiday and in preparation for it. Basically, you gotta buy candles or oil and dust off your menorah (which you probably got for your bar or bat mitzvah, or else you can get a cheap one from the internet or your local bodega or whatever) and be home around sundown to light it. And if you get home later than sundown, okay, you light it then. Different customs may require that you don’t do anything more strenuous than reading a book for about 30 minutes after lighting the candles. Very intense.

Pesach…whooooo boy. Where do I even start.

Well, there’s the fact that if you live in America, the first two days and the last two days of Pesach’s eight days are, unlike any days of Hanukkah, capital-H Holiday days, which I’m using here to mean that they are basically two-day Sabbaths in the middle of the week. No electricity, no driving, no public transportation, no writing with pen/pencil and paper, no igniting fires (alas), no sewing, no talking on the phone, no texting, no internet. (Fun fact: Josh Malina, the actor, once tweeted, “Good Shabbos!” and when asked what that meant, he explained, “It’s Hebrew for ‘I don’t have access to google.’ ” High fives, Josh.)

Capital-H Holidays are different from the actual Sabbath in a couple of ways, the major one being that you are technically allowed to cook on Holidays for what is immediately needed. Although since you are still not allowed to ignite a fire, there are obviously limits on what kind of cooking you can do, and therefore most people who are planning to be at home and eating all their own food for Holiday meals have to do a metric boatload of cooking and baking beforehand. You do not want to know how many quiches and kugels and casseroles and lasagnas we (read: mostly my mom) have made in the past few weeks. And that’s not counting the desserts —brownies and blondies and cookies galore.

And THAT’S not counting the fact that Pesach has its own dietary requirements. As in, you’re not allowed to eat almost anything you normally eat. Or anything that was in close contact with anything you normally eat. The technical prohibition is against chametz, i.e. leavened food, but for practical purposes (since what is leavened food anyway) chametzincludes everything EXCEPT water, raw fruits, vegetables, and items that have been officially certified on their packaging as Kosher for Passover, or kasher l’pesach.  You basically need to completely restock your fridge and pantry for this holiday and cook everything with flour substitutes such as matza meal and potato starch. Also, you have to boil, cover, or temporarily replace all your dishes, pots, pans, silverware, countertops, table tops, and anything else that may have been used for chametz. Plus you must clean every nook and cranny of your house to find any other possible chametz that might be there. Lurking. Waiting to pounce.

I like to think of it as the ultimate holiday for OCD, sanctioned and encouraged by Jewish law. On the eve of the Holiday, you even get to burn the chametz that you didn’t manage to get rid of. Partay!

Lots of people avoid all this by going away for Pesach. They go to visit family who have turned their houses upside down, thereby sparing themselves the necessity of doing it to their own homes. Or they go to a hotel, which is sparkling clean already and serves them their Kosher for Passover food.

My family has never gone away for Pesach. This is probably due to a) more family in one house for 8 days? No thank you, b) a family of nine in a hotel for 8 days? Pfft, ain’t nobody got money for dat, and, probably most importantly, c) my dad is the rabbi of a local congregation and the rabbi MUST be available on Pesach to answer questions regarding Jewish law on a holiday that is this completely neurotic and overwrought, and as I said before, for at least 4 of 8 days, phone calls and internet are not allowed, so he must be available for face-to-face consultation. Also to give sermons, which he is very good at since naturally he takes after me.

Additionally, the congregational rabbi must be around very close to the beginning of the holiday for another reason — he is the congregants’ representative to sell all the chametzthat was not able to be cleaned/eaten/burned/flushed down the toilet/fed to pets/hidden in gifts given to “friends”/etc. This means that in the week or so leading up to Pesach (and, let’s be real, at midnight on the last possible day), people come to our house, meet with my dad, fill out a form delineating the value and location of said chametz, exchange an object of a certain minimum value (e.g. they hand a pen back and forth), and thus my father is authorized, as is traditional, to go to a gathering in Riverdale with the rest of the New York rabbis who hold all the forms from all their congregants and sell their chametzto a non-Jew for the duration of Pesach. (There are of course stricter opinions that say this is not allowed, but we will ignore those for the time being.)

I have to admit that I find the whole selling-chametz-to-a-non-Jew to be, well…kind of hilarious, to be honest. The basic way it’s done is that the non-Jew (who is a lovely Christian gentleman who used to live locally and now comes in every year specially for the sale, which is incredibly sweet in itself) pays about a penny or two upfront, with the agreement that he will pay the rest of the untold millions of dollars the day after Pesach, or the sale will be voided. And even though this is clearly a charade and everyone involved knows it, there are apparently six different ways that the rabbis ensure that the sale is solid and legally binding, even though it will be voided in a week. And when I was there with my dad one year, in the room with like 50 rabbis, the meeting kicked off with a check on the exact value of gold or silver or something on the stock market or whatever that morning, to make sure that the pennies being paid upfront are of enough value to bind the sale. The whole affair is compulsively neurotic in that adorably Jewish way.

Lastly, of course, is the tradition that most people have heard of if they’ve heard anything about Pesach: the seder, or sedarim in plural, since in America, we have two of them, on the first two Holiday nights. You can probably Wikipedia it and get more information about the technicalities of seder procedure than I can possibly give you (four cups of wine, dipping of parsley into saltwater, recitation of the Haggadah, festive meal, singing of incredibly repetitive Hebrew and Aramaic songs, et al), but what it probably won’t tell you is that since a seder is a family or communal get-together, no two sedarim are alike, just like no two Thanksgiving dinners are alike, even though most of us Orthodox Jew types are reading the story of the Exodus from the same Haggadah.

A seder can be huge (we host our synagogue’s seder every year on the first night and this one had close to 50 people in attendance) or not terribly large (a friend of my was bemoaning the fact that his sedarim were going to have only his parents, brother, and grandmother, so he’d have to be very present and talkative and unable to slink off unnoticed). Our home seder often serves as a mini communal seder, topping out at 16 to 18 people, who can range from “fun guests you enjoy having” to “that guy with terrible hygiene who mutters incoherently to himself half the time and spends the rest interrupting people’s conversations to complain that his sister refuses to host him anymore and he can’t understand why.” Win some, lose some. In ancient times, it was typical to invite as many people as possible to your seder because the korban pesach, i.e. the Passover Sacrifice, i.e. an entire roast lamb, was required to be eaten before the dawn of the next morning; leftovers had to be burned. And while the base text that we read from theHaggadah is fairly standardized, people are free to, nay, encouraged to expound and elaborate and offer up additional thoughts, possible lessons learned, and questions about the story and the rituals of the seder. A common answer given for “Why do we do X Random Seder Ritual?” is “So that the children will ask.” It is a holiday of questions, although the answers may range from the satisfying to the creative to the ridiculous.

*

Independently of one another, my 13-year-old little sister and my 21-year-old little brother have already said to me this holiday, “You know, I really don’t like Pesach,” as if this is a surprising revelation. It’s really not. I obviously find many aspects of it amusing, but I can’t necessarily claim to like it. I’m sure there are people in the universe who like stressful cooking and compulsive cleaning and having strangely unbalanced guests at their table and having to read huge chunks of Hebrew text before getting to the actual meal and having to eat obscene amounts of charred-cardboard-tasting matza and not being able to eat normal food and stammering through neverending songs in foreign languages, but I don’t think it’s all that scandalous or presumptuous to say that most of us, y’know, don’t.

This holiday is nuts. It’s over-the-top and designed to drive anyone bonkers.

It is also clearly designed, in the way that it has evolved over the centuries, to force members of families and communities to interact with each other, forging and reinforcing connections between them. The preparation for Pesach is a massive undertaking, and would not get done in my house if everyone didn’t pitch in, at least a little bit. We band together against our common enemy: Pesach. And even if you don’t have a huge family, turning everything over from chametz-tik to kosher for Pesach isn’t always something you can do alone; this year I was hired by a family friend to help her lug boxes down from her attic and restock the kitchen. It forces people to ask for help that they might not otherwise ask for, and for people to provide that help because we get it, because we are all at the mercy of this nutty holiday and can’t in good conscience make it even harder for someone else.

And the evolution of the system of selling chametz, in addition to creating a situation where rabbis of various communities have a forum in which they are able to get together once a year (no other holiday has such a thing built into it), also forces people to have face-time with their community rabbi. Depending on your rabbi and your comfort level, this can be a fate worse than death or it can be kind of nice. The old joke is “What’s the difference between a rabbi and a therapist? Therapist costs money.” And many achametz-selling meeting has taken a turn for the therapeutic, I can tell you that. I found out this year that you can sell your chametz online, and I can’t help feeling like that kind of misses the whole point.

Pesach is supposed to be a time where we celebrate our freedom, how we were Exodused from Egypt. But I see Pesach as having more in common with the slavery we were freed from than the freedom we’re supposedly celebrating. It’s kind of a holiday of endurance, not celebration. In essence, in its present incarnation, I see Pesach as a trial by fire that we have to go through every year with our families and our communities, and hopefully come out stronger on the other side, and THAT’S when the enjoyment of our freedom can kick in. We are reenacting the Exodus, people! Freedom awaits at the end; you just have to survive long enough!

Although of course, there is also the fact that absolutely nothing in American law prohibits any of this crazypants holiday. We can be as weird and bizarre as we want and our government does not care one whit. That is freedom, folks. Freedom to be complete whackjobs and fruitcakes and never having to fear for one minute that anyone will stop you. Enjoy that. Savor it.

Chag Sameach, everyone.

 

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My Year-In-Review, via Facebook Statii

It is way too much work to think back over this whole year and construct some kind of coherent narrative and write it all out for a serious, heavy-duty year-in-review. So instead I’m just gonna take the first and last Facebook status of every month of 2014 and post them in one spot, with minimal commentary in fancy schmancy italics. I’m excluding links and pictures and famous quotes and whatnot that aren’t just pure nuggets of wisdom straight from me. Enjoy?


 

January 1st

So, Wolf of Wall Street? Basically makes me want to go and hug everybody I know and be like, “OH MY GOD I AM SO GLAD YOU ARE NOT JORDAN BELFORT.” Oh, and DiCaprio better win the Oscar.

lolololol oscar hahahaha
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January 30th

If I were to have a “What I Be” portrait done, I think I’d have “vampire” “acne” “makeup” and “smile lines” (with arrows) written on my face, with the caption: “I am not my skin.” And no, I’m not posting this for attention or validation. I’m posting this solely to annoy Rafi Skier.

Because *reasons.* Also, ha, remember that photography project? That happened.


 

February 2nd 

BAD. IT. IS. SO. BAD. ‪#‎SuperBowl‬

Nuff said.
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February 27th

Please keep my friend and radio mentor Philip Rosenberg in your prayers, because he suffered a medical emergency today and is a devout atheist, so being prayed for would probably piss him off enough to get better so that he could yell at me.

Phil is doing just fine, yay! Proof there is a god! Suck it, Phil! (Also no we are not related. Thanks for asking.)


 

March 3rd

Another year, another zero Oscars for Leonardo DiCaprio. Dude is probably going to get a lifetime achievement award before anyone will give him an Oscar.

Whaddaya know.
*
March 31st

Why SM will never be a relationship counselor, episode 4567:

Friend: “Stop getting all the men to fall in love with you! Sheesh”
Me: “I’m a heartbreaker. It’s what I do.”
Him: “Yea, I know.”
Me: “you are lucky enough to be immune to whatever it is about me that hooks these poor suckers”
Him: “I thank Jesus for it every day.
My immunity means that I’ve messaged approximately 5 profiles on two websites in the last year, because the rest are boring.”
Me: “move to mongolia or something. People seem more alluring if you can’t understand what they’re saying.”

See, what did I tell you? Nuggets of wisdom. EVERYWHERE.


 

April 1st

Note to self: the axiom “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet” was invented for days like today. (Except for the outrage over the How I Met Your Mother finale. I think it’s safe to believe that.)

APRIL FOOLS DAY AMIRITE?? Still have not watched the last couple seasons of HIMYM. But I know I would hate the finale if I ever did. Because ewwwww.
*
April 30th

Why SM Will Never Be a Supervillain, Episode 93:

Friend: “So-and-so thinks you hate her.”
Me: “What? Why would she think that?”
Him: “I have no idea. I went to great pains to explain to her that SM doesn’t muster the energy to hate anybody.”
Me: “Seriously. Way too much effort.”

This was later amended in the comments (after other motivations for being a supervillain were presented) to more specifically: “Why SM Will Never Be Slade Wilson, Aside From his Awesome Goatee and Accent, Obviously.”


 

May 1st
Kid I babysit for: “I want you to join Minecraft. Because I want you to come live in this world with me, because I don’t like being the only person in this world.”

Me: “But couldn’t anyone else keep you company too?”
Him: “But I want YOU to live in it.”
Me: “Why me?”
Him: “Because I know you well and I really really want you to live in this world with me.”

I feel like I was just proposed to by a nine-year-old.

Winning ’em over while they’re young, that’s me.
*
May 31st
Another Heights shabbos gone — big thanks to everyone who invited me for meals, hung out with me, said hi, and especially to Galit Wernick for hosting me, listening to me explain how engines work, asking me to read “Something Borrowed” out loud for a hour or two, and agreeing to watch “The Normal Heart” with me tonight. Shavua Tov!
Galiiiiiiiit ❤ ❤ ❤
The Normal Heart 😦 😦 😦

 

June 2nd

Things nobody tells you about the differences between automotive school and a liberal arts college: An abbreviated, commonly used form of the word “transmission” is “tranny.” I still get whiplash hearing people throw that word around in a completely inoffensive context.

Yup. Still. Every time.
*
June 30th
Out of context quote of the day: “Joanna, don’t miss the orgy. I can tell you where it is.” ~ Tamar Pacht
No, I will not tell you the context. YOU ARE CURSED TO WONDER.

 

July 2nd

omg I love ewoks they are best thing in all of cinematic history

Context and justification not required.
*
July 31st

Today in “Questions Never Asked of Male Automotive Students” —

Instructor (apropos of nothing): “Do you know how to make apple pie?”
Me: “No.”
Him: “Do you know how to make cheesecake?”
Me: “Nope.”
Him: “Oh. See, I want to find out how to make them so that I can tell my wife how to make them.”
Me: “Google. Google knows everything.”

Unpack the sexism, people. Unpack. Go.

Also happy birthday Harry Potter!

 

August 2nd
It occurred to me this week that I am starting to become afraid to be a Jew in much the same way I am afraid to be a woman. I, as a woman, know that obviously not all men are rapists or misogynists, but I also know (from experience and from studies and history and well-documented events) that far too many are, and therefore I am instinctively cautious and apprehensive of most men I don’t know. And similarly, I, as a Jew, know that obviously not all people are anti-Semites, but I also know (from current events and experience and studies and history) that far too many are, and therefore am starting to become instinctively cautious and apprehensive of most people I don’t know. ‪#‎persecutioncomplex‬
Oh god the Gaza war. Let’s not do that again. (Ha. As if.)
*
August 31st
Dear body, you can sleep late on Sundays. Really. It’s okay. Sincerely, I DIDN’T GET TO SLEEP UNTIL 2 AM LAST NIGHT WHY AM I AWAKE
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL.

 

September 1st

So Labor Day is about honoring the blue collar workers? Honor me, people. I expect groveling.

Ahem. Still waiting.

*

September 30th

It will never not be creepy when guys I’ve never had class with and never spoken to call out to me by name when I walk by them in shop or in the hallways. Never. Ugh, so creepy.

*curls into fetal ball*

 

October 2nd

Signs you’re an auto mechanic student: You cringe every time you see a Chrysler Town and Country because the hood is too short so half the engine compartment extends under the dash and is a nightmare to work on. *shudders*

THE HORROR.
*
October 30th

Baby brother: “You’re going to school today?”
Me: “Yup!”
Him: “You know, a wizard could probably fix cars REALLY EASILY.”

‪#‎facts‬

little brothers always ruining everything


 

November 2nd

boston y u have such bad weather also y r u in boston. ugh boston. no me gusta. Awesome people though. Jacquie Chana Yocheved Wolpoe better come back to NYC soon or — or…I’ll just have to visit again, I guess.

but for real Boston sucks so much

*
November 28th

These Black Friday taglines of “The more you spend, the more you save!” are shorting out my logic circuits. That is literally not true. Stop it, internet.

although thank goodness for Black Friday because who knows if I’d have a tool set without it

 

December 1st

Things that frustrate me: the fact that we have the technology to land a probe on a comet but not to pack chips into a bag in such a way that the settling won’t result in 2/3 of a bag of air. ‪#‎darncapitalists‬

And don’t tell me the bag is the technology keeping the chips from being crushed. If there was any financial incentive to fit more chips in a bag, they’d find a way.
*
December 31st
?????????????????????

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On Responsibility to the Community — Sexism, Intermarriage, and Other Fun Stuff (Part 2)

 Commissioned post count: 2 out of 8 requests so far.

 

[Continued from Part 1, found here. Requested by Elissa G.]

 

This part is going to be a lot more Jewish, because Judaism and community are so inextricably intertwined and as an agnostic Jew who keeps most observances for all the “wrong” reasons, I of course have much to say about the communal aspects of Judaism as opposed to the religious ones.

 

But first I have to talk a bit about what makes a community. A common (but by no means universal) Jewish take on community is that it’s like a diagram of concentric circles — you and your personal bubble (or “dalet amot”) in the center, your family in the circle around that, your Jewish neighbors in the circle around that, then non-Jewish neighbors, then Jews in your city, then non-Jews in your city, then Jews everywhere else in the world, and everyone else in the world in the circle around that.

Like this. Only not as tasty.

The closer the circle is to the center, the greater the urgency for you to help those people. Responsibility becomes diffused the further out you go. Which is quite practical when it comes to allotting the limited resources that we all have in life — if you try to help everyone equally and spread your resources too thinly, then no one gets the help they need. So “take care of your own first” is as good a way as any to divvy up the resources.

 

Still, in reality, a diagram of the communities that we belong to probably looks more like this:

 

 

There is family, there are school friends, there are neighborhood friends, there are internet friends, there are colleagues, there is extended family, there is step-family, half-family, people who were in the same school clubs as you, people who went to schools you graduated from, summer camp friends, people who are fans of the same shows/music/youtubers/sports teams that you are, people who are the same gender as you are, people who are the same ethnicity as you are, people who are the same religion as you are, and so on and so forth, and some of these may overlap a little and some of them may overlap a lot, and some may have absolutely no overlap at all.

 

And you may feel a strong connection to some of these communities and little or no connection to others, and other members of the community may see you differently than you see yourself. For instance, colleges are always going to consider you part of the alumni community and ask you for money, whether you feel any affinity toward them or not. Some Yankee fans may consider you basically a brother if you’re a Yankee fan too, while you yourself may have much more stringent criteria for what makes you feel connected to someone in a brotherly way. And you may feel more of an affinity for your friends than you do for your own family, or vice versa. Or you may feel very strongly drawn to a particular cause that involves a particular population, like the homeless or LGBTQ teens.

 

So when it comes to “taking care of your own first,” the question of who “your own” truly is becomes muddled and confusing.

 

Personally, I usually tend to latch onto people, not communities. True, I may feel a connection and common ground with a person who is Jewish, or a Yankee fan, or a woman, or a rabbi’s daughter, but that alone is seldom enough to inspire any kind of loyalty. I’m not gonna put myself out there for someone and do them any special favors just because of those things, if the person as a whole is not someone I find compelling. I don’t owe anyone anything just because they may belong to a community that I belong to. But for my friends, my real true friends, who are there for me and have established a reciprocal relationship? There’s very little I would not do, regardless of what community they may belong to.

 

Obviously I try to have a basic baseline of human decency with most people I meet, and I try to stand up for what I think is right/fight injustice on a situational basis as discussed in Part 1, but just as obviously, I’m not an unendingly generous person who will just give and give and give to anyone who needs regardless of who they are and how they treat me and what they mean to me. Just because we inhabit this world together or share some particular commonality does not put some cosmic, crushing responsibility on me for them, or on them for me. I don’t think that is a healthy way of thinking.

 

[Side note: I wrote this conflict into characters from the series of (mostly unpublished) novels I wrote in elementary school and high school — one of the characters, Jake, has a phenomenal range of superpowers, one of which is the power to heal others, and once he develops that one enough, he begins to feel that any time he spends sleeping, or eating, or talking to his girlfriend, is essentially causing other people to die, because he could be healing them. He internalizes that cosmic, crushing weight of responsibility to others, any others, to the point where his friends begin to conspire to somehow weaken his powers because the guilt is destroying him. Great power, great responsibility, etc. Yeah, that was the way High School Me grappled with this issue and the pressure to be a good person. Aaaaaangst.]

Self Portrait of High School SM

 

Nowadays, I rarely do things that are “good for the community” or “what the community wants/needs” if I do not also have enough personal reasons to do those things.

 

For instance, religious Jewry is a very small minority in the world, and is probably getting smaller. As a result, what is good for the community, and what is built into the cultural programming of most people in it, is that you should a) remain religious, b) marry someone religious or at least Jewish, c) have lots of Jewish babies.

 

I do not think that “because the community needs you to” is a good enough reason for any of those things. People should be able to remain religious because they want to, and stop being religious if they want to, and if a different religion speaks to them more, they should be free to go for that. And people should have children if they want children, and if they don’t want children, well, they probably shouldn’t be having them.

 

And this may be a controversial thing to say on a public blog, but I have zero philosophical/ideological problems with Jews dating and marrying non-Jews, because I don’t think anyone’s responsibility to the continuity of their community should supersede their own personal needs. If I were 1000% convinced that religious Judaism is the absolute best of all possibly ways of living and that bringing it closer to extinction is this horrible, unspeakable crime toward future generations and the world as a whole, then maybe I’d be sad about people intermarrying. But…I don’t think that. I think Judaism is certainly a valuable, valid, often excellent way of living, but so are lots of other ways. And yeah, I think it would be a shame if it died out completely, but I don’t think that putting that responsibility on any one person’s shoulders, at the cost of their personal happiness or fulfillment, is fair.

 

Again, personally, I keep many religious observances for various different reasons, as I’ve written about before. I also, after much consideration, decided that I am not willing to date non-Jews, not for ideological reasons, but rather for practical and emotional ones.

 

Practically speaking, I know it would alienate me from my community, my family, many of my friends, and even the possibility of being truly, madly, deeply in love does not make up that cost. And since I am not the sort of person who falls truly, madly, deeply in love without an intense period of dating, it’s unlikely I will form an emotional connection with a person who is not Jewish that is strong enough to make me want to date them and risk all the fallout.

 

Emotionally speaking . . . oy. So much of my fight for my identity and my life struggles are deeply tied to religious Judaism. And that’s a part of me that needs to be understood, and understood on the intuitive soul-deep level that only comes from having been through it yourself. I don’t need everything about me to be understood that way — I don’t need a partner to intuitively understand what it’s like to be from a big family, or what it’s like to want to be an automotive technician, or what it’s like to be a woman — but I need this, I need a partner who intuitively understands what Judaism has put me through. It’s like how some war veterans find it difficult to adjust back to relationships with civilians and only feel at home among their old army buddies. I’m not saying that my upbringing was the equivalent of a war, but it was an emotional pressure-cooker of an experience that’s difficult to convey to others who haven’t lived it. That’s also why I’m reluctant to date people who’ve never had their heart broken. I’m a snob like that.

 

Well, Elissa, I hope you got your money’s worth. I did not intend to write this much, but your topic gave me thinky thoughts.

 

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