Friday, April 18, 2008

"Introducing Passover Week"

Starting tomorrow night, Jews will begin celebrating eight days of Passover, a holiday commemorating our liberation from enslavement in Egypt several years ago. Like, three thousand. I’m not exactly sure of the date.

Throughout Passover, Jews who follow the tradition eat matzah instead of bread or other leavened wheat-bearing products as a symbolic reminder that the Children of Israel didn’t have time to prepare leavened bread on their way out of town.

Also, since they didn’t know whether there were restrooms on the road to freedom, matzah was helpful, because eating it on a regular basis is incredibly binding. (I may have made that last part up.)

On the first night of Passover (and for non-Reform Jews, on the second night as well), an extended dinner ceremony is conducted, called a seder. At the seder, Jews are instructed to retell the story of Passover, supplementing the retelling with certain rituals, representing significant elements in the story. For example, we dip parsley in salt water to commemorate the tears shed by the slaves, and we eat bitter herbs – horseradish – to remind us of their many bitter years building pyramids for nothing.

One ritual condiment, which I’ve have learned to prepare is the charoset. (The “ch” sound in charoset is made by emitting a phlegmy, gurgly noise from half-way down your throat. If you master it, this sound will come in handy again on Chanukah.)

The charoset recipe I use has five ingredients: apples, walnuts, cinnamon, honey and wine. We eat charoset at the seder to commemorate the mortar, slathered between the bricks of the pyramids and other slave-built structures. Since charoset’s meant to be consumed, it was wise of our ancestors not to have included the ingredients of the actual mortar in the recipe. Otherwise, you’d be going “ch” for the rest of your life, or till the paramedics arrive, whichever comes first.

I know all this stuff about Passover. I went to Hebrew Day School, from Nursery School till the end of Seventh Grade, when I was enrolled in a public Junior High, where, for the first time, I experienced Christians. I had a stomach ache my entire first year. Although that could be attributed to tight jeans. My guess is it was both.

The thing is, though I’m familiar with Jewish stories, rituals and celebrations, I have not been blessed with the gene for faith. I just don’t have it; I need proof of stuff. I respect, admire and borderline envy people who have a deep and sincere faith. No matter what faith it is. The comfort they receive. The inspiration. The strength they gain from it. And the charity things they do. “Hat’s off” for that.

I don’t like it when they forcibly try to convert people or kill members of other religions – that seems wrong – but since no organization, like no person, is perfect, it seems unfair to judge an institution exclusively by its deficiencies, when their positive contributions may be even greater, though I can’t say I’m an expert on the exact “helped-hurt” proportions.

So here I am, an admitted faith-lacker, on the eve of Passover, and I have to admit I’m eagerly looking forward to the holiday. I’m not conducting a seder myself this year, but I received an invitation to one, and I’m excited about going. I can’t wait to get started on the charoset I’ll be bringing.

Hey, but Earl, you might say, lacking faith, isn’t all that ritual rigamarole kind of meaningless and empty, like a hot air balloon with a giant hole in it? Eloquently put, I might respond. And what you’re saying ought to be true. But for me, it isn’t.

I don’t know the precise date of the Exodus from Egypt, or even if it, historically, actually occurred. All I know is, for thousands of years, when Passover came around, Jews everywhere would sit down to a seder, reciting the same prayers, performing the same rituals, singing the same songs and telling the same Passover story to their children, so they’d tell it to their children, and, hopefully, onward down the line.

I like that idea. The connection between a group of people, around the world, and throughout history. There’s something nourishing about that. And exhilarating. Being a tiny part of a universal chain.

When I was twenty-one, I wrote a musical at my summer camp. A boy was about to celebrate his bar mitzvah, and he was confused about what the whole thing really meant. The story took him on a journey through Jewish history, and ended with this song.

I wrote the lyrics; the melody comes from a musical called It’s A Bird…It’s A Plane…It’s Superman. If you know it, you can sing along. If you don’t, this might not work at all. Maybe if you imagined a tune of your own. I don’t know. This may be stupid.

The song reflects my view of the importance of religious, or maybe it’s cultural, or maybe it’s ethnic – I don’t know which, but at the end of whatever it is, is the word “tradition.”

After all these years, my beliefs, represented in this song, haven’t changed. This could mean that I’m stubborn and inflexible, or it could mean an idea that seemed right to me hit early, and I’ve seen no reason to replace it. Whatever, here’s the song. It’s called…

TOGETHERNESS

IT’S SABBATH AND YOU’RE SITTING IN THE SYNAGOGUE

THE MAN BEHIND YOU’S SINGING LIKE A WOUNDED FROG

THE RABBI’S SERMON’S VERY DEEP

THE CONGREGATION FALLS ASLEEP

BUT IN THEIR HEARTS, THEY’LL TRY TO KEEP

TOGE…THER…


EVERY TIME WE PRAY, WE REALLY ONLY SAY

TOGETHERNESS.

OFTENER THAN NOT, WE’RE HAPPY THAT WE’VE GOT

TOGETHERNESS.

WHEN DAVID KILLED GOLIATH DEAD

AND WITH A SWORD, CUT OFF HIS HEAD

THAT’S WHEN THE JEWS RAN UP AND SAID,

“TOGE…THER…NESS.”


WHEN JONAH LIVED INSIDE A FISH –

TOGETHERNESS.

AND EVERY TIME WE EAT A KNISH –

TOGETHERNESS.

WE SHOW WE’RE MEMBERS OF A GROUP

WITH EVERY BOWL OF CHICKEN SOUP

LET’S REALLY HEAR IT, GIVE A WHOOP

TOGE…THER…


EVERY TIME WE PRAY, WE REALLY ONLY SAY

TOGETHERNESS.

OFTENER THAN NOT, WE’RE HAPPY THAT WE’VE GOT
TOGETHERNESS.

SO WHEN YOU’RE OUT AND ON YOUR OWN

YOU’RE NEVER REALLY ALL ALONE

REMEMBER, WHEN THAT SHOFAR’S BLOWN

TOGE…THER…NESS.


That’s all I got.

Happy Passover.

7 comments:

Michael said...

Happy Passover to you as well, and I loved the song, even if I didn't know the toon. (It almost fits Tradition from Fidler On the Roof, okay, not really, but that's the feel it gave me.)

Together!

Anonymous said...

What a great song. Thanks so much. We always attend passover with friends, and this year I'll take the song with me and see if we can do it together.
And here's a little passover funny for you to pass around if you'd like. I saw it on the site called
www.savethedeli.com
It's about the knish. Or you can go straight to
www.savetheknish.org
My friends and I have gotten a real kick out of it. Enjoy! And Happy passover!

cinco de mayo said...

Glad you posted on this...I'm just looking forward to the full moon.

RAC said...

Although I'm not Jewish, I've been a guest at a couple of seder dinners, and you're right, it's the togetherness that counts. Funny thing, though, I kept waiting for Elijah to show up at any second...

new moon said...

Whose Elijah?

angel said...

Happy Passover to you and feel free to pass some of your homemade charoset over to me. I definitely appreciate the apples and cinnamon. :-)

Non Jew that I am, I find great comfort in my husband's religion and of course, my own and feel sorry for your lack of faith.

Maybe someday that will change for you.
I hope so.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great write up on Passover. I enjoyed it. I also went to the knish site that the previous poster mentioned. It is worth a look. A funny take in the ever popular knish...