Some Passover Reflections: Judaism as Good Itch
I went to Bnei Jeshrun for Purim this year. Bnei Jeshurun, or BJ, is a non-denominational progressive oriented shul on the Upper West Side. In the Fall, for Simchat Torah, they have an amazing, massive horah that is not to be missed.
Their Purim performance, however, was disappointing. They told the Purim spiel spliced with musical scenes from movies that were tenuously connected to the story (“Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” for Evita, or “Be Prepared” from Lion King, for example). Not for me. It was a long-winded version of the Jewish classic: “they tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat” (only on Purim you’re also supposed to drink like the Goyim, that is, until you can’t tell the difference between right and wrong). In any case, the whole Megillah is long enough as it is, we didn’t need the audiovisual additions, even if they were for the kids. I suppose some people liked the whole shindig, and that’s nice. To me, it was interesting, but it wasn’t Judaism. Just get the megillah reading over with, shout when they say Haman, and start partying.
So this week it’s Passover. Or as I like to call it, Pesach. (That’s with a hard “ch” goyim. Say it!). I‘ve written about this before. I like this holiday, even though parts of it are unpleasant. I like rituals, rather than faith. And Passover has rituals up the wazoo.
When thinking about Passover this year, I suppose not much has changed for me. There are new Haggadot I haven’t read yet, some which I’m excited about–like my Rabbi Ron Aigen’s new Reconstructionist Haggadah, and others I’m less excited about — I sure as hell hope Jonathan Safran Foer doesn’t tell me to stop eating animals because my ancestors were once slaves in Egypt and God shoved frogs up pharaoh’s ass. Don’t get me wrong, I like egalitarian, progressive seders: orange on the seder plate and Miriam’s cup to represent women and all that jazz. But mostly I like the tradition.
So I’m going to keep Passover, again. My sister has some tips for staying regular. I’ll do my best. It’s not fun. I’ve said why I do it before, but rather than express that again, I’ll just link to this poem by Kenneth Koch, expressing in poetry what so often comes out flatly in prose. Please read it.
As for me, I’ll just say that Judaism, or Jewishness is an itch. But in a good way. Unlike the Bnei Jeshurun Purim spiel, but like their Simchat Torah horah, it’s a familiar itch. It’s one of those itches that when you scratch it, even if it’s annoying, like keeping Passover, it still makes you feel good in the end. On the other hand, on occasion it makes you feel worse, turning into a scab and bleeding over. Sometimes it just nags at you, feels weird, like when you agonize over tough questions on Israel or intermarriage. But always it makes you want to scratch more and more. It reminds you that you’re alive.
So happy Pesach to all my Jewish friends and family scratching the passover itch out there, in whatever way they chose. And happy Easter to the Christians. Someone should come out with some kosher for Passover Easter eggs. That would make a fortune.