Friday, April 06, 2007


Passover has an inherently political edge. Here is a time to talk about slavery and about liberation. It is a time to think about the changes we must make, to consider the revolts and rebellions that may be necessary to create a world rooted in justice. It is a time to devote ourselves to tikkun olam, the repair of our damaged world.

* * *

On Monday morning, we woke up in Florida at David's parents house and planned our day. After breakfast, we slipped on our bathing suits and headed for the beach. When we first arrived, the clouds were out and there was a strong enough breeze to keep many of the tourists inside. We collected shells, dipped our toes in the water, and enjoyed the peacefulness.

Soon the sun was out and the crowds descended. David and I spread a towel out and sat down for a while. Son waded in for a little wave jumping. I almost cried while watching our 7yo's absolutely uninhibited JOY. How long will he have this unselfconscious ability to live fully? He is about to turn eight--and many of his friends have already lost it. We've chosen to shelter our child from the contemptuous boredom seen in much of today's pop culture. We try not to control or close down his expressions of emotion, be they this kind of happiness or anger or sadness. We make an effort to restrict how much he is quizzed and drilled or forced to compete at this young age, and perhaps this has given our son some extra room to be a child. We've worked hard so he will not feel that he cannot measure up to someone else's expectations--a feeling I think many successful people in our generation struggle against. Whatever allows it, the greatest joy in my life is seeing my child being so open and exuberant and free.

* * *

We returned to D's parent's house where a cleaning service was using strongly-scented products to clean the bathrooms and floors. I'm a bit oversensitive to smells and quickly escaped to the porch with my knitting along with Son, D's brother, and his partner. David went to make copies of our haggadah (explained below) and to pick up some last minute things to prepare for dinner.

I went in to go to the bathroom at some point--and although I felt fine before, found myself vomiting intensely and then lying on the bathroom floor. I thought I must have food poisoning from the place at the beach where we had eaten lunch. Finally I dragged myself into the room where we sleep, turned on the fan, and sort of passed out on the floor. I tried to figure out how to call someone to tell someone, but everybody was some distance away and I couldn't really get sound out.

David walked in about 90 minutes later. He realized that rather than having food poisoning, I might be sick from the chemicals (probably bleach which often makes me ill). After getting me out to their front yard and giving me a glass of water, it was less than ten minutes before I felt like a human being again. I drank an enormous amount of water and a few crackers, sat outside for a while, and was back to myself--albeit a slightly shaky version of myself.

* * *

Soon, additional family members arrived and we walked back in to a house that had been airing out for a while. I had a dull headache but was doing fine. We all sat down around the table. Before the meal on Passover, Jews traditionally spend time celebrating the story of the Exodus from Egypt. David and I put together a haggadah (sort of a prayerbook) about fifteen years ago--full of not only traditional texts but also modern ideas that we wrote or found. Each year we read texts from the Bible and the Torah, but we also read feminist texts and other leftist political/ activists texts that have acquired a deep patina of meaning for us.

Unfortunately, one of the guests was troubled by a few of our additions. I certainly would not inflict this haggadah on an Orthodox family--or a Republican for that matter. But I thought this gentleman had used our haggadah before at D's parents' seders and that he would be comfortable with it. Unfortunately, he was not. He expressed his frustration--almost anger--and I felt terrible both that we were forcing something on him that was not appropriate for his needs AND because his unhappiness took away from my deep enjoyment of this annual repetition of texts about justice and freedom that David and I wrote and assembled when we were a new couple.

* * *

Following a discussion about idol-worship from the traditional haggadah, we read this, the offending paragraph:

The anger and fear awakened by feminist attempts to alter the way in which we speak about God bespeaks a profound attachment to an image of God as male. When a metaphor such as "He" is assumed and defended, it has ceased to be an image and becomes an idol. The metaphor in no longer simply a way of pointing to God but is identified with God "himself." The claim that only male language may be used for God leads to the worship of maleness. While Jews are used to thinking of idols as pillars and stones, verbal idols can be every bit as powerful as sculpted ones--indeed, more powerful for being less visible.

* * *

After we completed the first part of the haggadah, we began the feast. The meal was full of wonderful foods and full of memories: David's grandmother's pot roast, tzimmes (sweet potatoes, carrots, and prunes), mandelbrot (Jewish biscotti kosher for Passover). THIS felt like what Passover was all about. Isn't it amazing how food can link us to the past, to the future, to the justice of sustaining the world? As Marge Piercy says in her new Pesach for the Rest of Us: Making the Passover Seder Your Own, "Food sometimes feels like emotion made edible."

* * *

Traditional haggadah text:

A Jewish legend teaches that when the armies of Egypt were dying in the sea, the Heavenly Hosts broke out in jubilation. And God asked, "The works of my hands are drowning, and you sing praises?" And the heavens were silent.

* * *

Tomorrow: our seder plate


LizKnits said...

I absolutely appreciate the way you try to live your life and the strategies you are using in raising your son. I think you're right that he'll benefit from this balance approach and won't be trapped into the masculine gender "box."

Sorry to hear the readings caused some distress for you and your friends this year. It sounds like a great tradition though.

Sheepish Annie said...

It sounds like there were a few things that worked against your celebration of Passover. But I also get the sense that you were able to find some joy in the traditions and the company with which it was celebrated. Sometimes it is all about what we make it...

Sue said...

Thank you for sharing your Passover traditions. The last text that you quoted gave me goosebumps when I read it. Wonderful, and something I have always wished more people would think about when cheering for the "defeat of an enemy."

SaraSkates said...

Wow. Ack re the chemical stuff. Sounds like there was some bittersweet stuff with the celebration - but all in all, some solid deep connection to what's important.

Liz K. said...

We too have our own Haggadah, which is very traditional, but is much shorter and hits the highlights for our very young children. As they get older, I am excited to add more to it. Thanks for being so open about your family's observances. It is very inspirational.


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