Passover in 2017 / 5776

April 22, 2017

Passover in 2017 / 5776

My Personal Passover

Passover passed several days ago, on April 18 at sundown. Eight days earlier, on Monday, April 10, it started.

Passover came freighted with emotion this year. No Rochelle Rubin, and no Hirsches, as our dear friend Bob was only two days gone. And we dined at my mom and Irwin’s home, and used my grandmother’s china.

Sadness aside, our Seder offered its moments. We welcome strangers at Passover: Tucson newbies joined us, as well as close friends for whom Passover represents a cross-cultural opportunity. (With respect for Biblical dictates, “new friends” feels more positive and uplifting than “strangers.”)

There were also flat out misses. We had to kindle the Passover lights in our imaginations, for I managed to forget candles. No grape juice for the young ‘un. Horseradish sauce, as I left the real stuff in my fridge at home.

I also surely sent my mom into a tizzy, wherever she is, as I did what I’d wanted to do for many years: serve a dairy meal.* We started with gefilte fish. Different? Yes, as we served the stuff on the left, eschewing the gray, bottled matter on the right.

Then, matzo ball soup in a fish and tomato broth. Tasty.

Then, a halibut main course (or, as one guest noted, a second fish course), with asparagus, a noodle and cheese kugel, and brisket. (Beef brisket? Yes, for even a dairy seder can’t totally ignore tradition.)

On many occasions my mom said “people like it the regular way”—which meant “her way”—when I wanted to try something new. Wise woman! As Irwin said, dryly and kindly: “You did it.” Which means, in the kindest way, stick the regular way. Gefilte fish aside, for people did really like it.

Passover in the Future

Passover also provided an opportunity for thinking about the state of Judaism. I read Is Passover Broken Beyond Repair?, written by J.J. Goldberg for The Forward, a couple of weeks ago. Mr. Goldberg adopts as a thesis that Jews in America focus on two themes in connection with Passover: “recount[ing] the suffering and persistence of Jews in a hostile world, from ancient Egypt up to modern times and, we assume, into the future,” and “expressing solidarity with victims of modern-day oppression by linking our people’s historic suffering with injustices done to others today.”

Mr. Goldberg’s deserves anyone’s attention. He has a definite viewpoint, suggesting with some ambiguity that those who focus on the latter theme—liberal Jews in America—have turned Palestinians into ancient Jews, and Israel into pharaonic Egypt. Ambiguity? Here’s how Mr. Goldberg ends his essay:

Some might see the analogy as a tad overdone. Certainly the Palestinians suffer under Israeli military rule. But it’s not the agony of Syria or Congo, and it’s not the suffering of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt.

In a way, though, the strength of the historical comparison is beside the point. Every analogy is imperfect. If juxtaposing our ancestors with modern-day victims helps draw our attention to injustices around us, that’s for good.

I don’t know on which side Mr. Goldberg comes down, and if he sees the world “gray,” good on him. I know, though, that the status quo in the Middle East can’t last. Demographics and history say so. Birth rates among Palestinians exceed rates for Jews, and even Orthodox Jews with large families don’t change the numbers. Further, no democracy has ever maintained control over others, indefinitely. Colonial powers, including Britain in India, France in Southeast Asia, and many European nations in Africa, failed. So did the whites in South Africa and other nearby nations. Jews may be the Chosen People, but I’m pretty sure that appellation does not stand for maintaining control over others, indefinitely.

Nothing suggests any interest in wise solutions in the Middle East—or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world—right now. The Id rules, with feelings trumping thinking at every turn. More’s the pity, to the nth power, and we ought to be wondering just exactly how relevant Next Year in Jerusalem—the phrase which ends the Passover service—will be in coming years.

*Observant Jews do not mix milk and meat. I don’t concern myself with that directive on most days, but not mixing at Passover has always like a worthy objective.

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