Apr. 10th, 2009 08:53 pm
mordwen: (Default)
It's Pesach -- Passover -- the one Jewish festival I've been pretty good about observing ever since I had a revelation playing a roleplaying game by Craig Walker ([ profile] ozgenre), ironically called Revelations 68:11 (or something, I may have the chapter and verse wrong) at a convention. My revelation concerned the way Jews tell the stories of Pesach as events that happened to us -- to us and not our ancestors. The stories are of slaves being set free from their shackles and of finding refuge in new lands, of wandering in the desert for 40 years and seeking a new home. We tell these stories as if they happened to us because it is essential that someone remembers, and it is too easy for some tale from 4000 years ago to be dismissed as irrelevant by children. But if it happened to me, to your mother, then it is absolutely relevant. It could happen to you.

Passover to me is about refugees now, about abolishing slavery, about human trafficking. This time last year I was at an anarchist (vegan, cross-dressing) Seder (the Passover meal) and this year we were invited to stay in Sydney longer to go to Seder at my aunt's. We said no -- too late notice, have to change plane tickets -- but I'm almost wishing we could have gone, since we didn't have a Seder of our own planned this year.

I don't know what it would have been like. The family is very different now. I've become all nostalgic for the Seders of my childhood all of a sudden: my mother and her sister, my sisters, my cousins -- both now in New York, my grandma and grandpa -- both now dead. My childhood wasn't exactly happy and Seders were hardly without stress: the boredom of hours of service before you can eat, my grandfather's strict adherence to an old Haggadah, my sisters and cousin Vanessa and I all muttering "or her" everytime the old, old book used "him" as a generic and driving my grandfather crazy. The irony of the event at all, given that, as far as I know, not one single person at that table believed in God, yet we all said "If God had freed us from Egypt but not given us the ten commandments, it would have been sufficient, dayenu".

I miss my mother's charoset, the apple, wine and walnut dish that represents the mortar for the walls the Jews built for Pharoah.

Right now, Harper is the youngest child. By tradition, she would ask the four questions. (Well, no, by tradition, the youngest *boy* would ask the four questions, but I don't follow that in my Seders anyway). I was talking with Doug a few weeks ago about the irony of this formulaic questioning now, memorised and sung in a foreign language, and then the rote responses and discussions of what the wise Talmudic scholars recommend you should say to the wise child and the slow child. This has all lost its meaning -- the children aren't listening at this point at all, although I was, as a teenager, finally.

One day, I do want Harper to ask these questions, but in her own language and her own words. Perhaps, "why do we only eat this charoset stuff once a year? It's yummy!" or "why do I have to dip my egg in salt water? It's weird." And I'll tell her, "When I was a slave in Egypt..."

May all people who live in servitude anywhere in the world be free this time next year. May all refugees find welcome in a stranger's land.

EDIT: Telling the Passover story as if it happened to us? This year, the Facebook version.
mordwen: (Default)
November 6, 1967 was to become an important date in my life. Of course, I didn't know it then, three years from being born.

On that day, somewhere in Lakemba, in Sydney, Australia, I believe, a 25-year-old beauty named Helen Levine, smart with long, almost-black hair curled up into a beehive, was getting ready for her wedding to Ian Jeffrey Bersten, a tall, lanky 28-year-old world-traveller with blue eyes and a head full of ideas. I don't know much about what happened next; I don't know whether it says more about me or them that I know more about her work at Fisher Library in the rare books department and more about his adventures in the Andes and Eastern Europe.

Still, they went to a synagogue, and a rabbi intoned the prayers and a cantor sang and my father lifted his foot and crushed that wine glass wrapped in its white-and-blue cloth -- well, when I say crushed, it neatly snapped into bowl and stem and remains that way today, wrapped back up in a dining room drawer -- because that's the way it was done, so I know those things occurred.

Later that night, when the newlyweds were tucked up into bed for the first time together -- I don't know where, whether it was already in the little apartment above the shop that my father would start or whether it was a hotel -- halfway across the world, where it was still November 6, something else happened.

At 10.15 in the morning, Joy Lorene Cloud, née Mundon, a slight, small woman whose own wedding day photos had included her in her white dress being wheeled down the main street of her town in a wheelbarrow by her stocky groom, gave birth to an 11-pound baby boy she named Douglas James. His 6-year-old sister wasn't impressed.

Happy 40th wedding anniversary, Mum and Dad.
Happy 40th birthday, darling.

It's almost enough to make you think fate was planning things: okeydokey, those two are married, they'll have a child in about three years, better get a friend organised for her.
mordwen: (Default)
My connection to Belarus is even more tenuous than my connection to Ukraine (grandfather, Dad's side, born in Kiev).

From what my grandfather (Mum's side) told me before he died, his Dad was born in Orsha (Belorussia) and his mum in Lutsk (Ukraine). They fled persecution and pogroms via Lithuania to the US and then to Australia, arriving here in 1914 and he was born a few months later. (Mum's just gone overseas to Russia to go to cousin Difa's 85th birthday party or I'm sure she'd correct my hazy recollections here. EDIT: And she did... correcting both cities and adding that she thinks his parents arrived in the US aged 8 and 2 and that they were actually second cousins).

Anyway, I still have more interest in what's happening in Belarus right now than makes any sense considering I never met these people.

From the indymedia newswire:

Belarussian indymedia activists call for solidarity!

This morning Belarussian indymedia activists in Minsk distributed
information, that last night 3:30 AM OMON moved to destroy tent camp that has been put
up in the city center to protest fraud elections in Belarus.
30-40 tents were trashed, around 500 people arrested. Among destroyed tents
there was a tent of Belarussian Indymedia (, and
among arrested there were many radical activists, such as members of
anarcho-punk band Deviation (singer Stas Pochyobut) and editors of banned
satirical anarchist paper Navinki. Arrested people were heavily
brutalized. As all the police stations in the city are full of people
arrested during last 10 days (opposition estimates number of people
arrested all around Belarus as 5000), people arrested in square were taken
to unknown destinations off the city limits. Their place, condition and
charges pressed against them are currently unknown.

Belarussian activists also ask for any kind of solidarity actions in
Belarussian embassies around the world!


mordwen: (Default)

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