mordwen: (academic)
I was a precocious brat. I'm sure that doesn't need stating for most of you, but just in case some of you haven't met me in person and therefore couldn't deduce it, I thought I'd make it clear.

Today Mum told me that, aged four, Jehovah's witnesses came to the door and my father answered it. I apparently tagged along. I then apparently solemnly informed the Jehovah's witnesses that God was dead. My father was thrilled. My mother was mortified. And there began a long career of tormenting God-botherers...

Passover

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 ([livejournal.com 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)
I didn't write earlier about the weirdness of seeing Chanukah things in the shops here. (Hmmm. I said I was going to run this journal with a Chicago Manual of Style until I got back from the US but I don't have it with me. For now I'm sticking with the Australian spelling of Chanukah and not the US spelling of Hanukkah or whatever because I have no idea how many Ns or Ks it's supposed to have. Or Hs for that matter.)

In Australia, I think there are both proportionally and (obviously) numerically fewer Jews. To get fancy things like menorahs and Jewish table cloths, you go to a Jewish store. In America, you walk into a Bed, Bath and Beyond, where the Halloween pot holders are being phased out as the Chanukah pot holders are being phased in. Thanksgiving ones are nearby and the Christmas ones will be out soon. But in the meantime, you can buy a $99 Waterford crystal dreidl. But of course. No longer just a children's toy, now the dreidl can be the tacky gift for the princess who has everything. We even went into a regular pharmacy tonight in New York that had Chanukah themed pot holders and gloves and placemats ready for the holiday.

I shouldn't be so surprised, but I am. I've spent so much of my life as part of a cultural minority that this mainstream recognition is quite shocking. As was walking into the B&H camera store with Doug this evening (huge store) and seeing every second staff member wearing yarmulkas and 80 per cent of those with full curls and tallises beneath their shirts.

Meanwhile, I hear on NPR that talks in the Middle East have once again stalled because Israel insists the Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish state and the Palestinians say no other country has a religion so tied in with its statehood, so why should we? I am so frustrated with the childishness I see in the Israeli position. Who cares what they call it? Will Jews be allowed to live there? Yes? Good. Can you come to an agreement about perpetual rights of return for both groups of displaced people? Maybe. Drop the labels already. They are divisive and unhelpful and make me ashamed of my heritage, when it should be a proud history of ethical treatment for the stranger at my door.
mordwen: (Default)
I really like this post from [livejournal.com profile] catvincent on religion and The Book.

And I think I have a new .sig:

"Those three Peoples of the Book are at war again... All three are reading their Book more literally, less metaphorically. The pages on compassion flash by as they look for the ones featuring the word 'smite'."

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