Back when we used to have Seders at my grandparents’ apartment- there were four things we could always count on:
- Uncontrollable, inter-generational giggling at the words “House of Bondage”
- My grandfather replacing “Month of Nisan” with “Month of Datsun” still chasing the glory of the courtesy chuckle he got for that joke in ’86. Livin’ the dream- Pop-Pop!
- My grandfather reaching into his wallet to pull out $1 for the Afikoman winner with the effortless joy of a man giving bone marrow.
- My grandmother demonstrating her uncanny ability to know exactly how much each person in the family was supposed to eat and what they should have. For example- my mother never ate enough, my uncle ate too much, my sister had to have special food prepared for her because she is deathly allergic to not being the center of attention, and my grandfather was diabetic.
As a result – at each Seder, we were subjected to two sets of food directives- one from my Grandmother and one from God or, G-D as the Jews refer to him (G-Dizzie to his homies).
G-D: The Passover lamb is a Passover-offering to the Lord, because He passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians with a plague, and He saved our houses.
Grandma: Ronni- eat something- you never eat anything.
G-D: They baked Matzah-cakes from the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, because it was not leavened; for they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay, and they had also not prepared any other provisions.
Grandma: Peter- that’s enough. You don’t need any more.
G-D: The marror you shall eat because the Egyptians embittered the lives of your ancestors with hard labor.
Grandma: Here, Heather- I made these brownies for you.
G-D: Thus did Hilel do at the time of the Bet HaMikdash: He would combine Passover — lamb, Matzah and Maror and eat them together, as it said: “They shall eat it with matzah and bitter herbs.”
Grandma: Ralph- put that brownie back. He knows he can’t have that.
G-D: One is not to eat any dessert after the Passover-lamb.
Grandma: Peter! Stop that! Those brownies are for Heather.
And this is actually quite appropriate, because Passover is the ultimate expression of Jewish Food Mishigos (“mishigos” is a Yiddish word for craziness- or, not so much craziness- maybe hang-ups- or ,no, that’s not quite right- idiosyncrasies? Obsessions? Quirks? Fixations? Aaaaarrggh!! This semantic mishigos is making me cray-cray.). I mean, every Tom, Dick and Shaniqua will tell you that their ethnic group expresses love through food, hell that’s easy- just throw down some collard greens and lasagne, but we Jews can use food to express so many more complicated emotions like shame, guilt, smug self righteousness, subversive glee and punishing self-loathing- there’s no end to our versatility! Hell, we’re the Meryl Streep of fucked up food feelings and everyone else is, like…Scarlett Johansson. And we only have G-Diddy to thank for giving us the stringent, baffling and totally random dietary laws that made us completely insane- whether we actually still follow them or not! What, you think Vegans and Gluten Free-kazoids invented “making yourself feel morally superior by flaunting your self-imposed, arbitrary, medically unnecessary dietary restrictions?” Hell no! Trust me- if you want to punch the d-bag at Taco Bell ordering a vegan Waffle Taco, then you should have seen that first a-hole Israelite who walked into a Philistine restaurant and loudly ordered “kid boiled in it’s mother’s milk” with the mother’s milk on the side.
I should add, by the way, that even though I’m talking about G-Dubs a lot, I’ve always had trouble believing in him. I mean, it’s hard to imagine that the Lord God Almighty- Creator of the Universe would personally give a crap if I ate a cheeseburger. And if it is true-why would I worship a micromanager like that? I mean, seriously dude, learn to delegate- don’t you have angels for this stuff?? I’m sorry, I know you got my people out of Egypt and everything, but I’m simply not gonna validate your crappy leadership style. It’s bad enough I’ve got a First Lady who won’t let me eat French fries, I don’t need some bacon hating deity getting all up in my business. What’s the matter, G-D- Ray Lewis has retired and you need shit to do? Go work in mysterious ways or take up macrame or play pull my finger with your hippie son – just get off my ass.
Also- let’s be clear- I don’t actually keep Kosher (that’s what we call following the Jewish dietary laws, for those of you that have never actually met a Jew but for some baffling reason are still reading this?? Maybe on a dare?) Most Jews don’t. It doesn’t matter. Jews have the same relationship to food that Catholics have to birth control- it doesn’t matter whether you actually follow the rules- what maters is that you know there are rules you are supposed to be following and that you have complicated emotions about not following them.
Anyhow- as if the whole Jewish food situation wasn’t complicated enough- on Passover it gets way more complicated- because on Passover, we’re not supposed to eat any leavened bread or bread products because when our forefathers fled from Egypt so quickly they didn’t have time to let their bread rise- which, I think takes like 5 minutes, and realistically, there’s no way any group of Jews ever moved fast enough so that they couldn’t wait 5 measly little minutes for the fucking bread to rise. I mean you could make an entire three tiered wedding cake AND decorate with motherfucking buttercream roses in the time in the time it takes my family to leave the house for Olive Garden and THAT’S if no one has to pee. If we were leaving slavery? Forget about it- bagels, cookies, goddamn chocolate souffle – it would be the best Passover ever. But, OK, whatever, the ancient Jews moved a lot faster than we did, so as punishment for their efficiency we can’t eat bread or anything else that gets puffy when it’s wet cause- I guess it’s…sort of like bread? So- no corn. And no beans- unless you really, really like beans in which case beans are ok- but no rice. Unless you really, really like rice in which rice is ok- but no beans. Definitely no rice & beans together- YOU HEAR THAT ZATARAIN’S?? WHY WON’T YOU LEAVE ME ALONE??? And no corn syrup cause it’s got the word “corn” in it. And beer, cause God’s kind of a G-Dick. But if you were to look it up in the Bible- the only thing you’d see was the requirement to eat matzah. The rest is commentary upon commentary from generations of Rabbis who were clearly being paid by the hour.
This is typical of Jewish law- like, let’s say there was a rule in the Bible that said “Thou shalt not juggle chainsaws on Tuesdays.” OK, great- no problem. But then…the rabbis come along and say….”well….what if your calendar is out of date, or you forget what day of the week it is- you could end up juggling chainsaws on a Tuesday- so- it’s probably best to avoid juggling chainsaws altogether.” OK, great, so no chainsaw juggling, fine.
But then…another rabbi comes along and says “Well….what if you’re juggling clubs and somebody throws you a chainsaw? You’re going to have to catch it and juggle it and then if your calendar is out of date or you forget what day of the week it is then you could end up juggling chainsaws on a Tuesday. So…to be on the safe side….it’s probably best to avoid juggling altogether.” OK, great, so no juggling, fine.
But then…another rabbi comes along and says “well…what if you’re picking up a bunch of clubs to move them from one place to another, and you start to drop one so you end up accidentally juggling and then somebody throws you a chainsaw so you end up juggling it and then your calendar is out of date or you forget what day it is you could end up up juggling chainsaws on Tuesday.” OK, great, so no handling juggling implements of any kind ever, fine.
And it goes on and on and on like this until the rabbis decide that it’s really best if we just cut off our hands completely because if you have hands you might see a bunch of juggling implements on the ground and then you might be tempted to pick them up to move them out of the way and then you might start to drop one of the clubs so we’d accidentally start juggling and then someone would throw a chainsaw at you so you would have to catch it and juggle it as well and then your calendar might be out of date or you forget what day of the week it is THEN YOU COULD END UP JUGGLING CHAINSAWS ON A TUESDAY! And THAT’S why you can’t eat corn syrup during Passover. Makes sense? Great! Mazal Tov on your Bar Mitzvah- have an Israel Bond and a Tallis clip. Today you are a Jewish man.
Now most normal Jews wouldn’t go so far as to cut their hands off- especially cause that’s why there was a rule against juggling chainsaws in the first place, but there would be some hard core followers of Reb Schtumpy who would proudly walk with their stumps in a custom made fur muff, just like the rebbe used to (of course he lived in Poland and they live in Los Angeles, but never mind) confident in their moral superiority. Then again it’s pretty impractical to have your hands cut off- so most Schtumper Hassidim would get fancy, high tech prosthetic hands which they could use to do everything – including juggle chainsaws- which is technically permissible because they aren’t using their real hands! Don’t you see? It makes total sense! Just like the way hardcore Jews will spend days before Passover purging every single crumb of bread and cake and cookies from their homes and then go out of their way to make fake bread and cake and cookies that taste just like the real thing. Because, clearly, our ancestors didn’t have time to let the bread rise- but Kosher for Passover marble cake? Sure! No problem! Plenty of time. Can I get you some disturbing gummy fruit with that?
Anyhow- my point here is that being Jewish is complicated, nobody knows how to do it right so we all pick and choose the stuff we want to do and so if you see me at a diner next week having eggs and bacon and matzah DON’T FUCKING JUDGE ME.
And, of course, I’m totally exaggerating with this chainsaw example. I mean- there’s no way Jews would ever use elective surgery as an expression of faith. Just ask my penis.
But what’s this Passover thing all about anyhow? Well, it’s about remembering how we Jews were slaves in Egypt and then G-Diddy set us free. That’s the story that we tell when we gather for the Seder, the big ritual dinner on the first & second nights of the holiday. Well, it’s the story we try to tell- I mean, good luck actually following it if you go to a Seder. Cause the way the Seder is set up, it’s like the worst committee meeting you could possibly imagine where everyone just keeps going off on tangents and nothing can ever get done:
“OK, everybody- we’re going to tell the story of Passover. First we were slaves in the land of Egypt…”
“Wait- I’ve got four questions”
“OK- well, we’ll be answering those as we go along- but, first, we were slaves in the land of Egypt and we’ve gotta tell the story all the days of our lives.”
“Wait- just the days or also the nights?”
“Uhm- I guess the days and the nights.”
“And does this include the days now or the days after the messiah comes?”
“I guess it includes all of them. Look, the point I’m making here is that we’ve gotta tell the story about how we were slaves in the land of Egypt.”
“Wait- how would we tell this story to a wise child?”
“Uhm- I guess that with the wise child we would say that….”
“And don’t forget about the Wicked Child- it’s critical that we address the needs of the Wicked Child!”
“Well for the Wicked Child….”
“And I’m very concerned that we haven’t discussed the Simple Child?”
“And I see nobody’s even mentioning the Child Who Doesn’t Know How to Ask- I guess the Child Who Doesn’t Know How to Ask is getting marginalized AGAIN.”
“ALRIGHT. I get it! Nobody is trying to marginalize the Child Who Doesn’t Know How to Ask. We’re gonna tell each child the version of the story they can best understand. The point is that Lord, our G-d freed us from the land of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm and brought ten plagues upon the people of Egypt.”
“Uhm- excuse me. I there were actually fifty plagues- ten for each finger in G-d’s hand.”
“50- you’re smoking crack- there were 200 – 40 for each finger.”
“Uhm…gon’t you mean 250? 40 for each finger plus another 50 for his outstretched arm? Plus- I think your use of ‘smoking crack’ is racist and inappropriate”
“ENOUGH! There were 10 Plagues. 10. Just 10. That’s it! Is nothing ever enough for you people?”
“Who are you calling ‘you people’?”
“I mean- if he had just brought us out of the land of Egypt and not carried out judgments against them- that would have been enough”
“Well- I don’t know about that- but certainly if he had carried about judgments against them and not against their idols- that would have been enough”
“Oh- I don’t know about that- but I do think that if he had destroyed their idols and not smitten their first born- now THAT would have been enough.”
“ALRIGHT. Enough already. Let’s eat.”
“Wait- can you explain why eat matzah again?”
“AAARRGGGGGHH!! At this rate we’re going to be telling this fucking story all the days of our lives!”
“All the days- or the nights too?”
So there you have it- absurd dietary requirements, a baffling ritual dinner and a story that we try to tell every year and never succeed- and I haven’t even mentioned the constipation. I can’t wait! No, really, that’s not sarcasm, I actually can’t wait. I love Passover. Why do you ask? Well, in typical elliptical Jewish fashion- I’m gonna answer with a story.
Every year I go to Albuquerque for Passover to have the Seder with my parents. Some times the whole family is there, sometimes lots of friends, other times- it’s just me and them. One year my dad broke his hip right before Passover and was in a rehabilitation facility. There was no way he was going to be out in time for the Seder, so we had no choice. We packed up the wine, matzah and bitter herbs and told the story of Passover in a lounge at the rehab facility. And as we went through the Seder, various nurses and attendants would pop their heads in to ask us, nicely, what the hell it was exactly we were doing. When we told them- they would immediately rattle off a list of all the Jews they’ve met- making sure to reassure us repeatedly that they were all just lovely, and they would all sample matzah- which they invariably enjoyed. Goyim love matzah-WHY???? Was this our best Seder ever? FUCK NO. Seriously- have you been to one of these rehab facilities? Fucking depressing. It’s all linoleum tile, hospital smell and old people on recumbent bikes trying to pedal to freedom (of course most of them don’t know their kids have sold their house out from under them while they were in there and they haven’t told their parents cause they’re afraid they’ll give up on life). Still- we did it. We giggled at “house of bondage”, I said “month of Datsun” and, even though my Grandmother couldn’t make the trip out there- I’m pretty sure we all figured out how much to eat. And if not…she’ll never know the difference. We couldn’t open the door for Elijah cause too many people would have escaped (Kidding! Kidding! There was no one there mobile enough to run away) but we did everything else. And when we said “this year we are slaves, but next year we are free” – well, I think that meant a little something extra to my Dad.
So- there. Now do you see what’s so great about Passover? No. Well, frankly me neither. I mean, I could have told the same story about Thanksgiving and the food would have been a lot better. But that’s not the point. The point is that Passover is coming whether we like it or not so we might as well make the most of it. Huh. That’s terrible. That’s like the least inspiring thing I’ve ever read. OK- well, maybe something better will come to me in Albuquerque. Meanwhile, I can’t wait to hit Taco Bell next week for a Matzah Waffle Taco. Just don’t tell my grandmother.