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Posts tagged ‘Jewish holidays’

Happiness is My Choice, 13

Waves Lapping on the Shore, ©Batya7, JustHavingFun

Writing this piece, on the eve of Passover, is the last thing most Jews would think is important. As Jewish holidays commence after sundown, the daylight hours before the Passover seder are easily the busiest for many Jews. The house has been searched top to bottom for chametz (i.e., leavened products). Ordinary year-round utensils are stored away and new ones designated for Passover use have been brought out. The whole house is topsy turvy. A yearly chaos, hated yet beloved.

Many preparations need to be performed during the day before the seder: calling friends and family to wish them a happy holiday, making sure the children have matching socks, last minute purchases because yet another guest is coming. And the cooking!

I used to spend the entire day before the seder cooking and preparing. I felt like an artist, carefully selecting my ingredients like colors, figuring quantities like determining to use a fine paintbrush or a trowel. My palate consisted of chicken and vegetables for the golden soup, and tan matzah balls to accompany it. Romaine lettuce provided the green. Red was the beef tongue I prepared, a delicacy saved for twice a year. Wine and grape juice provided rich burgundy and purple colors.

All of the busy-ness gave me so much pleasure. Then sunset would fall and I’d light my holiday candles, singing the ancient blessing. The men would come home from synagogue about an hour later, and we’d start the seder. The children would participate, the youngest saying the mah nishtanah. We’d all groan about the amount of food to eat at midnight and the late hour the seder would finish at. Somebody would retire to the sofa and fall asleep, inevitably. Strangely, I’d look forward to the washing up ritual, making sure the kitchen was in order for the next day’s festive noon meal, although ordinarily I dislike cleanup. I was very much “in the present” at those times in the past, not blindly participating in the ritual, but appreciating the ability to do what I was doing.

Wavelets, © Batya7, JustHavingFun

I’m not preparing a seder this year. I will be a guest. I will not have the same pleasures as previous years; I expect I will have new pleasures. I can enjoy another’s family customs and make new memories. I can be in the moment yet feel the echoes of years past lap against my mind like wavelets upon the shore.

I could choose to dwell on what I don’t have—but rather, I choose to enjoy what the present provides. If I live in the negative shoals I will only bring sorrow and misery to my life. I choose happiness, being present in the current day. I choose to open my eyes to the beauty that is every day and grab at the chances for being open to miracles. For isn’t each day a new miracle?

Redemption is near. Until then, I choose happiness.

Passover Pizza

Pizza for Pesach

Passover Pizza and Pizza for Pesach © JustHavingFun

Maybe it’s a symptom of me getting old, but I experience a moment of cognitive dissonance when I see “Passover Pizza” on the market shelves. You mean you can’t go 8 days without pizza? Is this a generational thing?

My Mother tells me about what Passover in Philadelphia was like growing up in the waning years of the Depression. They had eggs, fish, matzah, beets, meat, potatoes, nuts, fruit… and more eggs and potatoes. Kosher for Passover milk and dairy products weren’t readily available, and they didn’t have the wealth of prepared foods that we kosher consumers enjoy today whether for year-round or Passover use. Mrs. Hindy Krohn, also a Philadelphia native (and mother of Rabbi Pesach Krohn), describes the situation well in her 1989 memoir The Way It Was: Touching Vignettes About Growing Up Jewish in the Philadelphia of Long Ago.

Passover Pizza

Freezer case with kosher for Passover products. © JustHavingFun

I’m not quite that old but I remember my Bubba Goldie shaping gefilte fish loaves by hand, sliding them out of the oven, and serving them with a perfect circle of cooked carrot. I don’t know where the fish came from. She probably went to a fish man and asked him to grind it. She also had a special basin for the chicken to soak in. She sat in a chair in the breakfast room pulling the pin feathers from the skin before cooking it.

Passover wasn’t a big deal in our family. We were secularized; it was a time for family to gather. I don’t remember the family having Seder dinners, but I sure remember sitting at the big mahogany dining room table with the matching chairs and claw-footed legs.

Bubba Goldie’s chicken soup was the clearest golden broth with little “eyes” of fat on the top, and the matzah balls were light and fluffy. Well, really I can’t remember the matzah balls, but I like to think they were “floaters” because it fits well with the imagery of the golden soup. She’d serve it with a small portion of chicken breast meat. My other grandmother, Bubba Lena, cooked her chicken soup with lots of “junk,” as she called it. Vegetables peeked from a cloudy broth, and chicken chunks were liberally strewn through the bowl. Did she make matzah balls? I can’t remember, but if she did, I bet they were “sinkers.” I inherited her skills in making a fragrant, filling cauldron of soup and I don’t get complaints about my matzah balls.

Welch’s Manischewitz Kosher Concord Grape Juice is kosher for Passover. © Manischewitz

In the 1990s I saw Manischewitz kosher for Passover Quiche Mix (a product fad that didn’t survive); that was when the world changed for me. Now there is Welch’s kosher Grape Juice, too, another world changer. The products keep coming: marshmallows, chocolate chip cookies, mayonnaise, pizza sauce, macaroons (of course), and the list goes on.

I’ll forgo the Passover pizza. I’ll stick with unsalted whipped butter on matzah as the most exotic food choice.  Hooray for eight days of  limited choices!

Purim Costume?

It’s only Tu B’Shvat time, but I’m primed; Purim is coming. I need to think ahead already.

Goodwill provides me with much inspiration. Looking for “normal clothes,” I saw these items separately at Goodwill and immediately thought “PURIM COSTUME!”

Now, I am a white White woman with pinkish skin tones. Chartreuse, acid green, safety yellow—these just are NOT my colors (white girl problems). Certain combinations, however, tickle my funny bone, and the ironic laughter burbles over. This chance combination illustrates my point of view in lush colors.

purim-costume-at-goodwill

This chartreuse skirt, acid green paisley top & tropical print scarf combo with sparkly sneakers screams Purim at me. © JustHavingFun

Purim sheitel (wig)

Purim fun. © JustHavingFun

The Jewish holiday of Purim occurs a month before Passover. It is recorded in the Book of Esther, Megillat Esther. Purim commemorates our people being saved from annihilation in ancient Persia by the hand of Haman, minister of King Ahashueros/Achashveros.  The megillah is read in public, and it is customary to make noise when Haman’s name is mentioned to “blot him out.” We celebrate by bringing gifts of food to our friends and neighbors, having a feast, and rejoicing.  Children dress in costume, and many adults do, too.

Pink Purim © JustHavingFun

Pink Purim © JustHavingFun

I don’t do full costumes. I think when I was a kid I had a Queen Esther costume like all girls in that era. One year I made a red fake fur hat and trimmed it with jingle bells, shaking it when Haman’s name. That got me a headache. Other years I wore a rainbow wig for jolliness—paired with totally clashing clothing. Last year I found an outrageous sequined overblouse and hot pink skirt. Paired with stripey socks, that was a wonderfully inspiring bit of frivolity.

So on second thought, I may just go back to Goodwill and see if these items are still available. We all need some hilarity in our lives.

I am so easily entertained. I crack myself up!

Memorial Day

American Flag

American flag, proudly waving.

I got married on Memorial Day. A Monday holiday’s convenience for time off and travel made that the most feasible choice. No barbecue,  but lots of sunshine… and humidity. The food was good, the guests had a good time, and we did what we set out to do. Now we are guaranteed a day off to celebrate the day every year, too!

Memorial Day has devolved into a day of national leisure and big $ale$. I sense we’re less concerned about remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces than we are interested in satisfying our own indolence. The grand parades of earlier times are figuratively replaced by red, white, and blue bunting on some stores. How many of us make the effort to go to the big parade in town?

Grilling

Getting ready to fire up the grill! “Grilling” by Adam Henning, used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Rather than sounding like a crotchety old granny, I’m happily remembering Memorial Day last year. We spent the afternoon at Van Cortlandt Park. It was packed! So many families came to enjoy the day together. Grills, bags of charcoal briquettes, picnic baskets, coolers, blankets, chairs, games, balls, and radios magically appeared. How was all of this stuff transported? Did people actually drive there? If so, where did they park (parking being my perennial concern)?

I have a humorous vision of people pouring out of the A-train burdened with all these chattels. Plus babies, toddlers, strollers, and diaper bags. Also sports equipment like bats, soccer balls, badminton nets, and whatnot. Picture that flood erupting and spilling down the steps at 242nd Street!

A beautiful orchid to grace our home with its lovely blossoms in honor of Shavuos.

A beautiful orchid to grace our home with its lovely blossoms in honor of Shavuos.

This year Memorial Day is coincident with the two-day Jewish holiday of Shavuos, or Pentecost, which starts after the Sabbath on Saturday night. It is when we celebrate the bringing of the law down from Mount Sinai. We traditionally eat dairy meals, as opposed to the meat meals of typical holidays. Imagine a holiday where people wax poetic about cheesecake! Not only that, but  we have flowers and plants in our homes because tradition says that Sinai bloomed with beautiful flowers and greenery while waiting for God to give the Torah to Moses on the mountain. I bought a gorgeous orchid for the occasion to enjoy for some time to come.

Whether shopping, picnicking, grilling, or just being lazy, I hope all have a wonderful Memorial Day! That’s one of the freedoms our soldiers fought for. So if you grill this weekend, enjoy a hamburger for me. I’ll be having quiche and cheesecake!

Freedom from Bondage

What’s all this spring cleaning about?

Passover starts this evening at sundown. Jewish families have been preparing for this holiday for weeks, if not months. In commemoration of the unleavened dough the Israelites took out of Egypt when fleeing on a moment’s notice, we have an obligation to rid our homes of “chametz,” i.e., leavened or fermented foods that primarily derive from five species of grain. So, not only do we remove all of the bread, crackers, pasta, and dough from our homes, we clean rigorously to eliminate any lurking crumb of chametz, that is ready to pounce into our mouths. So we wipe, vacuum, wash, dust, and generally go mad, rousting chametz from our homes. I can’t prove it, but I think searching for chametz established the basis for spring cleaning.

Chametz symbolizes the opposite of humility. A person puffed up from his own grandeur cannot connect spiritually to others or his Creator. The Passover seder uses many symbols to prod us to think deeply. The ceremonial meal is built around a seder plate. Questions are encouraged, and no question is too stupid. We use symbols and explanations to craft a memorable description of what happened to our ancestors. But why all the fuss about chametz?

When the Jews left Egypt, they were just beginning their journey to worship G-d. They needed to focus solely on their objective, which was to reach Mount Sinai and accept the Torah. Any thought of themselves, any self-consciousness or self-regard, would have hampered them in their ability to achieve their goal. To receive the Torah, they needed to let go of their own egos entirely, to give themselves over completely to G-d.(1)

Matzah is flat, poor bread, consisting of nothing but flour and water. It is humble. The dough didn’t have time to rise as the Israelites fled their homes in Egypt, their houses of bondage.

Today we task ourselves with very stringent requirements to prepare ourselves spiritually for the holiday and celebrate with the seder meal. Because we are human, we tend to focus on the preparations and not on what we’re preparing for. We’re getting ready to relive the Exodus: our freedom from bondage in Egypt leading to the giving of the Torah.

It is incumbent upon us to remember that we were delivered from slavery. It is vital to recognize and praise the One Who freed us. Two books of the Bible, Exodus (Shemos) and Deuteronomy (D’varim), detail the deliverance of the Israelites. Though this historical event happened to our forefathers, we still recount the story and teach it to our children year by year at the seder. How do I know it’s true? I heard it from my grandfather who heard it from his grandfather, and so on, and so on.

I could make myself crazy with cleaning. The drapes–no chametz there–the window screens, the bathtub. I could run around like a nut, Formula 409™ spray bottle in one hand and feather duster in the other, to clean the house. Or, I can rid my home of chametz from the usual places where we eat or trail crumbs. Since I don’t have small children broadcasting Cheerios all around, I can forget about the area under the radiator. I don’t have to dust the tops of the 6-foot tall bookcases. It’s all a matter of perspective. Spring cleaning or Passover preparation?

The cleaning can be a type of bondage in itself if we don’t see the connection to our freedom. For it is not spring cleaning that we should be doing. Certainly, we should be searching for the chametz in our homes, but it is equally important to rid ourselves of the “chametz” in our hearts and deflate our egos so that we can truly feel as though each of us, individually, had been taken out of Egypt him- or herself.

Tonight I shall raise my four cups of wine in praise, reliving how we fled from Egypt and were saved by the Almighty. I am free from slavery… and free from the bondage of spring cleaning!

Have a happy, kosher Passover!

 

 

 

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(1.) “Puffed Up.” Chabad of Central NJ, Accessed April 3, 2015.

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