Passover Perspective

Pesach is approaching, and in just a few weeks, I’ll begin rationalizing how long I anticipate that I’ll actually be able to keep kosher for Passover. We have seders to attend in the city, Westchester, and New Jersey, and yet I’m beginning to separate my connection with the holiday from the story and meaning from the Haggadah.

I don’t much like matzah, and the first seder always seems a big sluggish, but that said, I’ve always considered Passover a time for reflection — for walking a modernized day in the shoes of our ancient ancestors.

I’ve spent my entire life trying to understand where I fit in with my religion, and defining how I choose to connect to it.

As a kid, keeping kosher and being forced to attend Hebrew school were enough for me.

Now, though, I’m determined to derive greater meaning from the upcoming holiday. Each generation of Jews has known struggle and adversity — and instead of thinking of their struggle, and how they survived, I’d rather use their strength to overcome hard times to find a way to give back.

I’ve been toying with the idea of volunteering for B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO), or some other such cause/organization. At this point, I’d like to use Passover as an opportunity to pay it forward.

A New Year’s Orphan

Holidays have been tricky for me since making the big move to the Big Apple. I have family here — I think most Jews do — but nothing compares to my Detroit contingent that gathers for weekly Shabbos dinners, the high holidays, Thanksgiving, New Years, and Pesach.

While I’ve grown accustomed to breaking the Yom Kippur fast with my New York cousins — very much worth a full day’s fast if I can snag even one of cousin Marion’s blintzes — especially as they often reminisce in my grandmother’s memory, nothing replaces digging into a deli tray and other dairy delights with my full mishpocha back home in the mitten that is Michigan.

My original plans for the holiday weekend, or rather, the weekend leading up to erev Rosh Hashanah changed last-minute. I was supposed to venture out to Amagansett for what was to be a lovely weekend of apple picking and time spent with my cousins Aaryn and Esther. Thanks to an unruly Hamptons Jitney operator, those plans unraveled.

Suddenly, I felt like a high holiday orphan. Many of my New York friends are not Jewish, and those that are have traveled back home for the holiday. Salt was rubbed into the wound after a few Skype calls with my siblings and parents, and I began to plan for an evening alone on 29 Elul in my teeny, tiny apartment in Queens, while they all made plans to enjoy the holiday back in Michigan.

My luck changed when a former colleague and good friend invited me to join his family for dinner. I jumped at the opportunity, and am excited for the experience. Nothing can replace holidays at Auntie Phyllis’, but hopefully this will be a close second. And while tomorrow I should be spending my day in services, I’m without tickets for Monday, and am plagued with my father’s work ethic, so I’ll be at work and not shul.

That said, to my readers, family, friends, and beyond – I wish you a very happy, healthy, and sweet new year. לשנה טובה ומתוקה לכולם!

Purim

Purim

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I grew up in a religiously conservative household. My mother kept — and still keeps — a Kosher house, and up until I turned 13, we went to synagogue weekly and to Hebrew school on Wednesdays and Sundays. Now that I’m older, it’s clear to me that my parents subjected us — and I use that term lightly — to the traditional Jewish upbringings that they both had, and not because they devoutly believed in any particular aspect of the religion.

At this point in my life, I wouldn’t consider myself traditionally religious, but I would certainly consider myself Jewish and practicing. And, as Purim fast approaches, I fondly remember Congregation Beth Shalom and their annual Purim Carnival. I’ll always associate this particular holiday with the goldfish I would win – and that would die a week later – at the carnival, and the hamantaschen we’d pick up on the way home from one of the Kosher bakeries.

I never once dressed up for the holiday, though some equate the modern celebration of Purim to the Jewish Halloween. I did get pretty feisty with the gregors, though.

If you’re looking for a way to celebrate Purim with minimal effort, try your hand at making these de-licious hamantaschen. To all those celebrating, חג שמח!

I am Jewish

I happened upon this video via Facebook. A rabbi, former BBYO friends, and a few relatives had shared it. Without having read the commentary, and not having had the time to sit and watch it, I wrote it off as just another Jewish-themed parody, not worth my immediate attention.

I was wrong.

So, as I sit here at my parent’s house watching Bye Bye Love because nothing else is on TV, I decided to give this little video — one that I was advised to start watching after the first minute — my attention.

I suppose my immediate reaction and instinct is to thank Andrew Lustig. His words, his vocal cadence, his energy — his video summed up my thoughts and reflection on being a Jew, but also on being Jewish in America.

Guilt, shame, pride — all things Jewish people have felt. Being confused by Yiddish conversation — not that you’d understand the dialogue if it were in Hebrew, either — and the varying tunes we attach to Adon Olam — I think it sounds best to the Happy Days theme song — these are all things I associate with being Jewish.

I’m not here to explain my thoughts on Kashrut, or my views on Middle East peace. But I identified most with this video when Lustig said, “I’m a Jew, not an Israeli; a religion, not a country.” That’s not to say I’m not passionate about Israel or Israeli culture.

I believe that peace is possible – across our religion and its sects, and across Israel.

I feel fortunate to have almost always lived in a community with a thriving Jewish presence. I feel a connection to Avram’s Bubbe on the popular YouTube series “Feed Me Bubbe” because she reminds me of my late grandmother, Cyrille Cooper. I go out of my way to shake the lulav and etrog on Sukkot, because it reminds me of having no choice but to do so in Hebrew school. I don’t eat meat, but if I did, I wouldn’t mix it with milk. It’s just not Kosher.

While things change everyday, my Jewish identity is my constant. I’m Jewish today, I was Jewish yesterday, and I’ll still be Jewish tomorrow.

Inside Secrets of a Jewish Mother [partial book review]

I have a unique family. I have so many relatives within a one square-mile area that we had a float in our city’s Fourth of July parade called Dozens of Cousins. Some of my favorite memories involve weekly Friday night dinners at my Great Auntie Phyllis’ house, where she successfully piles 30+ people, week after week, stuffing them full of all things good and Jewish — from matzo ball soup to brisket. Surprisingly in-time for dinner, my Great Uncle comes home from the hospital — head-to-toe in surgical scrubs — to talk bones with some aching relation. He has an orthopedic practice with his three sons and one daughter-in-law. We sit, we eat, and we schmooze. This weekly gathering is nothing compared to Rosh Hashanah dinners, or Thanksgiving. Every dinner ends with my Great Aunt and her dear friend Mary-Joe hand-counting how many people came and how it differed from weeks and years in the past. This year’s holiday was different. Still lots of food and family, but my grandmother’s absence (she passed away last Thanksgiving) was a noticeable and uncomfortable void.

After my Bubby Cyrille’s death, Jewish holidays became difficult to celebrate, and I was dreading moving to New York to spend my first Rosh Hashanah away from home. I had an apartment, a job, and a reasonable amount of good friends from work. I even had family. My New York family is great, and incredibly hospitable, but no dynamic can possibly replace that of my Detroit roots.

On Rosh Hashanah, I was invited to dine with the delightful Wexler family. I had done some work with Lisa and her radio show in the past, and in a quick e-mail exchange, I had mentioned not having anywhere to go for the holiday. Like any good (and typical) Jewish mother, she insisted that I join her family. I hesitated responding at first, because while we had welcomed many a wandering friend into our home and my Auntie Phyllis’ over the years, I never thought I’d be in that position of need.

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