So I wasn’t going to write anything Passover-related. It might be my least favorite Jewish holiday because, since I’m not a particularly religious person, my appreciation of holidays is based on the degree to which good food and family are involved. (Some may call me blasphemous, I just think I’m being honest. So sue me.) And though I love a (singular) good piece of matzoh, having to make everything with matzoh meal tends to leave everything tasting….well…just like matzoh. No matter how much garlic, onion, salt, pepper and other spices you add, it’s still…blah. I won’t even get into the constipation discussion because that’s not why I’m writing. I’m writing because today I remembered why I choose to still celebrate it despite the oft-bland menu, and my lack of enthusiasm for organized religion, particularly mine.
Beyond the opportunity to have dinner with my family, attempting to get my little monkey to understand the 4 Questions, why all that funky-looking stuff is on the seder plate, and why her school is closed for so long, and the carrying on of tradition…I choose to celebrate because there are still people out there who think Jews are all greedy, hirsute, hook-nosed devils with curly tails. Or some other ridiculous stereotype that isn’t close to the truth. I say this, because today I was in a room listening to a discussion of symbols…and a swastika was brought up by a young man, not as a symbol of anti-Semitism, but of peace. A swastika, as a symbol of peace, on the first day of Passover. Oy. Despite the truth of his not-so-innocent statement (there was more than a slight smirk on his face when he said this), as many Eastern cultures do use this symbol as one of peace, once that symbol was usurped by Hitler and the Nazi party, any peace associated with it went out the window, as far as I’m concerned. At least to Jews, and most people cognizant of World History from the mid-late 20th century, it is a symbol of hate and a reminder of a disgusting period of time for all of humanity.
This reminded me of my first year in college at UC Santa Barbara at a time when 70% of the freshman class was whiter than marshmallow fluff, and me and my half-Puerto Rican, half Russian/Polish Jew self was pretty spicy for the neighborhood. We all had those dry-erase boards up on our dorm room doors for displaying to the world our names, leaving notes to our friends, our roommates, and decorating for upcoming holidays. I remember attempting to draw a Christmas tree symbol and a menorah for Chanukah on my whiteboard, putting the wrong number of candles on the menorah and saying, “Oops, wrong number of candles, gotta redo!”… and having one of those marshmallowy girls from Orange County come up to me and say “Who cares how many candles are on there? No one is Jewish on this floor anyway.” I took one look at her and said, “I am, you idiot.” I was so taken aback by the ignorance as I really didn’t think people were still that clueless. I gathered she was pretty embarrassed given all she said was, “Oh,” and then walked away. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt that after that incident, she thought twice about making such a statement to another and perhaps came to realize that just because a particular group is not on your floor (neighborhood, city, state, country, etc.), that their cultural traditions don’t matter.
I shook my head then, as I did today. Both times rather perturbed from the ignorance, but also, determined to continue my traditions as I see fit, and to help educate those who would be surprised to find that I am 1) Jewish and 2) do not have a curly tail. And with that I bid you good night.