By Mirra Kardonne
I’ve been hosting Passover at my apartment for 6 years now, and I think I’m going to have to revisit my approach to the whole thing. Why? Because I need to be the change I want to see in the world, according to a really smart non-Jew. (“?”)
One must do Passover carefully.
Easy does it! First things first: invite people. Lots of people. Any and all who would otherwise not be having a seder are invited (seder = ritual meal of Passover). Not Jewish? Not important! Did you know your Lord and Saviour also got down with his Passover self? I think it was his last supper, or something. Not one of those folk either? Well let me ask you this… how do you feel about ‘food’? How do you feel about ‘story time’? And the two together? That’s what I thought. Come! Partake in the gefilte fish, go look for the Afikomen, open the door for Elijah (don’t drink his wine, it’s bad vibes).
I guess you could say that my Passover seders and those of my immediate family are a medium. They’re not too short– an abridged version, skipping over half the rituals, as though to say “Let’s get all this voodoo out of the way so we can eat, feed our guests and maybe they won’t notice we’re JEWS!” They’re not too long either, where you lose the strength to give a shit about all this, where’s the goddamn brisket, it’s three in the morning, what do you mean we’re only at the ‘salty vegetable’ appetizer?!
My seders are like a choreographed dance. First comes part one of the retelling of the story. I make everyone read a paragraph from the Haggadah (the text describing the exodus from Egypt), one by one around the table, just like my parents did. Since the majority of my friends aren’t Jewish, there was the initial hesitation, the getting to their turn and them saying ‘oh…me next?’ There was (and still is) the awkward moment when my dad just keeps reading way after his turn is up and I have to say something like, ‘Thanks Dad, it’s the next person’s turn’, to which he responds “That would be great!!”
Six years later from my first official seder, my goy friends know exactly, exactly what to do. They come with their game faces on, ready to tell this motherfucking story. They are ready to do it all. They want to be the first when the Haggadah instructs us to point (index finger, please) to the Matzah and say ‘THIS is the bread of affliction…’. They are more than willing to partake in the 4 obligatory glasses of wine. They shout out ‘Is it time to recline to the left??” And my dear sweet musician friends are ready, willing and able to find some crazy harmony to sing a cappella to my dad’s sweet-ass insane-O reggae song he wrote about Elijah the Prophet, I’m not even kidding. There are the various symbolic foods that all mean something different. Some are about spring and rebirth, some are about the suffering of the Jews but also of the Egyptians. We get right into it, as far as paying homage to the mortar used for the bricks when building the ancient Egyptian edifices. It’s a living tradition. It’s in the reading, eating, and sharing with my loved ones that inspiration occurs, imbuing a dead event from thousands of years ago with breath and life from spoken words and a willingness to partake in the ritual.
Six years ago, when it became MY seder at MY apartment, it was this complete moment for me of, I really live here, this is my home. It was like a christening (ha).
BUT. I worry now about the struggle between myself and the Old Story. In the three major monotheistic religions, women often get the fuzzy end of the lollipop. It is Bad, but I feel uneasy about holding up a three thousand year old scroll and screaming, ‘J’ACCUSE!’.
After all, in Judaism women are entitled to legally demand a divorce from their husband if the husband can’t make them cum. Even thousands of years ago, everyone could agree that lady-orgasms trump basically everything else. Particular women have carved for themselves a place in Jewish history in the realms of politics and spiritual leadership (Queen Esther, Devorah the Judge, Hannah [the woman responsible for giving Judaism the current model of prayer without sacrifice], Naomi, Ruth, Channah [who would not bow to idols]). Nonetheless…they still get the dirty, sticky, pebble and germ coated end of the lollypop quite a bit.
But here we are now, and I’m racking my woman-brain to think of one thing in the world that isn’t expected to change over the course of three thousand years. So I’m not getting mad at the inequity found in Judaism. It’s old. You know what I do with old, ornery things that I enjoy in spite of being old and ornery? Well, I hold it up to a modern standard, find the way in which it is personally relevant, encourage change, critique, criticism, which (hopefully) leads to transformation. Example: an orange is now included on my seder plate. In the early 1980’s, Susannah Heschel re-addressed concerns, first raised by Oberlin students a propos to solidarity/inclusion of Jewish lesbians, to a conservative Jewish rabbi. The response Heshel received (“there’s as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for an [orange] on the Seder plate”), prompted her to stick it to that rabbi and include an orange on the seder plate. From then on, the orange symbolizes solidarity with lesbians, gay men and all marginalized people in the Jewish community
For next year, a cup of spring water will be included as well, to pay tribute to Miriam, who followed Moses down the river, making sure the basket didn’t tip over, persuading the Egyptian princess to make Jochebed (Moses’s birth mother) his wet nurse– for being an unsung prophetess without whom the story could not have happened. Symbols on the table to acknowledge the ladies? That’s no small victory. Critique, followed by transformation.
My problem is with the book I’m using, the Haggadah. I didn’t buy them, I use my parents. They may not have bought them either, they may have been inherited… hmmm.
The Haggadah is the story, nothing more. Unfortunately, it is also translated, edited, and biased. Mine doesn’t include women at all. One would think that Jews simply pop up out of the ground, like carrots. So an awkward thing happens every year at my Passover seder, wherein my guests learn to take the cue of myself and my sister to immediately ‘correct’ the story as we read. My sister and I automatically switch every ‘him’ ‘he’ and ‘his’ to ‘they,’ ‘their’ or ‘one’. Every time the Haggadah refers to God as male, we render it gender-neutral (‘God’ is too enormous to understand…except for His Penis. If you were confused as to who to worship, look for the Giant Penis. Or so I’ve read. In my Haggadah. Every year.) Every time it refers to our ‘forefathers’, we say ‘ancestors’. And while funny at first, it’s actually really annoying. Firstly, it makes us seem hysterical. If it doesn’t, then alternately it emphasizes the datedness of the text. So either we seem like we have a massive thousands-of-years-old chip on our shoulders and that apologizing for our own traditions is ‘just something we do’, or else sexist language is enfolded into the other rituals of remembrance and tribute. Most importantly, my friends are not Jews, and I HATE giving them the wrong idea. I hate the dissonance between my daily personality as an artist, a feminist, a friend, a lover, all my principles intact and ready to be called on for protection, versus the practicing of a ceremony which explicitly states throughout the course of a single meal that there is no place for me, not even at my own table.
Obviously, the solution is clear.
I need to buy new Haggadas.
Wait. There’s more! More solution. I was talking to my sister about something totally unrelated. I had made my feelings clear to some guy. She asked me if my admission made me squeamish, if I just found it completely galling that someone out there has information about my feelings. Usually those feelings would remain hidden and therefore no possibility of being vulnerable and getting hurt. I thought about it and answered no, I don’t mind that the information is out there. It doesn’t matter what happens, clarity is better than cloudiness. And she said that that’s good, because really, the way of protecting yourself is not in withholding. The way of operating without fear is to not be ashamed. I acknowledge how contrived that sounds, but honestly, how many people do you know who aren’t in some way, simply ashamed of themselves? My tally: not many. Most people I know really, really are. It comes out in ugly ways. Victim blaming, shaming, unexplained anger, irrational mood swings, all varieties of abandonment and abuse, apologizing for having the temerity to continue being themselves— these are symptoms of shame coming from all kinds of directions. Like flying monkeys armed with shame Uzis. Shuzis. Very, very bad.
So, let me ask you one question: How willing are you to apologize? How far will you contort into all kinds of unnatural shapes in order to be pleasing? Ladies: You don’t have to do it all, do it perfectly, and never break a sweat, as Brene Brown describes. You don’t have to apologize for being excellent at what you do and being a woman at the same time by laughing off shitty behaviour and comments that you’d never receive as a man. You don’t have to accept the scale on which so many women are measured, which is not by intelligence, kindness, personal integrity or professional merit, but rather on fuckability and a willingness to smile. Men: You don’t have to apologize for being men. I love men. I hate to see them, too, get screwed with their pants on by the patriarchy. That’s why we should stop apologizing, and find the courage to admit that we need each other to move forward and break convention by archiving the self-shame, self-hatred, and the pre-existing binaries that we’ve come to rely on.
I shant apologize for buying new Haggadas. Nor will I apologize for changing the eons-old and customarily-used language of the ceremonial holiday dinner. I love inviting my non-Jew friends to my seder and bringing ’em in on the fun they never knew they weren’t having. I will most certainly continue pitching (and catching) woo with the uncircumcised (I guess they don’t have to be, I’m not prejudiced) and inviting them to Passover with my fam-jam. Oh how skittish they are! Like bats in the light. I won’t apologize for being into this Judaism thing–it’s interesting, dammit! I won’t be ashamed of looking like a hysterical woman, bent on being talked to rather than talked at. Nor will I feel woozy about people knowing all of this.
This is Mirra Kardonne, feeling good, and enjoying Passover leftovers. Lean to the left, friends. It’s the direction of freedom.