a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Pesach Panic

Posted on: February 26, 2011

Just in case you’re counting there are 51 days until Passover.  Yup, 51 days to get all of your Pesach preparations complete.  A while back one of my readers, Dena, told me that she was already getting stressed about Pesach preparations.  I sort of shrugged her off with the booze and festivities of Purim in my sights and just thought, Passover is just like any other Holiday, how much preparation can there be. 

A lot.  A whole effing lot of preparations for Pesach.  I suppose one saving grace is that I’ll be in a new apartment before the holiday so the search for chomez should be a bit easier but really, Pesach, really?  Last night Mirs and I sat on her couch and read the Pesach section of my favorite cookbook Aromas of Aleppo, a Jewish Syrian cookbook.  After reading the condensed, yet precise information I realized a few things.

1.  This could turn out to be my favorite Holiday and trump Purim.  Therefore, this Purim better ROCK and it will because I’m going to the JFREJ party.  There are many aspects of Purim that I plan on celebrating this year.  The Fast of Esther is one of them.  I don’t know why but I really like fasting, especially religious fasting.  My first fast was for Yom Kippur when we fast for 26 hours.  Only after services conclude can you put anything into your mouth.  Sitting in the large auditorium that hosted the Yom Kippur services my hunger pangs subsided and I felt incredibly light.  I was transfixed by the chanting of Torah, transfixed by the cantor’s voice, in awe of the tallit covered Jews who were of various sexual orientations as well as various races.  I was overwhelmed, as I say over and over again when I describe that Yom Kippur and humbled not only as a Jew but as a person literally standing before God.  It was powerful and I don’t know if I would’ve felt all of that had I not fasted.  Literally, my hunger only returned when I sat down at a restaurant.

In the Book of Esther we read that before going before the her King and husband Esther and her servants, as well as all of the Jews of Persia fast.  To commemorate this one woman’s love for her people and ability to turn the heart of her rather silly husband and his cruel advisor Jews around the world fast.  Three days before getting really really drunk on Purim (as prescribed in the Talmud) I will be fasting.

There are a few mitzvot for Purim as well.  Giving of gifts to the poor and giving of gifts to friends.  Traditionally, if anyone asks you of anything on Purim, you are to give it to them.  This means, on Purim if you’re a New York Jew and you’re riding the subway and panhandlers ask for money or food, you are supposed to give them something.  I’m looking forward to this mitzvah that I’ve never done in two years of Purim festivities.

Lastly, it is a mitzvah to hear the book of Esther be read.  I’m not sure if I’ll be fulfilling this mitzvah with JFREJ, at a party at our apartment, or in shul but those three things are what I’m looking forward to celebrating this Purim, three things I’ve never done. 

Two years ago when I learned that the Talmud dictates that you are to be so drunk on Purim that you can’t tell the difference between the good guy in the story and the bad guy, I was sure that NOTHING could beat Purim-until I read about Passover last night.  Sure Pesach is about our redemption from slavery in Egypt.  It’s about the plagues, I’ve seen The Prince of Egypt and The Ten Commandments enough times to get the gist of the day.  Bitter Herbs, Matzoh, blah, blah, blah. 

Blah Blah Blah is what I thought until I read about the detail, ritual, ceremony, and food and wine that goes into the seder.  I didn’t know why we chose the foods we eat on Pesach.  I didn’t know how specific the details were around the wine (3.5 oz)  I didn’t think the seder lasted that long yet, you’re supposed to provide cushions and pillows for your guests so they can sit comfortably around the table.  Pesach is about the oral tradition being told from one generation to the other, from one Jew to another.  While our Passover table will most likely be filled with friends, reading the simple words in Aromas of Aleppo instantly my mind thought of the day that our youngest child would have his part to say in the seder.  The  joke goes that all Jewish holidays are about almost being defeated, then over coming odds, and then eating but Pesach is about the story of the Jewish people, my people, and keeping the oral tradition of our people alive from one generation to the next.

Realization 2.  Holy Shit, I’m totally unprepared.  I mean, food and getting haggadah are one thing but the really important issue here is finding “my” seder plate. 

This one is nice


Realization 3.  No, really.   I’m totally unprepared.  In addition to the aesthetics of Pesach (new outfit) there are enough laws around kosher for Passover foods to make your head spin.  For example, my cat may be on a completely new diet for Pesach because most pet food has wheat in it.  I have to secure  a gentile to keep my non-kosher food in their home and out of my clean, pristine kosher home for an entire week.  I can’t let non-kosher food into my body let alone into my home.  Did you have a blueberry muffin this morning?  Is that a crumb on your scarf?  Is your bottled beverage kosher?  I’d sound like a crazy person!  There is a gigantic part of me that wants to do this “right” and the other, shall we say, more reformed side of my head shrugs.  On the other hand, Passover, like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, is one of those holidays that the least observant Jews observe. 

So there we have it, Pesach Countdown T-minus 51 days.  I think the best first step is finding the right seder plate (and wine cups that hold 3.5oz of wine).  It’s like a prom dress or wedding dress; after the main attraction (dress or in my case the plate) everything else should be easy…right? 

I actually really like this plate

2 Responses to "Pesach Panic"

I think I’ll start cleaning early. I won’t be removing everything from my home (it’ll be locked up) nor will I be bringing out separate dishes this year. Cleaning and coming up with a menu will be all I need to do. I have to clean my car too. It will appreciate it.

Unfortunately I don’t have any real Jewish friends so I don’t even know where I’ll go for the seder. My shul has a second seder but for the first night I have nothing planned so far. I’m sure my Rabbi will find a family for me but it isn’t the same as having an evening with good friends, you know?

I really like that second seder plate you posted.

We talked about it in class tonight and the rabbis reminded us that it was our first Pesach and we didn’t need to do everything kosher…I wonder if they don’t quite know me yet!? HA! I’ve decided it best to focus on the lack of leavened products and the seder. Two GIANT things but I’m going for it.

My new apartment has two pantries so it’s easy to “lock up” my stuff, too. The seperate plate thing is in the far-off future. For the time being, I’ll just “kosher clean” them and call it a day.

That stinks you don’t have any Jewish friends! Anyone in your class you like?

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