In the degradation of Passover tradition that happens when parents get older and children move away; at times when there is no one young enough to sing the Four Questions without embarrassment; when the eating of the Hillel Sandwich is skipped because everyone at the table gets acid reflux; when the traditional four cups of sock-rotting Manischewitz dwindles to a single glass of Hagafen Chardonnay that is raised four times and demurely sipped by the host alone, one Passover tradition lives on: Matzoh balls, or knaidlach. Or, as my neighbor calls them, “those cool things you Jewish people put in soup on Passover.”
When a people have been around as long as the Jews, they have to be pretty good at renewing and re-imagining traditions in ways that feel authentic and also relevant. How else can rituals, practices, and beliefs survive the changes of time and place? It's a fine balance that is nicely captured in the term "old-new"--used, for example, in Theodore Herzl's Zionist novel about the "Old-New Land."
Ever since that one little jug found in the corner of the First Temple burned for eight days instead of one, olive oil has been political.
The one day supply of olive oil lasted for eight days, so the eternal flame did not go out while the temple was re-dedicated. Thus, Judaism’s victory against Hellenism was ratified by the holy light, and we now remember the miracle by serving fried food for eight days.
Hanukkah is coming, and with it my usual debate with my husband’s family. They are wonderful--sophisticated, warm and accepting of my last-minute hysterical gift decrees (no plastic toys, no battery-operated toys, whatever is bothering me that year). They are flexible about what a proper Menorah is, especially if a grandchild constructs it. But, don’t touch their toppings.
The current issue of the JOFA Journal offers a smorgasbord of thoughtful articles about clothing in Orthodoxy, aka “tznius“.
President Carol Kaufman Newman writes about how different today’s Orthodoxy is compared to when she was growing up and freely wore cheerleader outfits. “I would be less than honest if I did not confess that all this covering up gives me pause.”
This weekend I went to the Central Square Theater to see Cravings: Songs of Hunger and Satisfaction, a cabaret set in a Jewish kitchen that explores themes of hunger, success, acceptance, nourishment, fame, and sex. Cravings, starring cabaret artist Belle Linda Halpern, accompanied by Ron Roy, and directed by Sabrina Hamilton, was originally created to close the Ko Festival's 2008 series, themed on food.
As I entered the theater I was surprised to find myself in a Jewish kitchen. The only thing out of place was the piano. Belle Linda Halpern made charoset, and kibbitzed with us in between songs. She even called on Ron to help peel apples. As a Jewish woman, I found everything in this show relatable. (Except, where did they find such a quiet food processor!?) But what struck me most of all was the connection Halpern draws between the Jewish craving for food and the craving for success and achievement.
Yesterday in Tablet magazine, Ruth Ellen Gruber* wrote about her trip to an old Jewish cemetery in Romania to look at the way images of shabbat candles are used on women's gravestones to convey meaning and memory. Gruber's project, (Candle)sticks on Stone, is time sensitive, as many of these gravestones are crumbling into obscurity, but, she writes, "those that remain comprise wonderful examples of vivid local stone-carving that fuse local folk art and Jewish iconography." Gruber is interested in presenting these carvings as works of art, but she does acknowledge the depth and complexity these carvings carry concerning the intersection of symbolism, Jewish tradition, and gender roles.
Yesterday,the Jewish Women's Archive sent out a Passover e-greeting with the subject line: "Who says there are only four questions?" One of several responses to ourgreeting was from Nina Amir who affirmed that, indeed, there are far more than four questions to explore on Passover.
Judith Kaplan (Eisenstein) made history 87 years ago today when she became the first American to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah. As the daughter of an innovative rabbi - Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism- she benefited from his belief in egalitarianism and his willingness to challenge tradition.