Suddenly it’s fashionable to be Jewish. I never dreamed that would be the case when I converted to Judaism…me, a Southern gal who grew up lower middle-class, raised by fundamentalist Christians who preached from the pulpit that there was a special place in hell for Jews, killers of Christ, the un-saved. Why throw in my lot with them?
It wasn’t for the food. Kugels (noodle pudding, for the uninitiated), gefilte fish (ground up with bread and floating in brine or jelly), matzah (unleavened bread that tastes exactly like the box), blintzes, latkes, knishes…can we get some color around here? And heavy… the phrase “let my people go” is no joke. Now we get ready to set out on an eight-day matzah festival, increasing the alimentary stakes and purchases of Metamucil. Oy.
Passover is a great time to think about why you’re Jewish, no matter if you were born that way or joined in the journey later on. All the wandering, questioning–and yes, kvetching–is real life. The Torah has everything…creation, birth, war, illness, joy, government, worship, deceit, celebration, death, and sin, lots of sin. Our heros, like Moses, are entirely human and flawed like the rest of us. The Talmud has all the questions we face in life and almost none of the answers; it doesn’t say how we should deal with things like cloning or stem-cell research, but it contains the framework for figuring out where we stand, together and individually.
As my rabbi, Alexis Berk, often describes it, Judaism is about living in tension. Life is messy and it’s not always immediately clear what we should do. On the other hand, some things aren’t negotiable, like justice and fairness and taking up for the underdog. Those we must do. That’s why Jews led the way in the labor movement and the civil rights struggle. That’s why we have so many liberals; when the Torah says “don’t reap the corners of your fields,” it means “leave something for the guy who doesn’t have so much.” Rabbi David Wolpe wrote a beautiful piece on our responsibility to remember that.
Tonight I’ll go to a fancy seder and marvel about my luck at finding my way to that table. My grandmothers will be spinning in their graves, no doubt, but that’s OK. This poor little Southern girl feels very fortunate, on this night and all other nights, to be a Jew. Pass the horseradish.