Friday, April 14, 2006

A Secular Jew at Easter

A colleague asked me the other day whether we were having a seder for Passover. We're not. She's not Jewish, but her husband is...well, he is as much as I am which is not very much. They were doing it for the kids.

Now, if there were anything resembling a regular Jewish ritual that I would want my kids exposed to, it would be the seder. It was always my favorite. With my family, that many words, that much time, and that much wine, something very, very funny was bound to happen...a lot. With the singing and the laughing, I always loved Passover. But since my brother, my cousins and I have started rolling out the next generation, no one has the room to do it. But the question is whether we should do something inferior, something less spirited, so there is at least some trace of it for the kids.

This is an issue that I have wrestled with since TheWife was first with youngin'. I abandoned the "invisible magical man in the sky" hypothesis long, long ago -- before my bar mitzvah, but that's another story. I have no desire to enforce faith traditions upon my kids that I do not subscribe to, but at the same time I feel that there is something they are being denied. It was my choice to step away, a choice my kids won't have since they won't have anything presented to step away from.

At the same time, even without the religious aspect, in some sense, I am a Jew. When I watch Woody Allen or Mel Brooks movies, I get the jokes. I like a good deli sandwich--on rye, no mayo. There is a long tradition of activism at the heart of the community that I would love to see them in touch with. Whether it was labor laws, registering African-American voters in the South, the women's rights and gay rights movements...there were always disproportionate numbers of Jews on the front lines fighting for justice. This is the part of the community I am proud to be associated with. Like any community we are multi-faceted and there are sides that I do not miss, as well. But I know all this because I was raised in Yiddle Central. There were so many Jews in my school, even the African-American kids stayed home on Yom Kippur. My kids, on the other hand, are growing up in an area where secular, muchless Jew, is rare.

Their lives aren't completely deviod of Jewish influence. I play Klezmatics CDs around the house. They see my family arguing politics loudly around the dinner table. We make lots of puns and bad jokes. They love fried matzo, latkes, and blintzes. And they know how to use all those yiddish phrases I know how to properly use in context, but don't know the literal translations of. But my in-laws are Catholic, and, while TheWife is not, we do the Easter thing. There's a great egg hunt all over our yard, a nice dinner at the in-laws, Easter baskets... I mind none of this because (a) it brings my children joy and (b) TheWife only lets the kids eat one piece of the chocolate, meaning... (and you goyim get much better chocolate. The stuff in those cheap little gold coins? Dreck.)

It seems that if they are getting one side, they should get the other as well. But, to be honest, I feel it would be disingenuous to just go through the motions of a religious ritual that I don't believe in. I don't think all Jews should be in Jerusalem next year. This would be a lot of Jews and the only way we'd fit is if we spilled over into East Jerusalem...and many of the Israeli government's actions in that sphere make me ashamed to be a Jew. My own relationship, like so many of yours, I know, is complicated. If there was a family seder, we'd go as we have in the past. But to do it myself? I would feel wrong doing it, but I feel wrong not doing it.

The part I always liked least was the bit about the Wicked Son who was called wicked because he did not include himself amongst those who needed to partake in the Passover rituals. With all of the real evil in the world, all of the suffering, war, malice, and lack of genuine empathy for others, this hardly seems to make him truly wicked...but I'm sure he was conflicted.