Friday, March 20, 2009

Passover: Isn't That the One Where We're Freed from Slavery? פסח שמח

We’re approaching that time of year when we start to hear that greeting that always trips me up: chag sameach vKasher, invariably admonished gaily (picture finger-wagging with a preschool-teacher smile). chag sameach vKasher is unsettling to me for a few reasons: First, the kasher part sounds like a dangling appendage. At Purim, do we say chag sameach vShikor? At Chanuka, do we say chag sameach vMadlik?

Second, chag sameach vKasher has a distinct paternalistic ring. What? You think I’ll slip up and eat chametz if I’m not reminded of the primary directive of Passover every time I meet someone?

Third, it creates an unneccesary divide between those who are Torah-observant and those who are not. As one friend said, “It’s as if we went around greeting each other shalom uBitachon”. Do we really need to be reminded even more constantly of the divisions among us? Would it actually detract from the momentousness of Passover to simply wish each other chag sameach?

For the record, as far as I’m concerned your Passover can be kasher, chametzdik, or anything in between, as long as it’s an enjoyable festival wherein we join together to recite once again the story of the most dramatic hour of our history. This to me is the essence of Passover, not the collective elimination of every last molecule of leavening from the planet.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Gilmore Girls: Antisemitic? בנות גילמור: אנטישמי

Those who know me know my obsession with Gilmore Girls, a TV series I have yet to find a show better than (See? It even caused me to end a sentence with a dangling superlative(?)). So it may surprise you that I have a big enough problem with an episode to blog thereon.

The episode in question is Season 3 Episode 10 (That’ll Do, Pig). It’s Rory’s senior year at Chilton. Ambitious, Type-A, nominally Jewish super-achiever Paris is telling Rory about her Christmas visit to her boyfriend’s family:

PARIS: The place smelled like cinnamon all the time, and there was a fire in the fireplace, and a ton of presents. I mean hundreds of presents. I’m looking at this mound of gifts, and I’m thinking, “Eight days of Chanukah. . . who was the skinflint who thought up that deal?”
RORY: Don’t the eight days symbolize something?
PARIS: Yes, they symbolize eight days of ripping off the little kids who can’t have a Chanukah bush.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Paris Geller: Typical self-hating assimilated Jewish brainiac: a walking encyclopedia of every culture…except her own. She’s on the expressway to the Ivy League, yet her knowledge of Judaism ― down to the most elementary facts, like why Chanuka lasts eight days ― is abysmal, going so far as to ridicule it.

The only excuse I can think of is that this episode was written not by regular screenplay writers Amy and Daniel Sherman-Palladino, but by Sheila R. Lawrence, who I see here has a filmography that includes, among others, many more GG episodes, as well as being producer.

How could she and the S-Ps let this go by? Did they think it would endear Paris to the gentile audience? Not only is it a disgraceful portrayal of a Jewish character, but it dips to such a low level in contrast to the piquant dialog for which GG is known. In addition, this soliloquy could have gone in a hundred other directions, i.e., the self-deprecation was totally unnecessary. Shame on you, Lawrence! You let us Gilmore fans down.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Teen Trips to Poland: Ka-Ching! ?המסע לפולין: חיוני

Besides Avirama Golan’s excellent arguments against teen trips to Poland עברית and Fani Oz-Salzberger’s excellent response, I’d like to add that besides the obvious obscenity inherent in pouring thousands of dollars into the Polish economy, essentially rewarding the Poles for “having hosted the party” we recall as the Holocaust, I have another, more subtle problem with the teen trips.

I get the sense that they’ve become a vehicle for a last-ditch, mainline history lesson similar in kind to what my congregation growing up did for its confirmation classes: Rabbi Margolies, who was quite learned and charismatic, basically used the confirmation year to take the class on a journey through Jewish history. He knew that it was the last time many, if not most of us, would sit in a room with our Jewish peers and learn about our tribe. It was if he was saying, “OK. Enough with the model Seders and Purim costumes. We’re not fooling around now.” He knew that it was his last chance to fight our impending assimilation, and he pulled out all the stops. Valiant effort though it was, it was also sad; it was an admission of failure of seven years of Hebrew school.

In the same way, the teen trips to Poland seem to me to be an admission of failure of 12 years of Israeli schooling. It’s having the kids wrap themselves in our flag and calling it patriotism. It’s admitting that most non-Orthodox kids have a weak connection, at best, to their Jewish past, and hoping that a mainline injection of death camps will give it to them. The problem is that while a mainline injection has immediate knockout effect, the effect wears off just as quickly. You just can’t ring the little crystal bell* and “make Zionism appear” like it’s some pancake mix where you “just add water and serve”.

I’m inclined to agree with Oz-Salzberger, and am in fact enchanted by the idea of a Muslim-Jewish teen trip to Spain. The fact is that nothing, really --not even marching through the death camps themselves -- can substitute for hearing the live testimony of Holocaust survivors. We’re just going to have to accept that fact, and move on to a new era in Holocaust education.