Columns - 1997

    The crumbiest holiday of the year

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Shofar Columnist

    It's that time of year when people ask "Is it Passover again already? It seems like it was just last spring," and "Are you kidding? Two weeks ago I finally managed to remove the last of the matzah wedged between my teeth from last year!"

    This is soon to be followed by the timeless Jewish welcome of spring, "You know, it's less than six months until Rosh Hashanah already..."

    Passover, which for generations has celebrated Manischevitz's annual sale on half-baked goods, has in recent years also come to commemorate the exodus from Egypt to coincide with the annual network broadcast of "The Ten Commandments."

    As recounted in the book "Names" (Hebrew for "Shemot"), the exodus from Egypt is the first recorded instance where a man would not stop to ask for directions. The seder was established as the one meal each year when women can endlessly chastise men for this habit. This is best demonstrated in the story of the four sons: The Wise Son, who thinks he knows how to get everywhere; the Wicked Son, who intentionally gives you bad directions while he sneaks off to the arcade; the Simple Son, who is still learning how to read a map; and the Son Who Doesn't Know How to Ask for Directions.

    In defense of Moses and men everywhere, Moses' wife, Tzeporah, didn't make him stop at a gas station either.

    Why is Passover the crumbiest holiday of the year? This question has puzzled Rabbis for minutes. Some say it's not so crumby at all. However, the best answer was stated thusly: "We must look between the lines of our great texts to answer many questions about Judaism. Similarly, to learn why Passover is a crumby holiday, you must look between the pages of a well-used Haggadah."

    Passover is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays in the world today. It's true. Second only to the Federation's Super Sunday.

    Whether the center of the table has horseradish and parsley on a seder plate or a bacon cheeseburger pizza on a paper plate (some have both), more Jews will in some way celebrate Passover this month than at any other time so far this year.

    Judaism is a religion of the home as much as of the synagogue (though sometimes mortgage payments are lower than dues). The celebration of Passover seders in the home is the result of the 1953 Temple Mount Treaty, which allowed people to stay at home at night during this major holiday. In exchange, Rabbis were promised that 40 percent of congregants would arrive at High Holy Day services precisely five minutes before the sermon starts. Thirty percent arrive five minutes after it starts.

    It should be noted also that more non-Jews will celebrate Passover this year than ever before, thanks to an aggressive declaration by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis aimed at vastly expanding the number of non-Jews who contribute large amounts to Jewish causes.

    Upon news of the recent declaration, one born-again non-Jewish teenager quipped, "at least I don't have to hide that I'm dating non-Jews anymore." A Manischevitz executive was pleased, citing the fact that non-Jews like matzah a lot more than Jews do. The Palestinian Authority released a statement denouncing the declaration, and assuring the world that they will continue to deal with all Jews equally.

    I tried buying retail. I also tried sushi. (This was nothing new, but it was the first time I could do it legally.) I finally decided that I've been faking being Jewish for so long, I may as well stick with the act. It's like Carol Channing and "Hello, Dolly!", except Jewish. And I'm a baritone.

    Serious paragraph (in this column they must be highlighted as such): I am not one to foster misconception. They did not say Conservative and Reform Jews are not Jews. They simply said that our Judaism is not "authentic." In essence, that we're Jews who can still be saved if we do a Hail Moishe or two on Yom Kippur and change our ways.

    My first reaction was that the declaration was no skin off my nose. I told this to a friend who replied, "True, but what about your bris?" We don't talk anymore.

    An unattributed story (because I don't remember who it was attributed to) tells of an aspiring Talmudic student was very eager to be among the greatest learned men. He read the Talmud in its entirety at a relatively early age (before his 100th birthday). He brazenly approached his head Rabbi and declared "Rabbi, I have gone through the entire Talmud. I am worthy of entering the ranks of the greatest Rabbinic minds."

    The Rabbi replied, "You have gone through the entire Talmud, but how much has it gone through you?"

    Serious statement: They did not say the Conservative and Reform members are not Jews, just that their denominations are not authentic Judaism. Of course, if someone such as Hillel came back today he would recognize all modern Jewish denominations as much as Jesus would recognize modern Christianity: Not at all.

    But to Hillel some people might look more familiar: Those who say "do unto others as you would have them do to you." Even though he wouldn't understand the English, he would be able to tell.

    In a subsequent declaration, the Union declared no confidence in the United States Holocaust Museum because it acknowledges that other non-Jews were victims as well. One must hope that no future declarations succeed in making the Holocaust only the second-largest blow to the number of Jews in the world this century.

    Doug Brook is an authentic technical writer in Silicon Valley who attends an authentic synagogue and reads from an authentic Torah about his authentic forefathers who were enslaved in Egypt because their religion did not meet the expectations of others.

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.