Category Archives: passover

Green beans at the seder

As a hostess, my mother is conscientious, even, you might say, fastidious. Mr. Ben learned this his very first Passover with us back in 2001, an experience so scarring it is no surprise it took him six years to propose. His reaction could probably be summed up by a friend at this Passover who leaned over to me and remarked, “There are so many rules!” Uh, yeah. But what would Judaism be without rules?*

I don’t mind rules. I’m used to them. Don’t stack the china. Don’t mix patterns. Don’t fetch something out of the kitchen yourself. Don’t eat dairy with the meat meal (even if you’re a vegetarian). Don’t break anything. My mother has her own version of Leviticus and even though it isn’t written down, she thinks the rules are self-evident and she doesn’t quite understand why some people don’t immediately get it.

She also puts on a beautiful Seder.

This year however she made one mistake. Green beans. That’s right, friends. Green beans are not technically kosher for Passover and she served them at BOTH SEDERS. Oh the shame.

Green beans fall under a category of food called “kitniyot,” which are permitted for Sephardic Jews, i.e., those from Spain and the Arab world, and not for Ashenazic Jews, i.e., most of us. This is because Jews in Spain & the Arab world had more freedom under Islam than Jews in Europe did under various tight-ass Popes and Czars. So while Sephardic Jews got to throw parties, write poetry, and generally have a good time in good weather, Ashkenazic Jews were stuck in dour shtetls, looking over their shoulders for Cossacks, and inventing new laws to make life even more difficult for themselves.

Well, I reject this tradition of suffering for the sake of suffering. Sure, much of my lineage is based in Lithuania and the Pale of Settlement (Russia/Poland, depending on the year). But my father’s family originally hailed from Turkey. The fun-loving Jews! Those are my real spiritual ancestors, and they eat rice on Passover; rice, yes, and green beans too, and soybeans, and corn. There is no end to their wild ways.

My 96-year-old maternal grandmother seems to have absorbed some of this hedonism, even though she is descended from those drab, staid Eastern Europeans. When my brother and I were arguing back and forth about whether soybeans were permissible to eat, my grandmother interrupted us. “Do you know what I ate today?” she said. “A piece of bread.”

Now that left us speechless in awe.

Happy Passover everyone! Happier still: only a few days left.


Kalamazoo and tigger too

birdy brain
Originally uploaded by charrow.

JJ, as depicted here in a piece of Charrow art, was one of our hosts for the past few days as Mr. Ben and I sojourned in the Southlands. These strange foreign lands, as it turned out, didn’t feel as strange or foreign as I expected. In fact, Atlanta reminded me strongly of Seattle, only with more traffic and way less charm. People in Seattle also get bonus points for friendliness compared to their Southern counterparts, unless you count the bum in Asheville, NC, who, trying his hardest to make us feel at home, called after us, “Happy Hannukah!”

JJ was an excellent sport over the weekend in Asheville, where we were up to our chins in Judaica with Mr. Ben’s family the entire time: she nibbled matzoh for breakfast without complaint and sat through both seders. Even when Mr. Ben’s mom’s SPP (straight person partner) Harry played Hebrew songs on his new harmonica with more exuberance than skill, JJ didn’t flinch. A righteous woman, who can find her? Her worth is above rubies.

I realized during the service that these seders consist of lots of lying to God, and not just the standard “You’re so merciful and gracious!” stuff. Just for example, there’s a long prayer where the chorus goes, “It would have been enough!” — i.e., if God had rescued us from Egypt but not parted the sea so we could get through, it would have been enough. The song continues, mentioning how the Lord brought us to the land of Israel and vanquished our enemies and built us the temple. But of course, if God had done one or even some of those things and not the rest, it wouldn’t have been enough, not by a long shot. We wouldn’t be here to tell the tale year after year.

Later, there’s a true whopper set a beautiful, ghostly melody. It goes like this, roughly:
I have been young
And I have grown old
Yet never have I seen a good man starve

I mean, please. We teach this stuff to children?

After the second seder Sunday night, without waiting for the dough to rise, we packed up the Honda and sped past Bob Jones University and Clemson U., the South blurring into fast food chains and churches in the dark outside my window. Charrow and JJ’s Little Five Points apartment is beautiful, all old wood and bright colors and windows everywhere. Mr. Ben’s mom’s house was the same way, charming and well-lit. (Not that I can complain about real estate, but we do pay the same for our place as my MIL spends on hers, only hers includes several bedrooms, a backyard, a stained-glass pantry, and more nooks and crannies than an English muffin.)

I hadn’t seen Charrow since she guest-starred as Maid of Honor in the production that was my wedding nine months ago. That is much too long. She and JJ will be moving up here in the fall and the fall cannot come fast enough.