Thursday, April 16, 2009

Matzah Ball

--By the Tar Heeb

I am not a baseball fan.

I would go even further and say that I am a baseball hater. Growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, I had two sports passions: the Charlotte Hornets and the Carolina Panthers. Both basketball and football are more exciting than baseball (possibly objectively and definitely subjectively), thus cementing my allegiance to the sports. I also played both, in JCC leagues for basketball and middle school for football.

Little League, the so-called quintessential American experience, eluded me as it does for many Jewish boys due to the overwhelming priority that my parents put in Hebrew School. The lack of baseball viewing and playing opportunities while growing up a Jewish kid in Charlotte resulted in my apathy and subsequent hatred of the game, which is pretty easy to do considering the snail's pace at which it is played. So it was much to my surprise when the worlds of Judaism and baseball collided for me on Monday night and of holiday: Passover.

My office had decided a few weeks ago to buy tickets to the Washington Nationals' home opener and when our secretary asked if I wanted to go, the only allowable response was “yes,” since it was an afternoon game. I didn’t give the game a second thought until I was packing to go home for Seder and realized the game would smack dab in the middle of Passover. I couldn’t think of a worse combination.

I had come to terms with the fact that I had to spend three hours watching baseball and conjuring up topics for conversation with my co-workers, but now without partking in two of my top three pastimes: 1) drinking beer, 2) eating food and 3) belligerently quoting baseball movies (for someone who hates baseball, I sure do love baseball movies). No. 3 on my list was still a possibility, but without the guise of being at least mildly drunk, I’d just look like a crazy person.

In the end, I just sucked it up. I chatted with my co-workers, pretending not to be ridiculously jealous of the tons of beer and food they were expensing to the company. I made SEVERAL laps around the entire stadium and even contemplated building a bear (yes, they have Build-A-Bear station at the Nationals Ballpark). And ultimately I realized that the kind of suffering I had to endure by going to a baseball game on Passover is exactly in the spirit of the holiday.

I just had to remember that no matter how rooted my hatred of baseball is, it is nothing like the Exodus from Egypt.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

From Slaves to Seder to Stories

--By Hannah

I really love Passover. The Seder has always been one of my favorite family gathering times -- I think I like it so much because it’s kind of stuck in time. If you think about it, a seder is like a living fossil, a bunch of traditions, practices, and readings that preserve this central kernel of memory. We add to the memory over time with new traditions (hey, my family puts an orange on our seder plate) and new memories from our own historical contexts. The point of the whole thing is that we’re supposed to pretend -- no, we’re supposed to actually remember, like it happened to us -- that we were slaves in Egypt.

The Haggadah is pretty damn assertive about this. We read, “this year we are slaves. Next year may we be free.” Even though I’ve been to 46 seders over the course of my lifetime, and have led seders for exactly six years running, I still have kind of a hard time wrapping my head around the whole thing. How, exactly, am I supposed to remember leaving Egypt -- an event which happened approximately 3,287 years before I was born? What, really, does that mean?

I hope you don’t mind, but I’m not going to talk about Torah even a little bit today. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the texts that comprise the seder are deeply rooted in rabbinic literature and Torah. What I will do, however, is tell you a story that I learned at a seder, a story about remembering:

When the founder of modern Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov, saw danger threatening the Jews, he used to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. He would light a special fire, say a certain prayer, and the danger would be averted. Later, when his disciple was worried about the fate of the Jews, he would go into the exact same place in the forest and say, “God! Listen! I don’t know how to light the fire of the Baal Shem Tov, but I know the right place and I know how to say the right prayer.”

When the disciple of the disciple desperately needed to save the Jewish people, he would go into the forest and say, “I can’t light the fire. I don’t even know the prayer. I do know the place, though.”

Eventually, it came time for the disciple of the disciple of the disciple of the Baal Shem Tov to intercede to help the Jewish people in times of trouble. Sitting in his house, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I can’t light the fire. I don’t know the prayer. I can’t even find the place in the forest. All I can do is tell the story, and this has to be enough.” And it was sufficient.

This is pretty much exactly how I feel about Passover. So much time and history has passed since the Israelites made their exodus from Egypt. Heck, I’ve never even been to Egypt. So much about the lives of the Israelites is just completely unimaginable to me. I don’t know what it’s like to be a slave, I don’t know what it’s like to pray to God for alleviation from an oppressor, and I certainly don’t know what it’s like to make a paschal sacrifice.

But I do know the story. I know the story of the Exodus; I know the story of the Haggadah; I know the story told by my family during the seder, going back hundreds of years. So, even though I don’t know the fire, the prayer, or the place, I can still remember the story and relive the history of my family, my community, and my people. And this, I think, is more than sufficient.

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