Monday, April 18, 2011

So THIS is freedom...?!?!?!?!?!?

So, Passover officially starts in a couple of hours, and while there's a lot to do, we're close enough to being ready that I've been hoping to share a few thoughts before the Seder begins. Of course, if you don't see me online for the next several days, it means that I was caught blogging just hours before the holiday and Sharon took exception to the choice that I've made…

But in all honesty, it's very hard for me to have so many thoughts about this very major holiday without sharing at least some of them.

Passover traditionally marks the Exodus from Egypt – which signified the end of generations of slavery and the beginning of the new reality of a free people, subservient only to God and not a human king. Equally importantly, the Exodus from Egypt marks the transformation of the Jewish people into a nation from a family, the Children of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel).

In so many ways, the significance of this holiday is meant to be one of great joy and celebration. We are commanded to "re-live" the story of Passover as though we personally were among our ancestors when they were redeemed from slavery, and shortly after departing Egypt, received the Torah at Mount Sinai.

Unfortunately there are too many people who are unable to enjoy the holiday as it should be. I don't mean those who have no family or community Seder of which to be a part (although that is in and of itself a very real issue within our society).

Rather, I am talking about the people who allow themselves to get so caught up in the details of preparation for the holiday that by the time the holiday arrives they are too exhausted to appreciate the beauty of what we are celebrating. Worse yet, from several weeks before the holiday even begins they are dreading everything that needs to be done in order to celebrate their supposed "freedom".

Make no mistake, there are a lot of extremely detailed laws regarding the Passover preparation. We must clean out our house of all chametz (leavened bread), and we spend 7 days (outside of Israel it's 8 days) being very careful about eating no chametz at all, which includes nothing with any chametz ingredients. For those who observe the laws of Kashrut (kosher), all year long finding food which we can eat is enough of challenge – the week of Passover is much harder. We have to replace all of our dishes (2 sets – one for dairy, one for meat) with dishes used only for Passover, we clean and scrub the refrigerator, the oven, the stove and anything else used for food preparations (some things we don't clean, we just put them away and replace them with their Passover counterparts). We then scrub and clean very well all of the countertops, table tops, cabinets, etc.

Additionally, for those who are hosting a traditional Seder, they need to have the kitchen cleaned out several days in advance and make sure that all of their food preparation is only with ingredients certified as Kosher for Passover, and with dishes and utensils which have not been used at all for chametz.

This entire description is actually the "short" version. Basically, preparing for Passover is hell of a lot of work, and it's no surprise that many people get easily overwhelmed by it.

But then we have a problem. We are commanded by Jewish law to enjoy this holiday. We do treat it as one of celebration and of thanks, and if we are so exhausted and overwhelmed by it, then how can we be expected to enjoy it?

At the risk of (once again) being branded a heretic, I would offer that much of the extra work which we do is not really as necessary as many folks believe.

Yes, we need to clean the house well. But what if we miss a couple of crumbs in the cracks behind the draining board? Have we violated the commandment of having chametz in our possession? Absolutely not!

According to Jewish law, whether or not something needs to even have a certification of Kosher for Passover is determined by whether it is fit to be eaten by a dog. I seriously doubt if any crumbs caught in the netherworld of my kitchen after I have run soap, boiling water and whatever cleaning solution that I use, is something that a dog would eat.

But it gets better. Religiously observant Jews sell their chametz from the morning before Passover until the evening that it ends. This is an interesting symbolical process which I won't go into details now, but it effectively allows us to keep the chametz in our house (although covered up – out of sight, out of mind) while it has been temporarily sold to a non-Jew. So we've covered up the chametz which we will use after the holiday and rendered inedible the crumbs that we may have missed cleaning up.

Moreover, on the morning before Passover, we ceremonially burn whatever chametz we have left in our possession. During the burning of the chametz we recite a paragraph which announces that any chametz still in our home which we may have neglected to clean, sell or burn, whether knowingly or not, is hereby designated as dust and no longer even considered chametz.

So, with all due respect to the work that goes into preparing for Passover every year, and with all due respect for those who are as exacting as they can be in following the letter of Jewish law, it seems that many folks have allowed this observance to jade their overall Passover experience, and they have allowed the big picture of what the holiday is really about to be lost in many of the minute details of its preparations.

I would encourage people to do the cleaning – allow yourself the extra time for clean and for preparing for the holiday, because when extra time and love is dedicated to Passover, we are able to appreciate the beauty and specialness of the celebration. But at the same time, don't allow yourself to lose sight of what this freedom is which we celebrate tonight. Don't drive yourself so crazy, nor run yourself so ragged, that be the time you sit down with family and friends at the Seder you can barely keep your eyes open, or that you can't participate in re-living the Exodus from Egypt, and feeling the transformation from slaves to a free nation.

Because if you can't truly experience that freedom, then all of the cleaning and cooking with which you enslaved yourself was for naught.

Wishing all who celebrate Passover a joyous, happy, healthy and Kosher holiday. May we all merit the freedom for which our ancestors fought so hard and for which they sacrificed so much.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An Under-dressed Palestinian

I haven't blogged anything in the last three weeks. It turns out that the combination of a busy life and writer's block really can be a bitch. I love being busy, but still…

And the kicker is that there has really been a lot to blog about. In Israel we've had terror attacks, responses; Goldstone has retracted his report, then not quite retracted it. That's some good stuff to go off on. On the personal front, my mother was here for a wonderful visit, we spent a fantastic weekend at the Bar Mitzvah of a cousin, and Passover is just around the corner.

Basically, there's been no shortage of what to blog about, and hopefully I'll get myself writing about the backlog of topics, events and thoughts that have been bouncing around inside my head.

But today, I simply have to write.

I can almost hear you asking "Asher, what happened to finally break your writer's block and make you take a step back from your oh-so-busy life and blog again?"

Well, I'll tell you - Apparently, I am a Palestinian! Who'da thunk it?

Don't get me wrong – there isn't anything inherently wrong with being Palestinian. Once you weed through the supporters of terrorism and those who wish for the destruction of all Jews in Israel and abroad, you are left with a hell of a lot of very fine Palestinian people. I know this for a fact.

Even better, if I had been born 30 or 40 years earlier than I was, and if I had come then to the Holy Land, there would have been no question that I was a Palestinian because that's what Jews who lived in Palestine (which was not an autonomous independent country) were called.

So, discovering that I am a "Palestinian" isn't necessarily in and of itself a negative thing – it just came as a bit of a surprise to me for a couple of reasons – because it was based on a lie, and because of the source.

The lie is that Modi'in, Israel, the city where I live has been described online as "Modi'in, Palestine".

Put aside political arguments for a moment, and the question of "occupied territory in the West Bank". There is no country, nor has there ever been, called "Palestine".

It used to be the name of this strip of land which was controlled by the Romans (who gave it the name "Palestine"), then the Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamaluks, Turks and finally the British until 1948 when Israel became a State. Until then, it was always a territory – never had a government, never had its own leaders, never had a flag, a national anthem, or independence.

But even if one accepts the idea of "occupied West Bank", no matter what your politics, Modi'in does not fall within its borders. We have a Green Line, which distinguishes between "Israel proper" and the "West Bank" – or if you prefer, outside of this Green Line are the "disputed areas" and inside the Green Line are the "non-disputed areas". And no matter how you slice it, Modi'in is inside the Green Line.

Why is this so relevant? Because if Israel were to decide tomorrow to give the Palestinian Authority what they claim to want – a return to the pre-1967 borders and statehood, Modi'in, Israel would still be a part of Israel (albeit very close to the Palestinian border), and not part of the deal.

But, according to the website which I saw, this little tidbit of reality simply is not relevant. Modi'in is in Palestine.

But the even more ridiculous / amusing / downright sad part of this is the source of this Revisionist history and geography. It is not, as one might think, a Palestinian website. It's not Al Jazeera, not J-Street, and not even a British "news" organization.

No, my friends, this source of history, geography and politics is none other than

That's right – I have had the link to AccuWeather's forecast for Modi'in in my Internet Favorites for several months and until last week, it was listed as Modi'in, Central Israel. Apparently the city upped and moved one night while we were all asleep and when I checked the weather forecast one morning I discovered that Modi'in is now in Palestine.

Go figure!

Now, I really want to give AccuWeather the benefit of the doubt. After all, they are all about the Weather and about being Accurate, right? That's even in their name! So I looked at the URL for the site, and I saw that the weather was based on a settlement about 10 minutes away from Modi'in called Mevo Horon.

OK – now we're getting somewhere. Mevo Horon is in fact outside of the Green Line and is in what is considered by many to be "disputed territory". In the scenario that I offered earlier that we return to pre-1967 borders and established a Palestinian state for the first time in history, then Mevo Horon would be included in the new state of Palestine (at the land itself would be, the residents would probably have alternate arrangements made for them).

But something still doesn't make sense to me. Doesn't it usually work that weather stations are placed in the larger cities and used as the basis for weather forecasts in the smaller towns and villages surrounding that large city? I mean, we don't check the weather in Kibbutz Shefayim in order to determine the forecast for Tel Aviv, do we? Or check Reston, Virginia to determine Washington, DC?

So why is the weather in Modi'in, a city of 80,000 residents and still growing based on Mevo Horon, a small moshav with about 1,200 people? Is it just me or is this a little bit backwards?

Still, no matter where Mevo Horon is located, and no matter what your political views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are, there is still no official entity called "Palestine" and if there were, Modi'in would not be considered a part of it.

As I said, AccuWeather – by its very name, is supposed to be about two things, and two things only – Accuracy and Weather. So, can anybody explain where revising geography or expressing a political opinion falls into that?

Even if one accepts the political view in and of itself – and I recognize that the majority of the world does accept this view, it is by all accounts a political opinion, and therefore not within the realm of what AccuWeather has a right or place to be expressing. Their role is share accurate weather (again – just look at their name if you have any questions about that). I really don't give a damn what they think regarding the very delicate and complicated political reality of the Middle East.

Of course, there is another ramification for me of how AccuWeather describes Modi'in – if they cannot even know with any accuracy what is happening here on Earth, how can I trust them to know with any accuracy what is happening miles above the Earth in the stratosphere where the weather is determined?

So, maybe what really bothers me isn't being a "Palestinian", but not really being able to trust AccuWeather to know what I should wear and how I should dress the kids every day…