Family life in the Easter/Passover divide

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On a few mornings during this past week, my 4 year old daughter Neve has crawled out of bed and asked, “Is today when I can’t eat bread?”

When I say, “No, that starts Friday night, when Passover begins,” her whole body visibly relaxes.

It’s more than a little comical. Neve’s (admittedly very narrow) eating life focuses primarily on things not kosher for Passover: bread, dry cereal, and hummus. This is a girl who often eats slices of bread as a snack, so the thought of going without her first food love for several days is clearly causing her a little, well, tsuris.

In the past, only Joe kept Passover – since he’s the official Jew and all, in addition to being an adult – but last year, we took a step toward easing me and the girls into this holiday tradition. The compromise? We left bread items in the house, but none of us were allowed eat any of it when we were at home during those 8 days; and when the girls ate at school (and I ate at work), or out at a restaurant, all Passover bets were off.

This year, though, we’re trying to go all in. The girls are intrigued by the idea of gathering and selling our Chametz – though Neve keeps mistaking that word for “hummus” – to a neighbor and then buying it back after Passover; I am, too, since I’ve never done this before. And in this post-layoff time of upheaval and transition, I’m making a more concerted effort to be a little adventurous, and thus keep depression and self-doubt at bay. Continue reading

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A shiksa chews on Shabbat dinner

shabbatblogRecently a friend, who’s doing a video project for grad school, asked me and Joe to film our family lighting the candles and saying the prayers for Shabbat dinner, and also to speak briefly, on film, about what the ritual means to each of us.

I first filmed this short clip of our family performing the rituals out on our back porch, where we like to eat our meals when it’s warm. We’re not formal about our Shabbat dinner, obviously – Joe married a Gentile, for pity’s sake! – but we try to perform the basics every Friday evening nonetheless.

As for contributing my thoughts about what Shabbat dinner meant to me, I initially wondered if I should just put the camera on Joe, let him talk, and call it good.

I mean, after all, I’m an immigrant in the world of Judaism.

Yes, after being married to a Jew for 11 years, I’ve made a comfortable enough home for myself there. I’ve learned to love much of the food (Latkes? Kugel? Please! What’s not to love?), and I’ve picked up bits and pieces of language (Hebrew and Yiddish); but because it’s not part of my own cultural identity – and maybe because, at 5’6”, I tower over the women at most Grekin family gatherings (apparently I’m some sort of goyishe Godzilla) – I can’t escape the sense that, no matter how much I embrace the culture, perform the rituals, or say the prayers, they’re not really mine to claim. Continue reading

Critics, Hitler, and other “bad guys”

This is a pretty close approximation of my appearance while finishing up a late night theater review, actually.

Last weekend, we had a couple of tough conversations with Lily.

Just weeks shy of turning four, she has fully arrived at the endearing, but exhausting, stage wherein she has a million questions about everything, all the time.

And the questions cut a little too close to home, in a comical way, as she watched portions of what she calls “the movie about the rat who likes to cook”: Pixar’s “Ratatouille.”

You may remember that in the film, a tall, menacingly angular and humorless food critic named Anton Ego, voiced by Peter O’Toole, poses a threat to Remy (the rat) and his human collaborator, Linguini. In one scene, Linguini has inherited a restaurant and is holding court at a press conference that’s disrupted when Ego makes a Darth Vader-like entrance.

“Is he a bad guy?” Lily asked.

“Well, yes and no,” I said, knowing that as a working theater critic, I might want to tread lightly here. “He seems kind of mean, and a lot of people are scared of him.”

“Why?”

“Because he goes to different restaurants, eats the food, and then writes about what he thinks of the food so other people can decide if it’s a restaurant they might want to go to or not.” Pause. Gulp. Here goes. “It’s the same thing that Mommy does when I go to see shows at night. I write about what I think about the play, and other people read it.”

“But why are people scared of him?”

“Because his opinions, what he thinks, can at least partly affect whether a restaurant succeeds or not. For better or worse, people listen to him. And he’s intimidating because he has very high standards, and he’s honest, no matter what. So if he thinks someone’s food isn’t that great, he’s going to say so, even if people don’t like him for saying so.”

(Wait – who were we talking about? Oh, that’s right. Anton Ego. Right.)

In this moment, I had the sensation of being on a therapist’s couch while simultaneously talking to my 3 year old. Or at the very least, talking to Lucy Van Pelt as she sat in a booth behind a sign that reads, “The doctor is IN.” Continue reading