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Published: April 1st 2010
The location for the wedding was beautiful, and the sun set after the ceremony with a gorgeous view of the city.
It was fantastic to come to New York for the weekend and be at Josh and Elyssa's wedding. It was worth every second spent in cars, shuttles, taxis, airplanes, and buses. My favorite travel moment of the weekend:
I read a newspaper on the plane and when I was done, stuck it underneath my seat. My pinched-face flight attendant came over, and with a major 'tude, she said:
Flight Attendant: "You can't put that there."
Me: "Sorry, why not?"
Flight Attendant: "Newspapers are slippery. I could trip on it."
Me: "It's under my seat."
Flight Attendant: "Well it's slippery."
Me: "But it's under my seat."
One more explanation and two scowls later, I removed my newspaper and stuck it in the seat pocket.
The wedding was beautiful and it was a real treat to see so much of the family together celebrating. Even if it was
just for two much-too-short days...
A Pacific Passover
I grew up as part of a Jewish community and having received a Jewish education. Although I am not religious, I have always enjoyed the Jewish holidays as a time to reflect, be with family, and eat great food. So
it stands to reason that I was very pleased when my Israeli friends invited me to a Passover seder in Kunming.
Having lived in China for a while now, I realize how difficult it can be to find the right ingredients to prepare a western meal (I've spent many frustrating hours looking for items such as tomato sauce and garlic salt, frantic supermarket hunts which usually end with a discouraged acceptance of soy sauce and MSG). So when I walked into the host's apartment and saw the traditional holiday dishes everyone had brought, I realized the amount of effort and preparation that had been required. Everything was there - homemade matzo balls, charoset, chicken with vegetables, raisin cake, potato salad, and even matzah... made from scratch, of course. Makeshift Haggadahs (Passover prayer books) had been printed out with versions in both Hebrew and English, and wines from Chile and California adorned the table, which was topped with a white tablecloth and silverware. Of course, we still knew we were in China - dinner dishes included curry Thai sticky rice and fruit salad with sweet rice noodles.
Guests ranged from Israelis to American Jews to English Gentiles, and we
sat down for a real Passover celebration - even though some of us were 8,000 miles from home.
If you thought that Jews all over the world observed the holidays in the same way, then I've got news for you. Passover with the Israelis was an eye-opening experience.
Israeli Friend One: "Ok so now we eat the parsley with salt water."
Me (chiming in): "And the salt water to remember the bitterness of slavery in Egypt."
Israeli Friend One: "Really?"
Me: "I mean, I think so... right? Er, slaves? Salt water? Bitterness?"
Israeli Friend Two: "I think she's right, actually. Is she right?"
Israeli Friend One: "She must be right."
Israeli Friend Two: "She's a better Jew than we are!"
Me (explaining to hungry Christian friend): "...And Moses' name isn't in the Haggadah, because God didn't want people to idolize Moses, but rather to see Exodus as God's own miracle."
Israeli friend: "Moses' name isn't in the Haggadah?..." (looks at Haggadah)... "Oh wow... she's right..."
The Israelis were surprised and impressed that an American Jew could read enough Hebrew to sing Passover prayers. They were happy I knew so much about being Jewish, but perplexed about why
I knew so much.
I tried to explain. Living in Israel, the world's center of Judaism, it's easy to feel Jewish. Israelis don't worry about their Jewish identity, because they are so geographically and culturally connected to Israel. "Jewishness" is ingrained in them as a central tenet of their nation-state.
American Jews, however, feel far away from this core of "Jewishness." American parents worry: will my children stay connected to Judaism after they grow up? Do they understand what it means to be Jewish when they are living in a country founded on Christianity? Will they bring up their children to be Jewish? The immigrant generation is far away, and the identity of young American Jewry is, perhaps, fading.
I think this is why American Jews know so much about Jewish practices and holidays in comparison to an average young Israeli. Learning about Jewish practices and heritage is how American Jews stay connected to their roots and maintain their Jewish identity, which they cannot take for granted like their Israeli counterparts. Unlike in Israel, if American Jews want to feel connected to Judaism, they must make a conscious effort to culturally "stay Jewish."
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