The Virtual Seder

For the last 4-5 years I’ve been going to my friend Bekah’s mother’s house for Passover. As someone who is not fully integrated into the community and very hesitant to do anything solo, I haven’t even bothered to try a Seder myself– why would I when Irene’s is already so great? And If I did host a Seder, who would want to come? I don’t know all the rules! I don’t know all the customs! I’m still learning!

Well, this year has thrown a bit of a wrench in my plans of continuing the tradition of leaving it to the practiced Jews. All of California is still under a shelter in place order because of the coronavirus pandemic, and even without the restrictions, most people would be loathe to leave their house when we all seem to have a risk of being infected or spreading the virus to others. How lucky it is, then, that we live in a time where we don’t have to be in the same room to gather together and celebrate? This year we’ll be celebrating Passover via Zoom!

This of course means that we all have to set up our individual houses ourselves, which I have never done before and to be transparent I am not at all prepared to cook dinner and set up my house in a way that is kosher for Passover. Despite my love for Judaism I have been slow to make my life completely Jewish. If I’m being honest, fear is mostly driving this. I don’t have a firm foundation to build my own Jewish identity on– none of my family is Jewish, I was raised in a fairly traditional Christian household, and I know few Jews that I can lean on to teach me how to be a Jew. Add onto that the fact that I’m queer and Black, and I just haven’t met a queer, Black Jew by choice who can share their experiences with me and make this process feel less scary…. it feels like my true desire, to feel like I belong in the community, is just beyond my reach.

It’s not that there are not people out there who are kind and open and willing to welcome me in. There are such people, I have met them, they are all very nice. But it’s hard to trust that the welcome is real, and not just a nicety, like when you and a friend say “We need to hang out more, let’s meet for dinner sometime!” but neither of you will actually follow through. It’s something you say but don’t really mean. I often fear that it’s all talk when someone invites me to come to Friday night or Saturday morning services, and if I actually take someone up on it they’ll backtrack, “Oh sorry, you wanted to come this Saturday? I can’t, sorry….”

So what does this sudden change in venue mean for me? On the one hand, I feel totally unprepared, and I worry I won’t be able to do this holiday justice. When Kourtney went to the grocery store today for supplies, the only remotely Passover-related product she could find was whole wheat matzo. Because we have no car, she had to bike to the store, and had no room in her bike bags for romaine lettuce (for the bitter herbs). I’m too much of a novice to make my kitchen the level of kosher it needs to be for this holiday, and when I looked online for Seder plates I couldn’t find any that could be shipped in time (April 23rd is not going to cut it this time, Amazon).

On the other hand, being able to do this in the comfort of my own home, without being worried that people are watching and determining if it’s Jewish enough. When they’re watching through a screen they only see what I want them to see, and there’s a lot of freedom to that. I don’t have to get everything ‘right’. I may not have the matzo I want, but it’s better than no matzo at all. And it turns out that you can substitute potato for romaine as the bitter herb (it’s doesn’t quite make sense to me but I’m willing to roll with it). And if I don’t have a Seder plate this year, that’s okay. That just means I have time to find one I really like for next year’s Seder. Maybe next year I’ll even go further and try out this African American Seder plate setup I found online (God bless the internet). Who knows? Maybe I’ll give myself permission to find my own Jewish identity without fear of doing it wrong or making mistakes.

Being Jewish-ish

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Me in another life.

I had an interesting conversation with a coworker today about Judaism. It all started with Yiddish, and somehow I ended up talking about brisket, which naturally led to me talking about keeping kosher and what that entails, and then Shabbat and all of its rules and customs, and then the bible. My coworker looked at me and said, “You seem to know a lot about being Judaism. Are you Jewish?”

I was surprised at how badly I wanted to be able to say yes, absolutely, no hesitation. Because honestly, I still feel a connection to Judaism– I spent a lot of time learning about it, trying to immerse myself in the religion and culture, and I liked it. Even now, I still subscribe to many Jewish blogs and websites (and yes, I read the articles). I still have my Shabbat candles, I still recite the blessings in my head, even if I am too scared to say them out loud– I guess because I would feel like a fraud for doing so, since I’m so obviously pagan. But I still feel a connection to it and in some ways I feel like it’s now part of me, no matter what I do. Maybe I have ancestors who were Jewish, maybe I’m feeling a historical/familial connection. there are parts of Judaism that just feel right, make sense to me on a spiritual level that I don’t really know how to explain it without sounding stupid.

I continue to feel like I’m caught between two worlds– paganism and Judaism– and I have no idea how to reconcile the two. I just want to be able to be spiritual in a way that feels right to me. I don’t know. Rosh Hashanah ended last night, and I was sad that I didn’t get to celebrate as a Jew, with other Jewish people. I’m sad that I can’t celebrate Yom Kippur and Mabon at the same time (they’re seriously on the same day this year). I refuse to let go of my hanukkiyah, and I think I’ll probably still light candles for Hanukkah even though I don’t have to do so. I don’t want to let go of Judaism. It’s so beautiful. And so is Paganism. Honestly, I don’t know what to do, and I wish I had a teacher to guide me, to tell me what my options are.

I told my coworker that I am Jewish-ish. Jew Adjacent. I wanted to say honorary Jew, but that feels like a title that should be given to me, not taken by me. I don’t feel like a regular gentile, but I’m not a confirmed Jew. I’m somewhere in between.