Jewfem Blog

Passover: Freedom for Women NOW—Not 3000 Years Ago

“Passover,” Arthur Szyk, 1948. Yeshiva University Museum.   There is no holiday that brings out the screaming in my head as much as Passover.   There are two sets of noise that take hold of my brain at this time of year: the pre-Pesach (Passover) trauma and the Seder night trauma. Or as I have come to experience it, the trauma created by women’s stuff, and the trauma created by men’s stuff.   Growing up, the pre-Pesach anxiety began as soon as Purim was over. We were only allowed to eat from a pre-determined collection in the kitchen, we were on a schedule around what rooms were already sterilized, and my mother’s mood went from the usual cold and cranky to the downright hostile. Nothing was ever right, we walked on eggshells, and life was insane and frenetic. Although I often wonder how many of my traumas are from religion and how many are from my particular family, in this particular case I have come to learn that this kind of thing was going on not only my own house but also in many Jewish homes around the world. Even women of privilege engage in the panic. (I’ll never forget the time, years ago, when a mother frantically came to pick up her daughter from a play date around a week before Pesach, saying, “Hurry, I have to rush home and watch my cleaning lady do the kitchen.”) Pre-Pesach insanity, it seemed, was the Women’s Way, no matter how you celebrated the holiday.   I’ve been living in Israel for over 20 years, and it is still astounding for me to watch how this culture takes over Jewish women’s lives, no matter what kind of religious observance they adhere to during the year. Conversations in shops, on the street, and online, revolve around Jewish women of all backgrounds managing the minutia of obsessive cleaning, shopping, and cooking. There seems to be an uncontrolled lust for women comparing themselves to one another—who started cleaning and cooking earlier, who is having more guests, who is more efficient, who is more creative, and ironically also who has more time-saving hacks. Facebook doesn’t help, by the way.   Growing up in Orthodox Brooklyn, I found this pre-Pesach cleaning-cooking-hosting-mania was compounded by the other assault on women’s bodies: clothing shopping. Our job, as religious girls, was not only to manage the kitchen, but also to look gorgeous as we did it. We prepared our shul and Seder outfits meticulously and expensively, down to the last perfectly-matching accessory. But let me tell you something: there is nothing quite as dysfunctional within the female experience as surrounding yourself with copious amounts of food and then forbidding yourself from eating it. Women’s and girls’ table conversation, once we finished serving, invariably revolved around calories, points, fat content, carbs, gluten, GI, cellulite, whatever. (Each year, the measures for what we should or shouldn’t eat changed, led by trends announced by The New York Times. This added to women’s competition not...

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The Four Daughters for the feminist seder

Here is my own take on the Hagaddah:  "For four daughters did the Bible speak: The Curious One, who excitedly asked everyone, 'What is this amazing looking Matza?' and asked the same about every item on the table and in the world. The Passionate One, who loved the scents, colors, and flavors of the seder table and all the people around it, who sang and danced with all her heart, who put on plays with her cousins and laughed so hard the back-door neighbors heard her and looked forward to hearing her voice every year. The Caring One, who lovingly went around ensuring that everyone had what to eat and a hug to go with it, who never sat until everyone else was safe and happy. And The Sad, sometimes Angry One, who remembered all the hurts and pains of women who came before her, the ones who never achieved freedom, the ones who were neither seen nor heard. She sat through the seder praying for healing for herself and her people, whoever they were.  And the first three daughters loved and accepted the fourth daughter, and they were so grateful to have her with them. And they were all grateful for the presence of the other, knowing that each one enriched her.  Happy Passover 

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Passover, women, and the cleaning competition

Pesach is one of my favorite holidays. I love the educational, creative possibilities of the Seder, the opportunity to debate, discuss and dramatize our collective history. Over the years, my family has done some wonderfully imaginative things at the Seder table — plays, original songs, games, colored dips, hand-made pillows, and even a puppet show about the exodus in which all the characters were variants of felt penguins. One year, we made our own Haggadah, using the kids’ drawings and writings connected to select parts of the book. For me, Pesach preparation is about creative education. It is the only holiday in the Jewish calendar where the whole point is to bring history to life in any and every possible way. But you would never know it from the traditional lead-up to Pesach. When Jews meet one another on the street these days, conversations about “preparations” generally refer to how much cleaning has been accomplished. Even Shlomo Artzi, the Israeli pop star who can well afford to hire cleaning help, revealed in his column last week that memories of his mother handing him a vacuum cleaner before Pesach have remained indelibly etched on his Jewish soul. Today, he finds vacuuming to be a source of comfort, in the same category as chicken soup, the kind of activity that makes some people miss their mothers. I have found myself trying to avoid talking to people this week because I really don’t want to hear some variety of this question: “So what are you up to in your house?” Meaning, how many rooms or shelves or chandeliers have you managed to scrub clean already. It’s so tired and predictable that I would rather run and climb up a few dozen stairs to reach the other side of the neighborhood in order to find a way not to enter into another one of the cleaning competition conversations. It really is a competition. These conversations are not really about the holiday as much as they are women’s attempts to find approval from an invisible “they.” This is women looking to other women to grade our own okayness as Jewish women.   Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/154259/how-passover-pits-women-against-women/#ixzz1rA5NCkJB

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