Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Hardest Time of Year To Be A Jew

This week is Passover. It's hard, but not for the reasons you might expect.

Sure, it's a pain to avoid bread for a week. I find myself staring longingly at the ice cream truck as I pass it, wanting an ice cream sandwich or a cone. But I can handle that, and I actually think it's good for me to practice this kind of self-control for a week. When the week is over, I always find that I appreciate bread (and pizza!) more than I do the rest of the year. Appreciating bread is a good thing.

Boo keeps asking why she can't eat bread, and I think it's good for her, too. I expect that she will have the same appreciation for leavened products come next week, and in the meantime, I hope she's developing some compassion for other children who have limited diets because of allergy or religious mandate.

It's the rest of it that causes me the problem. We are told that we observe this holiday to separate ourselves from everyone else (we're the Chosen People, after all) and to remember the story of Exodus.

Is it a good thing to separate ourselves from everyone else? The Humanist answer is clear: no. And history would seem to teach the same thing. Throughout history, religious groups that consider themselves better than other religious groups tend to cause trouble. So why is it good for me to teach my child that she is Jewish rather than just another part of humanity? This makes me very uncomfortable at this time of year.

The story of Exodus is even worse. The image of God described in the story is a god who destroys crops, cattle, slaves and babies for no reason other than his own glory. Is that someone I want my child to worship? Or anyone? It's a horrible, uncomfortable, angry-making story that discomfits everyone I've ever read it with. So why is this the central story of our people? Why is this the story that we choose to tell from one generation to the next, without fail?

And, should I decide that I don't want to pass this story on any longer, what then? Do I write a new one? Edit the old one? Dismiss Judaism from our lives altogether?

If I withdrew Boo from Religious School now, she would probably never really learn to read Hebrew. If we stopped attending Temple, she would have very few Jewish friends. Do those things matter?

So many questions at this time of year. It's the hardest time of year.

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