Thursday, April 09, 2009

Passover Math: x = Old Friends divided by New Thinking




We have Passover dinner every year with old friends. Our sons no longer speak to each other because of a disagreement over the Middle East. A deep and ancient divide has caused a modern rift between two young Americans who've known each other since the third grade. But our friends are cool, especially my Israeli girlfriend. Not a rifle-toting ex-Israeli army girl, but from an Orthodox family that managed to get her service excused. Her husband is a mench, and together they are the kindest, most generous couple I know. Their older son will soon marry a beautiful Eurasian girl who works part-time as a flight attendant, and whom her father characterized as going to college to get her "M.R.S." degree .

 
Before dinner we read from the Torah. I didn't get to read my favorite part of the Egyptian/Hebrew story, but got stuck with the section that had a lot of math. Something about God coming down on the side of the Hebrews and 50 plagues only it was recalculated 4 or 5 times by lofty scholars in elaborate contemplation and argument with one another and ended up being 150 plagues, all of them really nasty.

The age range at the dinner table was 20 to 65. Our friends are now solidly Republican, although they started as Democrats. The fiancĂ©e’s family is also conservative. They complained a lot about Obama, don’t appear happy with anything he’s doing, but offered few alternatives. It seemed to me that they really want Obama to fail, which even if you didn't vote for him, is soooooo unpatriotic.

We discussed major world events of the 60's and 70’s, and M.R.S. daddy postulated that nothing now compares. I pointed out that Americans electing the first black president in our history was major, but couldn't get him to agree. One of the other old folks brought up that Obama had bowed to some middle-eastern dude and that that was wrong. America may need to float a loan from said lavishly rich swimming-in-the-black-bubbly country, so showing some respect may be good for us in the long run.

I had a great time. Passover is so not boring when people who have a totally different take on the world surround you. What do we have in common?

My girlfriend and I have an innocent history of standing in the sunshine outside our sons' elementary school. When I complained about working more than full time running a business that I loved, but feeling guilty about my son, and resenting my husband who seemed unaware of my conflict, she told me a story of her mother advising her on her wedding night to always pretend to be able to do less because it was the nature of men to take advantage of women.

At the time, I was astounded and dozens of feminist arguments sprang to mind, but I said nothing because the statement also felt true. This was the beginning of my understanding of my own victimization in terms of the feminist mandate about "having it all." Having it all was exhausting.

There was a time when I saw my girlfriend almost everyday, and when we were together we laughed until our sides ached, looked at each other, and laughed some more. We did a bit of that last night, but it wasn’t the same.

3 comments:

  1. This made me wistful.
    Happy Passover to you it actually sounds like fun. Family's are interesting things.

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  2. I loved your friends mothers advice with regards to doing too much.
    (My girlfriend and I have an innocent history of standing in the sunshine outside our sons' elementary school. When I complained about working more than full time running a business that I loved, but feeling guilty about my son, and resenting my husband who seemed unaware of my conflict, she told me a story of her mother advising her on her wedding night to always pretend to be able to do less because it was the nature of men to take advantage of women.)

    I wish she spoke to me 30 years ago but would I have listened? I have just picked up Jill Smolinski's book The next thing on my list and was checking it out through Shelfari...thats how I found your blog. Thanks...will keep an eye on it for a good read .
    Kez

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  3. This is fascinating. But it made me sad. I think Obama is the best hope this country has had in a long time.

    I also think that at some point, respecting our fellow man is going to have to be more valued, more valued than "what's mine", more valued than "land" more valued than the tangible material things we use to build our fortresses around ourselves. It's got to triumph, here in the U.S. and in the middle east, or we are all lost.

    Don't they care about this? Don't they care that other people have also suffered? Or just about their own? Because if it's just about their own suffering, the only way I know to understand that, is to believe they are swirling in their own psychic vortexes of pain and halls of hallowed mirrors, not seeing others, not seeing the world, so lost that they only see themselves as they pull the trigger again and again shooting blindly into the night.

    And certainly they have reason to be in pain. Trauma reverberates through generations and cultures. It's a human wave and it has gotten away from them and there is no hope of breaking the cycle unless they themselves do something. That's why I have little patience for it. I'm a gentile, but worked happily for a Jewish woman who called me an 'honorary Jew" which I really loved. But in the end she kept insisting we play Master and Servant, and the kick in the teeth she dealt me was so painful I could not help yelling "Ouch!" Whereupon she dropped the relationship that had spanned 11 years. I just couldn't take it anymore no matter how much she had suffered. Because as long as she didn't see me except through the emotional lens of submission, she didn't see what was wonderful about our relationship. All she could see was that someone liked an admired her, and I must not be all that cool, because the only people she wanted to be around were those who made her feel either that she was God, with no contradiction allowed whatsoever; or that she was a nobody, a striver, someone who would never be truly "in." She wanted "in" so much more badly than she wanted to appreciate the people right around her who admired and helped her and made her look great. In the end she blew us off one by one, always in a terrible way that conveyed we were not worthy of continuing any sort of relationship.

    I don't think this is exclusive to Judaism or to anyone. I think people treat each other in shitty ways, and it's universal. Until the enemy is the shittiness, and not "the other" side, we're going nowhere.

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