Thursday, 30 April 2009

Pete Seeger/Arlo Guthrie - You gotta walk that lonesome valley

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980's, Pete did a series of concerts with Arlo Guthrie that was entitled the Precious Friends Tour. It seemed very logical that Pete should perform with Arlo. The tie-ins to Woody were obvious, and the two meshed on stage like two halves of the same whole. I was privileged to have attended this concert series, and was blown away with the music, the soulfulness, the depth of conviction and the wit. Many have asked what the writing is on Pete's banjo. It reads "This machine surrounds hate; and forces it to surrender." This wonderful photo was taken by the brilliant Annie Leibovitz.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Pete Seeger - Bring 'em Home

In a weird twist of fate, many of Pete's songs have become sadly relevant again. I am certain that he never thought that he would have need of this tune again. This performance is from one of his many college appearances in the early 1970s. The trademark beard finally made its appearance.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Pete Seeger: Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

As a result of his contempt conviction (subsequently overturned on appeal) due to his appearance and refusal to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Pete was blacklisted and subsequently banned from network television appearances for almost 17 years. Boycotted by commercial venues and media, Seeger performed for children and young people at universities and rallies where he created a boom and rebirth of folk music.

In 1967, the always controversial Smothers Brothers, broke the boycott and invited Pete to play on their variety show. The Viet Nam War deeply offended Pete's sensibilities and he used the platform to sing his original song Waist Deep in The Big Muddy which was a thinly veiled attack on Lyndon Johnson's war policies. The song was cut by CBS network censors prior to broadcast. Following the strong and withering objections by Tom and Dick Smothers, CBS later relented and allowed Pete to return to the show several months later on February 25, 1968, and perform the song in its entirety. Pete has never stopped fighting for freedom of artistic expression in music and this past March, he was awarded the Freemuse Award for “commitment to musicians' freedom of expression in an illustrious career which spans over sixty years. His voice has been one which has constantly been on the side of the oppressed and which has refused to remain silent in even the darkest hours. He remains an inspiration to those musicians who seek to use their work for the greater benefit of mankind.” In a wonderful quirk of fate the award was bestowed upon Pete on March 3 of this year which coincided with Music Freedom Day.

A personal musical aside-note that Pete played and still does play a 12-string guitar. The 12-string is an instrument of Mexican origin that was often favoured by Huddy "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, one of Pete's idols. He often will drop the tuning of the guitar to a DADGBE and tune the whole instrument down 2 full tones to achieve a magnificent bass resonance. I have always personally favoured the 12-string as my guitar of choice as influenced by Pete.

If I Can't Have Pete, Then at Least I Can Have Tom!

It may sound like a consolation prize, but it was anything but. The Husband and I joined with good friends last evening to see the magnificent Mr. Paxton once again. We figure that we have had this pleasure at least 10 times now, and it never seems to get old for us. At 71, Tom has not lost much of the edginess that makes him a folk favourite, nor has his ability to weave a tale abandoned him. He played the cozy Hugh's Room here in Toronto, along with a phenomenal local musician named Ken Whiteley. The result was pure poetry. While I didn't have the nerve to video any part of the evening, Tom was more than gracious in allowing still photography. The vintage 1966 album cover that you see at the end of the slideshow was purchased by my friend at a vinyl record store (sounds almost prehistoric!) in Greenwich Village very apropos for a Paxton album find. Tom was charming when asked to sign the album, joking with my friend and asking him if he still owned a turntable on which to play the treasure. My friend said that he did, but that this record was far too valuable in his mind to play, and that it was going up in a frame on his wall. Tom did mention the concert in NYC this Sunday in honour of Pete's 90th. I think that my friend was right-I should have brought a birthday card for him to deliver to the master. I think that he actually might have done it. Enjoy.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Pete Seeger-Where Have all the Flowers Gone-1968

Pete has written the songbook for a generation. One of the phenomenal things about Pete's songs, is that they have become so ingrained in popular culture, that people actually forget that he wrote them. The Byrds didn't write Turn Turn Turn, and Peter Paul and Mary covered The Hammer Song, Flowers and All Mixed Up. This doesn't even begin to cover the songs that he has re-introduced to popular culture over the years, the most poignant being We Shall Overcome. This is rare video of Pete singing his own song, Where Have All the Flowers Gone. Beautiful!

Luxury? I think Not.

A wicked storm whipped through these parts on Saturday afternoon, the culmination of a day that saw strange out-of season hot temperatures combined with a more moderate system passing through. The resulting tempest reminded me of my summers in the mid-west when the sky would turn a garish shade of chartreuse, and we would all run for cover in the lowest geographical spot we could find. (Of course, that particular place on camp was the wash-houses! 100 or so slightly terrified girls and almost-women waiting out a tornado warning in a smelly, damp and slippery bathroom was always my idea of a good time.) The wind and rain that sailed through this region on the weekend was not unlike those days. The trees in the yard were bent so far sideways that several were on the verge of snapping in the middle of their trunks and the rain was coming down in sheets. Within 15 minutes, the power in the house went down. The Husband, ever vigilant, had stashed away an ancient wall mount phone in the laundry room, to be used in just such an emergency, so that we wouldn't have to rely on our cell phones. We figured that after the worst of the storm had passed through, the power would be restored and all would be right with the world. Well, it seems that wasn't to be the case. One of our neighbour's trees had snapped like a toothpick and tumbled into the power lines that service our area. The resulting mess left us without any power for almost 24 hours. As we sat around watching the contents of our refrigerator and freezer rot and melt, we became aware once again of how much in our lives is dependent upon electricity. While it is probably easy to imagine living without the TV, computer, music player and the like, it is less fun to realize that food preparation, clothes washing, or finding a matching pair of socks in a windowless walk-in closet, are also electrically-dependent. I missed the electric air filter, which I was forced to remember I need desperately in order to control my asthma. The Husband, always the cooler head in these circumstances, remarked that electrical power is a true luxury. I beg to differ. I disagree that electricity is a luxury, but rather has become an absolute necessity in the 21st century. It got me to thinking about real luxuries and what I could and could not relinquish if pushed to the brink. Could I survive without my car, for example? (I think so!) Could I see living my life without synagogue membership? (I don't think so!) So I put it out to you all. What is real luxury in your lives and what is true necessity? Respond in the comments section of this post and I will publish. I am very interested in hearing your thoughts. 

I will post the next installment of the Seeger retrospective later today. 

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest w/Johnny Cash and June Carter

Following the nightmare of being blacklisted by the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, Pete came back strong in the mid sixties with a wonderful television show entitled Rainbow Quest. The show was entirely devoted to showcasing folk music. It was filmed entirely in black and white and and featured musicians playing in traditional American genres such as old-time, bluegrass and blues. The show was filmed on a scant budget and Pete and the producers funded much of the program out of their own pockets. As such, only 38 episodes were filmed, but the talent roster is impressive including such luminaries as Judy Collins, The Stanley Brothers, Tom Paxton, Malvina Reynolds, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Roscoe Holcombe and Buffy Sainte-Marie. The very first episode featured the brilliant Johnny Cash and his not yet wife, June Carter. I chose this clip for a friend who needs a bit of a lift these days. Enjoy!

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Friday, 24 April 2009

Pete is Turning 90! Kein Ahora!

The father of the modern folk music will be celebrating his 90th birthday next Sunday May 3. How does one ring in a brand spanking new decade? How about a musical party for thousands of your nearest and dearest? As such, Pete will be celebrating his 90th on stage at a sold-out concert benefiting Clearwater at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Hudson River Project has long been a passion for Pete, and he managed to convince a few of his friends like Dave Matthews, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Paxton, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, John Mellencamp, Emmylou Harris, Tom Chapin, Richie Havens, Roger McGuinn, Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Cockburn, The MacGarrigle Sisters to join him in raising money for his cause. (The list of performers goes on and on!) I desperately wanted to be in NYC for this once-in-a-lifetime event, but time and cost precludes it. I will have the chance to see Paxton here in TO on Monday before he treks to the Big Apple for the party. I felt like I owed Pete a bit of a gift so I will count down to Pete's big day by presenting a series of videos of The Old Folkie through the years. Check back in this space over the next week for some special music from the master. Now if I could only pluck my banjo the way he does!!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Here's Hoping that Other's Find the Passion

I am a passionate, devoted, somewhat masochistic, yet always believing in miracles Toronto Blue Jays fan. I have ranted on at length in this space before of how truly painful and difficult it is to be a Toronto sports fan of a certain generation. I am a middle-aged woman and yet, I have no memories of the last Stanley Cup paraded down Yonge Street. The Raptors are still a work in progress, but to be honest have yet to capture my imagination. I loathe Canadian football! (I am certain that there is a post in there somewhere, but suffice it to say that any sport that awards a single point for a missed field goal, is not a real sport in my books.) As such, the Argos have never been worthy of my support. But, baseball is a whole other ball game. I love everything about the sport. I love the quiet pace and the lack of a clock. I love the intricacies of the match ups of pitchers versus batter and I love watching the defenses reset from hitter to hitter. No two plays are exactly the same in baseball and there is nothing quite like the feeling of a walk-off home-run. And ever since a snowy day back in April of 1977, the Blue Jays have been the object of my affection. (In the spirit of full disclosure, my passion for baseball started long before the Blue Jays inception. I was a truly bad Canadian patriot as I hated the Expos. I was and to a certain extent, still am, a Dodgers booster. The whole history of the franchise tweaked my interest as a kid and I must have been among the few Canadians who cheered Rick Monday's homer that knocked the Expos out of a possible World Series appearance back in 1981.) But, the Blue Jays are my team. I have cheered through the great times and sobbed through the low points. I have caps from various generations, and I have been privileged to witness a World Series game in person. I watch when they win and I watch when they lose, which has been the norm since the strike of 1994. 

This year, my beloved boys of summer entered the season with absolutely no expectations of even a .500 season. This is a team that saw their starting rotation decimated with long-term injuries and is fielding a starting five that has 2 full rookies, a kid that misses the rookie designation by 5 days, and a number 2 man that has 2 years under his belt. (And he is now on the DL!) The everyday players are also very young and would require career years and then some for this team to have any hope of getting past the powerful big-spenders of the American League East. No, this was a team that the pundits called for 4th in the division, and even that was a gift. And yet, nobody told the guys that they were losers. The Jays have had a wonderful and truly surprising start to the season and, while it is very early and nobody is planning the parade, this is a team that plays hard every day and deserves to be seen. Still, Fox sports didn't think enough of them to schedule the guys for even one appearance this year, and the fans of Toronto have acted as though the players have a communicable disease and have stayed away in droves. 

Last night, The Husband and I were gifted with a pair of tickets by a friend for our first in-person look at the 2009 version of the Jays. The tickets were part of the Jays $5.00 Tuesday promotion and while we sat in the upper decks, we were directly behind home plate and could view every call. Doc was on the mound, the guys were coming off of their 4th consecutive series win, several of the players are off to torrid starts, there is no playoff hockey in this town for the 4th straight year, $5.00 tickets are practically a giveaway, and still the SkyDome (yes, it will always be the SkyDome to me Mr. Rogers!) was mostly empty. The game was exciting, as fast-paced as a baseball game can be, filled with every sort of offensive and defensive gem imaginable and for an added bonus, saw the beaning of an umpire. True, the Jays lost 5-4 to the Rangers, but they never quit and had the tying run in scoring position in both the eighth and ninth innings. Where were you Toronto? Watching first round hockey blowouts of other cities teams on the tube?  We have the best starting pitcher in the American League, a superstar in waiting at 2B, young studs who can pound the shit out of the ball, a bullpen that is amongst the stingiest in baseball, and if Alex Rios and Vernon Wells ever realize that the season started in April and not May, these guys might make it interesting this summer. I implore you!! Give baseball a chance. You will be glad you did. Check out the dismal attendance at the Dome last night and my new boy-crush at 2B, Aaron Hill. 

The Doctor was a bit off the mark last night and gave up 2 2-run home-runs, but he struck out 9 and went 8 strong innings.
My new crush is Aaron Hill. The man is short, compact, and plays every ball as if it were the 9th inning of the World series. Right after this picture was snapped he lay full out to snag a liner to right and threw out the runner. He also homered and doubled. I think I am in love!
For shame Toronto!!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Regaining Order from Disorder

I do not have a daughter. For most of the last 22 years, I have lived my life in the exclusive company of testosterone. It has been my hope, and certainly a life goal of mine, to raise men who are sensitive to the needs of the women in their lives and for them to see equality regardless of gender. As a result of not having daily contact with young girls, I have become slightly amnesiac as to some of their constant issues and problems. I have watched as my friends with teenage daughters have struggled through adolescent stuff, but always at a comfortable distance. Today, something happened that made me realize that it isn't always right or easy to stay silent. 

A young teenage relative posted the following item on her Facebook page. Basically, it was an inane quiz entitled "I prefer the term "Naturally Anorexic"... but yah..this note lies". The idea of this stupid test was to assign point values to all the various foods that the taker has eaten in the last week, total up the score and assign an offensive label to said score.  Under 16-you're anorexic or close to it, 17-50-you're normal, and 51 or over-sorry you're a big fat fatty! Now I am absolutely certain that my young buddy was only playing around and thought that the note in which she tagged a variety of her friends, was something amusing; a way to kill a few minutes on a boring Sunday afternoon. I saw it as something much more disturbing. I saw in the note the continual patterning of dangerous body imaging. 

Our young women are constantly bombarded with unrealistic body images every single day. Media, television, movies, magazines and newspapers are continually showing our daughters, nieces and friends the way society believes that they should look. They never show the airbrushing, eating disorders, illnesses and psychological damage. Scarlett Johansson has a wonderful blog piece on Huffington Post this weekend that describes her constant harassment by media types over her weight. Check out this hideous ad for a fitness firm in The Netherlands.
At a time when real-woman Susan Boyle has reminded the entire world that true talent is not measured by hair styles or the scale, I find it necessary to educate my young cousin on some of the real world facts about body image and eating disorders. These statistics come from The South Carolina Department of Mental Health.
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
  • One in 200 American women suffer from anorexia
  • 2-3 in 100 American women suffer from bulimia
  • The mortality rate associated with anorexia is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15-24 years old.
  • Anorexia is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents.
  • 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25
  • 50% of girls between the ages of 11 and 13 see themselves as overweight.
  • 80% of 13 year old girls have attempted to lose weight.
There is much more, but I am certain that the point is made. I understand the obsession with weight. I have spent a good portion of the last 30 years trying to lose 10-15 pounds. It is only recently that I saw the ridiculousness in my behaviour and chose to live a healthy lifestyle and let the scale fall wherever it may. If we are ever going to see ourselves as strong, independent and healthy women, we need to impress upon our daughters, nieces, cousins and young friends that the images that they are overwhelmed with every day are fallacies. They need to find comfort in who they are and discover where their strengths lie, and to understand that somewhere in the jokes, is real pain. In order to learn more about positive female imaging, I urge you to check out The Illusionists

Thursday, 16 April 2009

And It Isn't Even Grey Goose!

It seems that a Canada goose and his mate have taken up residence in front of The Husband's and Twin Son's new distillery. (We pause briefly for this commercial message. A wonderful new malt vodka will soon be available from Still Waters Distillery. Their website will be operational soon, but in the meantime, you can follow their progress on Twitter. You can also keep up with the guys at Premium Bottlers  or on Facebook. Please do! I have a family to support and it would be nice to be able to pay for Younger Son's college tuition next year.) Back to the geese. The feathered pair have apparently decided to construct their dream house directly in front of the distillery building. Mother Goose has come to the conclusion that it is a great parenting plan to birth and raise the little ones in close proximity to a den of alcoholic production. One can only imagine her next rhyme.

The Husband and Twin Son have gotten together to whip up a new batch of booze
"The vodka" they cried has become "scotch"ified
So pick any poison you choose! 

Anybody who has ever been up close and personal with a nesting Canada goose knows full well to stay the hell out of her way. This little lady is no exception. She has apparently developed a nasty attitude when any person approaches and makes quite a racket when pissed off. For the last couple of days, the boys noticed that 2 eggs were dispatched from the nest. One is now gone, probably as a result of a nocturnal visitation from a local fox, but the second one remains, orphaned by its parents. After a bit of research, I have discovered that this is common practice for a goose if the egg is no longer viable, or if there is no more room at the inn. In other words, if the nest is overcrowded as a result of an overly fertile and sexually active goose, the mother will actually push a few of her children out of the house early and nest on the remainder. (An interesting idea that might have real human world applications!) She is still quite protective of the orphaned egg and nips actively at onlookers. Older Son took these photos, and was quite concerned about being kamikazed by a tight-assed, hormonal and behaviourally challenged she-goose. I thank him profusely for his service to the cause. Enjoy the photos.

Maybe she wants a taste. She really does seem to be begging like an alcoholic in front of a bar window.

Poor little orphan. We have been told not to touch it, just in case Mama and Papa decide to repatriate it.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Spring Haiku

I was feeling a bit creative today, so please forgive me if you hate poetry. A few verses of Haiku to help usher in the spring season. These are all mine (for better or for worse!) so please don't pass on without credit. Thanks. 

Pesach ends tonight
Matzah clogs finally ends
Enjoy your pizza!

Sounds of Spring abound
Leaf blowers and lawn mowers
Grass-guy back at work

How'd you know it's Spring?
The Jays are back playing hard
The Leafs are golfing

Ducks in dirty water
Geese nest on eggs with venom
Shit is everywhere

It's cold, it's hot, it's...
Tough to dress for the climate
I'm still wearing gloves

Kids on bikes and blades
Tank tops, cut offs and no socks
It's still cold, dumbass!

Smells like tulips and lilies
Not awakened skunk

City comes alive
Hibernation is over
Ass-whip apathy

Fresh fruit and veggies
Going organic this year
Wish I could garden

Enjoy the season
Spring reawakens the soul
Summer almost here.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Old Friends Revisit

My friends Daffy and Daisy are back. I know that I presented something very similar last spring, but I am just so enthralled by the fact that these special creatures keep revisiting us year after year. I think that Daffy is searching for a place for Daisy to lay her eggs. Wouldn't that be thrilling? I will keep you all updated if the little ones join the family. Enjoy the magic of Pete and friends in the musical selection. Pete will be a robust 90 in May and if any of you are near Madison Square Garden on May 3rd, try and join him for a special concert of celebration.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

To Bean or Not to Bean? Rice is the Question.

I promised you all that I would engage in a post about the consumption of kitniyot before the Pesach holiday begins tomorrow evening. Given the fact that I am consumed with cooking and other seder preparations, I will attempt to do this with as much brevity as I can possibly muster. The eating of kitniyot has become one of the most polarizing issues surrounding the celebration of Pesach. It is so contentious in fact, that most Jews cannot even agree on an appropriate translation or definition of the actual word. From Rabbi Richard J. Israel:
In general, kitniot are those small (kitniot - from katan) seeds or beans which look a little like grains and which need to be cooked to be eaten. Though frequently translated as legumes, aside from peas and peanuts, they are NOT legumes. And some legumes, like alfalfa leaves which can be used for salad, ARE NOT kitniot. Legumes are plants whose root nodules make nitrogen. Since "teensy-weensies" or "tinies" are not translations that are very likely to make it into ordinary English parlance, the most appropriate translation for kitniot, it seems to me, is kitniot.
At Pesach, all Jews are to refrain from the eating of chametz(leaven) and the Torah is quite explicit as to which grains are to be included in this category. From the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR):
"It is a mitzvah to abstain from eating leaven (Chametz) during the entire seven days of Pesach."[2] By "chametz", the tradition means those grains from which matzah may be baked: wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt.[3] No other foodstuffs are regarded as chametz.
It has also become customary for Ashkenazi Jews to adhere to a prohibition on rice, corn, seeds and legumes in a somewhat misguided attempt (my opinion) to expand the observance of the festival and build fences around the Torah to impose safeguards for the public for their own chametz protection. In other words, let's assume that the people are so stupid as to not know what they are or are not eating, that they require salvation from the evil consumption. In a word, horseshit. More from Rabbi Israel: 
By the 18th century a halachist like the Korban Nathaniel (you have never heard of him) writes that there is no need to outlaw these cooked products just because they may appear similar to other cooked products which are actually chametz. One may, for example, use flour made from lentils, because it cannot become chametz, and there is no need to worry that people will confuse it with other flour which is really chametz. However, Ashkenazic (though not Sephardic) Jews have accepted a great stringency regarding these products, despite the fact that they are not chametz, and despite the permissibility of these items documented by earlier sources. The reason for the prohibition is based on a gezeirah, a preventive decree, from Ashkenazic rabbinical authorities.

The familiar and relatively late explanation for this gezeirah goes exactly contrary to what the Korban Nathaniel says. The gezeirah was justified on the grounds that people can too easily confuse a product cooked with kitniyot, with a similar product cooked with one of the five grains, and if the kitniyot product is allowed, one may come to allow a grain product, which is really chametz, as well. Moreover, kitniyot are similar to the five grains in other ways too, including the fact that some people make bread out of kitniyot as they do from the five grains, and people who are not knowledgeable may end up making a mistake and eat real chametz.
The prohibition on kitnityot runs contrary to the opinions of every single Talmudic and Mishnaic sage with the exception of one, (R. Yochanan be Nuri, Pesahim 35a) and is in direct contradiction to the decision in the Babylonian Talmud. (Pesahim 114b) This responsa is from the Conservative rabbinate in Israel. 
This custom is mentioned for the first time in France and Provence in the beginning of the thirteenth century by R. Asher of Lunel, R. Samuel of Falaise, and R. Peretz of Corbeil - from there it spread to various countries and the list of prohibited foods continued to expand. Nevertheless, the reason for the custom was unknown and as a result many sages invented at least eleven different explanations for the custom. As a result, R. Samuel of Falaise, one of the first to mention it, referred to it as a "mistaken custom" and R. Yerucham called it a "foolish custom".

This craziness has been perpetuated for centuries and has continued to this day. The reason that my Ashkenazi relatives in Poland ate potatoes instead of corn or rice at Pesach, is simply because of supply. Whoever heard of sushi in the shtetl? Rice and corn are foods that were unknown to my ancestors in the part of the world that they resided. When they did come in contact with these foreign substances, their rebbes reflexively banned them from consumption at Pesach as much out of ignorance as anything thing else. In my neighbourhood, which I have lovingly referred to as the "North Jewish Ghetto", the cost of observing the holiday in a kitniyot-free environment has become astronomical. It is not unheard of nor is it unusual to hear stories of families spending upwards of $2000.00 on Pesach preparations. The purchasing of products like kosher for Pesach Coke and ketchup (the high fructose corn syrup in these products has labelled them kitniyot!) has become a strange game of "Keeping as Kosher as the Steinbergs". There was even a midnight madness sale at our resident grocery store this past Saturday evening. The image of observant men and women fighting over the last box of matzah meal is one to behold. Once again from the Conservative responsa in Israel: 
Therefore, the main halakhic question in this case is whether it is permissible to do away with a mistaken or foolish custom. Many rabbinic authorities have ruled that it is permitted (and perhaps even obligatory) to do away with this type of "foolish custom" (R. Abin in Yerushalmi Pesahim, Maimonides, the Rosh, the Ribash, and many others). Furthermore, there are many good reasons to do away with this "foolish custom": a) It detracts from the joy of the holiday by limiting the number of permitted foods; b) It causes exorbitant price rises, which result in "major financial loss" and, as is well known, "the Torah takes pity on the people of Israel's money"; c) It emphasizes the insignificant (legumes) and ignores the significant (hametz, which is forbidden from the five kinds of grain); d) It causes people to scoff at the commandments in general and at the prohibition of hametz in particular - if this custom has no purpose and is observed, then there is no reason to observe other commandments; e) Finally, it causes unnecessary divisions between Israel's different ethnic groups. On the other hand, there is only one reason to observe this custom: the desire to preserve an old custom. Obviously, this desire does not override all that was mentioned above. Therefore, both Ashkenazim and Sephardim are permitted to eat legumes and rice on Pesah without fear of transgressing any prohibition.
It seems to me that the only reason to continue the practice of forbidding the consumption of kitniyot is tradition; Bubby didn't eat corn so we don't eat corn, and while I certainly think that this should always be a matter of personal conviction, I cannot abide. I need to feel that religious practice has some basis in logic and law in order for it to remain a religious practice in my world. The spirit and the celebration of Pesach is enhanced and maintained by the prohibition of the chametz. Anything else must be defined, in my opinion, as a religious fiction and cannot be taken seriously. My Passover includes rice and corn. I will give the final word to the CCAR
We do not accept the orthodox argument that a customary observance, once widely adopted, can never be annulled. This notion is questionable, in general, as a matter of halakhah,[19] especially when the observance is based upon a mistaken interpretation of the law.[20] In our specific case, moreover, there is absolutely no evidence that this customary prohibition was ever ratified by rabbinic decree or accepted as binding in the form of a vow. Had a decree or a vow existed, after all, those authorities who criticized the practice down to the eighteenth century would never have spoken so bluntly against it. We think, rather, that some rabbis resort to these arguments in order to support practices and customs whose original purpose--if there ever was a legitimate original purpose--no longer holds. When a religious practice has outlived its purpose, when its retention is perceived by the community as unnecessary and burdensome, Reform Judaism affirms the right of the observant community to alter or annul that practice in favor of a new standard which better expresses our understanding of Torah and tradition and the religious sensibilities of our age.

Chag Sameach to all observe and may your time with family and friends be sweet and peaceful.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Pesach: Spiritually Uplifting or Soul Crushing? Discuss!

Well folks, it's that time of year yet again. It is the time when the thoughts of all good Jews turn to the hellish nightmare of Passover preparations. (This is a warning to my friends of persuasions other than those of the "tribe" that I will henceforth be referring to Passover by its Hebrew name of Pesach. It is just something that I am far more comfortable with!) It is a time of cleaning, of cooking, of detailed menu preparation, of extreme grocery shopping, of baking with ingredients so foreign sounding and tasting that one cannot help but wonder if the end result will spew some new incarnation of cardboard, and of course the endless patter of family dynamics.  Pesach in a word, is work. A lot of work. A shitload of work. Work that is seemingly endless and most often expected, yet wholly under-appreciated. Ask anybody who is hosting a seder or even contributing to one, how they are planning to spend the next week, and the answer will surely be cooking and cleaning. Pesach is an anal-retentive individual's wet-dream, as the details are so intricate and the juggling so precise as to demand total concentration and full attention. Is this what The Divine One and Moses really had in mind when they led our people our from Egypt?

I find it hard to imagine that God and Moses really cared if we drank the Kosher for Pesach Diet Coke or the everyday regular stuff. I find it impossible to believe that Moses, or even Mrs. Moses for that matter, (her name was Zipporah-just in case you thought that my Bible skills were left wanting!!) cared what brisket recipe we used or if Aunty "Golda" will be offended because we are letting Aunty "Basha" make the fish this year. Does anybody honestly believe that our ancestors intended for us to spend thousands of dollars "koshering" our home for the holiday, simply because some maven somewhere determined that this brand of matzah was the "only" brand of matzah, or that the Israeli matzah meal (which is many dollars cheaper!) is not kosher enough? I cannot fathom that my foremothers and forefathers even knew what rice and corn were, (not a lot of that stuff hanging around in the desert!) let alone consider their prohibition. (The whole issue of the kitniyot is a discussion that I plan to take up before the start of this year's holiday, so please check back.)

No, Pesach is not about all of that stuff, at least it shouldn't be. Pesach is a spiritual and a physical reawakening. We as Jews need to look at Pesach as a basic evocation of why we are still here, what we as a people have been through and what we need to achieve in order to move forward. We need to remember what the purpose of the seder is (to teach our children and remind ourselves of our history) and not to see how fast Uncle Moishey can get through it so that we can finally eat. We need to look at the Haggadah as a living and breathing document that includes all and requires revision on a yearly basis (within its set framework of course!) in order to incorporate the every changing circumstances in which we find ourselves. We shouldn't be looking for ways to "cheat" the system by buying into the "matzah bagel" mentality, but rather taking the time and energy to understand why it is we do what we do. Pesach isn't about deprivation, it is about renewal. It isn't about denial, it is about affirmation. It isn't supposed to be stomach churning, ulcer inducing, or soul crushing. It is supposed to be spiritually uplifting. Let's all try and remember that as we enter into our preparations this weekend.  

Chag Sameach!

(By the way-please follow me on twitter! @dawnbe1229)