Thursday, April 1, 2010

Passover In The News

On Tuesday morning, we were watching our local Fox station’s morning “news” broadcast. I use the term “news” lightly, because these news people have to be the least professional newscasters on morning television. They spend most of the time bantering, advertising a local product, restaurant, or service, and asking asinine questions during “interviews.” We watch it because they do the weather and traffic pretty often, and it’s nice light fare to accompany our scrambled eggs.

I mention Tuesday specifically because it was the first day of Passover, and apparently a producer thought it would be a great idea to do a series of segments on Passover throughout the morning show. I caught one of them, I think the second of the series. The reporter was talking to someone – she didn’t say why they chose him – at a local New York-style deli called DZ Akins. I’ve never been there, but I have it on good authority that it is quite tasty. It’s a Jewish-style/kosher-style deli (but NOT kosher), so maybe the news show figured it would be a good place to get the low-down on Passover.

They were discussing the Seder plate. The interviewee mentioned a few of the items – the shank bone, the horseradish, and then the charoset. The reporter then attempted to pronounce “charoset,” to bouts of hilarity and little success. The man explained what charoset is made from – apples, walnuts, etc. – and mentioned that it represents the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves while building the Egyptian cities. He then moved on to gefilte fish. While this is a fairly traditional food served at many Jewish feasts, including the Passover seder, it is hardly part of the seder plate. He tried to describe what gefilte fish is, and then the reporter attempted to pronounce “gefilte,” to more bouts of hilarity and still little success. The interviewee then felt obligated to add that a lot of people don’t like gefilte fish.

Then it was back to the studio.

The fact that a religious Jew really wouldn’t have been watching TV on Tuesday morning notwithstanding – the first day of Passover being a “chag,” or holiday requiring rest much like the Sabbath – this segment left me open-mouthed. First of all, while San Diego County’s Jewish population isn’t exactly enormous, surely the station or the reporter could have thought to contact a rabbi – I can think of a few Chabad rabbis who would have been happy to appear, as long as it wasn’t on a chag – to explain Passover and the Passover symbols in more detail and with more authority. I don’t know who it was they were interviewing, but he wasn’t even wearing a kippah.

This brings me to the larger problem. When your religion is the subject of a few somewhat humorous news segments, even in the interests of education and not ridicule, you realize just how small you really are. I had always taken for granted that people knew what a Jewish person was and the holidays they celebrated. It hadn’t really occurred to me until recently that people might view me askance for my Jewish practice, or find the names of my ritual foods a source of hilarity.

I did find myself reticent on the subject of my religion with some of my tutoring students from my local city, though. None of them is Jewish, and I got the feeling most of them don’t realize there are any Jews in their midst. When I told them I wouldn’t be seeing them on Tuesday, they naturally asked why. I said I had a holiday, but I was reluctant to tell them which holiday. For some reason, for the first time in my life, I didn’t want people around me to know I am Jewish. It’s certainly not that I am ashamed. Rather, I think, it was because I knew I would then have to explain and educate, and sometimes I just don’t feel like doing that. It’s been a long time since I was surrounded by people who don’t know what Passover is. Indeed, my student today asked me what holiday I had been celebrating, and I told him Passover, and he said his teacher said it wasn’t Passover that day. I told him Passover is eight days long and it most certainly was on Tuesday and still is, which prompted the very reasonable question of why I could work today but not last Tuesday.

See? I was right. I had to explain. And I didn’t want to. Besides, I was supposed to be teaching long division. (Yes, really.)

I think my next post will discuss what it means to keep kosher for Passover. Stay tuned!

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