As we enter "holy week" as its known, many Americans will either be celebrating Easter or Passover. Being Jewish, I used to partake in family Seders, but after the deaths of my parents, and a move to Florida, I have moved beyond the Seder. I do have a lifetime of memories though in attending those religious meals. I was never even close to being very knowledgeable about my religion, and found my forced education via Hebrew and Sunday school, a burden I would have to deal with until I was 13 and got through my Bar Mitzvah. Upon the completion of that ceremony, I may not have been technically "a man", but I was finally of the age where I could volunteer to "retire" from Hebrew school.
Passover begins on April 15th, lasts for a week and represents the Jews escape from slavery in Egypt.God seemed to help with the escape (by the way, where was he during World War II?). God helped by inflicting 10 plagues upon the Egyptians Somewhere in the quick exit and journey through the desert, the Jews had dough to make bread, but nothing else. When the sun hit the dough, it turned into what today is commonly known as Matzo (unleavened bread). By the way, the 10th plague was to be the death of the Egyptian first born. Because of this, Jews were supposed to commemorate Passover by putting the blood of a slaughtered lamb on their front door (another reason I don't celebrate Passover anymore), and then the spirit of God would "pass-over" this house. Like most religions, it is a holiday full of ritualistic symbolism.
Anyway, when I was a young lad, going through yet another Seder, I was in the process of mentioning another plague (was it the Parsley that represented the tears our people shed?) and the plague about boils (yecch! do we have to talk about boils at dinner?!?) when I looked out the dining room window in time to see our gentile neighbor kids frolicking about the front yard searching for Easter eggs. These eggs had money in them! They also got to paint eggs all kinds of colors, and enjoy chocolate covered bunnies! Man, I felt screwed. How do you compare moaning over plagues our ancestors had to endure versus searching for painted eggs containing money or covered with chocolate?
Hiding the Matzo was supposed to be the fun part of the evening. Finding that hidden piece of Matzo (fondly referred to as the afikoman) was critical because NOT finding it may result in an ant invasion somewhere in my parent's house. The money rewarded for finding the hidden matzo was never a huge amount-remember- we're Jews! It was more akin to a little more cash than you got for that last tooth you lost. In Hebrew school one year, one of our teachers tried to say we Jews shouldn't go out for Halloween because it was a pagan holiday (I asked.."how do we join this Pagan religion"?).
Fast forward to later in the year, and those same neighbors then got a Christmas tree. I remember the first time I saw their decorated tree and it remains in my mind because they had bubble lights! These lights were in various colors, but they had bubbles in them as though they were filled with water. How much more cosmically cool can their holiday be? A big tree with decorations that included bubble lights, multicolored lights, stuff that resembled snow, ornaments in all sorts of colors and shapes, plus a swarm of gifts under the tree. How much more fun could their holiday get? Meanwhile, in our house, we celebrated Chanukah. No tree, no snow-like decor, and no fat happy bearded guy like Santa Claus sliding down the chimney (although once a bearded Rabbi stopped by with candy after my grandma died) I have to admit, although we didn't have a tree, we did celebrate with each family member getting their own pile of gifts. Some more intense Jews I heard celebrated 8 days of Chanukah. This seemed great upon hearing about it--an extended time of gift giving, but it always came down to one day getting a pair of socks, a bathrobe, and seemingly nothing of consequence. I had always heard of a, so-called Chanukah bush, but to this day, I have never seen one.
There are some holidays in the Jewish religion like Purim, where you get to dress up as some character from our ancient times (all I know is some guy named Haman was the bad guy).That particular holiday was fun since it involved dressing up in costumes-sort of like a Jewish Halloween without candy. In September, the two biggies of Jewish holidays occur, otherwise known as "The High Holy Days". The one good thing about being a Jew, at least in the old days (1960's), we could actually get off from regular school, but the downside was we had to go to temple (aka Synagogue). Spending a good part of the day here wasn't fun, especially if you had no idea (like me) of what was going on. Rosh Hashanah was the Jewish new year, and Yom Kippur is the 'day of atonement". That last day was when you're supposed to ask God to forgive your sins (one of which was never fasting). I always like the gentile's way to get sins forgiven better. Catholics can just stop by their church, go into a booth and ask the Priest to forgive their sins. I'm not sure, but there's almost no end to what you can do and still be forgiven by the church. Whether that works in reverse is another story, given the mass sins perpetrated by employees of the Catholic Church.
Yes, I do have fond memories now of those days gone by when my family was intact, and we celebrated Jewish holidays together. No matter that I rarely understood what the holiday was really all about, my mom was a great cook, and the day always ended with a superb meal. I now have a beautiful partner in life who happens to celebrate Christmas, so I now have my Christmas tree and yes--I have my own bubble lights. I'm too old to go on an Easter egg hunt, but I always buy my own chocolate covered Easter eggs. I still have not gone to Midnight Mass, which I always thought looked interesting.On TVsince it always seems to include some grand choir singing hymns. It seemed like a spiritual way to take in the holidays, but I was always tired by the time midnight rolled around. At the end of the day, I find myself as believing in God and like so many others now say, "being spiritual". Beyond that, I find the chapter and verse design of religion primarily not in my interest. I tend to think so much of religion has become a way to divide people rather than bring them together. It would take a book to describe how much bloodshed is and has been caused by religion. For something that is supposed to make people "see the light", religion has been so abused by so many that it's benefits sometimes seem very elusive. At their best, many people can feel "closer to God", by practicing their religion. All in all, religion should be a simple golden rule template of how to live with, and among other people in a diverse world.The downside is too many fanatics take the "word of God" at face value (right-wingers would call this fundamentalism) and act accordingly. That's where the world has become inundated with war and death in incredible numbers. We need laws and rules to keep some sort of order in life, otherwise we have chaos. Whether religion has assisted in providing that order, or added to the chaos, is still the question. In the final analysis, if all people just celebrated life with colorful bubble lights and friends and family, at various times of the year, the world would be a better place.