Saturday, April 11, 2009

Passover Shabbat


Tonight I visited J, a fellow CODEPINKer and friend in Concord, and ate my first Passover meal ever! I am not Jewish - and was, in fact, raised a devout atheist - so I don't know much about Passover. All I know is that for some reason The Ten Commandments is always on around Easter time - which always just confused me because I thought Easter was about Jesus, not Moses.

Before dinner, J's son D took me on a tour of their amazing piece o' paradise backyard garden. The light was becoming white-yellow and our shadows stretched away from us at long angles over the poppies and strawberries. I touched the plants, especially the herbs, and came away with my hands smelling like rosemary, and with springy light green mint leaves in my pocket.

As we sat down to eat, I felt as I usually do when I'm present for an unfamiliar religious or cultural ritual: both curious and nervous that I may do something wrong on accident. J and her family assured me it was not really a sadar - meaning it was not a super formal ceremony - and that I could eat things in whichever order I wanted to. First there was a blessing, during which we waved light from candles toward our bodies with our hands and then covered our eyes. They repeated a Hebrew blessing. We took sips of something sweet and grapey from a silver chalice and ate a corner of matzo bread - unleavened bread, like an unsalted cracker.

The meal was such an interesting experience because everything eaten at Passover is symbolic. Combined with a dinner conversation we had about soy, corn syrup, and other kinds of food, the experience really got me thinking about being aware of what I put in my body. After all, the food we eat is really what builds and sustains us in every regard.

One of the Passover foods is bitter herbs, which, as I understand it, can include a variety of, well, herbs that are bitter. The symbolism of eating bitter herbs is to experience the pain the Jews suffered during their time under slavery in Egypt. The bitter herbs we ate were parsley, lettuce, and horseradish. The parsley is also dipped in saltwater to represent the Jews' tears. The lettuce starts off sweet and finishes bitter, like the Jews' time in Egypt. D advised me to "make a charoses sandwich" with the horseradish and the matzo bread. Charoses is a mixture that seemed to be made of a hearty grain, walnuts, and raisins, and is representative of the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build the Egyptian pharaohs' pyramids. I spread the horseradish and the charoses thickly onto the matzo bread, which symbolizes the haste with which the Jews had to leave Egypt - no time to let the bread rise. They said I was quite adventurous with the horseradish, and I ate it till there was fire in my nose and tears in my eyes, which I think means I did it right. They also usually drink four cups of wine, but I only had a small glass and then most of a medium-sized one. I asked what each of the four glasses symbolized, and J's husband joked that the purpose served by the second glass was to get the kids to pass out early.

Another interesting thing I learned is that because the guidelines of eating Kosher can be complicated, many Jews are vegetarian. For example, you're supposed to clean the kitchen in a very specific way, and only use certain dishes for meat, and certain other ones for dairy products. This can become cumbersome, and some Jews opt to eliminate meat altogether.

"A Private Civilian"

On the way down to visit J, traffic thickened in Vacaville like cream at the top of non-homogenized milk. I'm glad it did because it slowed me down enough to be able to stop when I saw a woman pulled over at the center median.

She was looking under the hood of her ancient white beast of a Dodge Ram Charger. I put on my flashers and eased off the side of the road. She was Dawn. She smelled like honeysuckle and wore a blue top with a faded pattern of maple leaves stenciled onto it, over it a purple corduroy button-down shirt. Her long brown hair was loose and she cursed in frustration. There was a walking boot on her left foot, which she said had been infected and had caused her to need surgery. Fortunately, her job as a cook at a restaurant in Nevada City was being held for her while she recovered. Dawn was on her way to see her daughter, who had just graduated from a culinary art school in San Francisco.

I gave her my milk crate to stand on so she could properly see inside the tall hood to reach her fuel filter. Then we called her a tow truck on my cell phone. I let her use the screwdriver in my Leatherman Supertool after the purple plastic knife she was using to fiddle around under the hood had snapped in half.

She called her daughter on my cell, dialing the keys with her grease-smudged fingers. I considered being concerned about the phone getting dirty, and then decided not to care.

I had to run off to see J, so could not wait the "up to fifty-five minutes" it would take for the tow truck to arrive. But the tow truck company needed a contact phone number so I gave them my cell phone number.

I wished her luck, and she said, "bless you, girlfriend. You're awesome!"

We hugged, and when she walked back to her car, she shouted from her car above the traffic to admonish me, "you be careful pulling out there!" We waved.

Twenty-five minutes later, driving over the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, I received a phone call from a dispatcher at the tow truck company. I could hear her talking to the truck driver, who claimed Dawn was not there.

"Well, is that her on the phone?" The driver asked.

"No, a private citizen called on her behalf. She should be on the left shoulder of westbound I-80 near the Nut Tree Parkway exit."

He answered again in the negative. "Got on the highway at Leisure Town Road, and I been all through Vacaville. I haven't seen her. Maybe another tow truck picked her up."

"Are you sure?" I asked repeatedly, advising them to drive by again. "Just look for the only car on the left-hand side of the road!"

"If she is there and a CHP stops to help her, they'll call us back," the dispatcher assured me.

I grumbled a bit and then hung up. I called Dawn's daughter to tell her what had happened. She promised to call me when she heard from her mother, but I haven't heard anything. That was eight hours ago.

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