April 9, 2009 by Gsmith
A few hours ago two holidays arrived. Pesach 5769 and the much less common Birchat HaChamah, which arrives every 28th passover and marks the solar and lunar convergence in the calendar.
My Hebrew sister, Rebekah, with whom I’ve celebrated the holiday in years past, sent me a gift in the form of an Haggadah. For those that are not superstitious, the Haggadah is the text by which Jews and their friends interpret the Passover holiday. It tells the story of the liberation of the Hebrews from their mythical Egyptian slavery.
The version she got for me (she’s been my friend for years, and knows me fairly well) is an officially atheist Haggadah, which supposedly removes any mention of divine miracles, plagues of frogs and other such stuff. In theory, I suppose it comes close to reconciling the legend with Dialectical Materialism. The exodus, viewed through this lens, becomes a national liberation movement and an exercise in class consciousness rather than a chauvinistic, murderous fairy-tale.
I say supposedly and in theory because the book she got me was printed in Israel. It’s entirely in Hebrew. I studied Hebrew for a full six years of my life, altogether, and don’t remember anything except for a few of the filthiest epithets in that otherwise interesting language.
This is one of my least favorite bible stories. As a little boy I remember wondering (quietly) why God didn’t just kill Pharaoh, rather than murdering all those little kids. Later on I wondered why the Hebrews looted the country and left, rather than spreading the liberation to their Egyptian brothers and sisters. It’s only this week, with this book in my hand, that I finally asked myself the question that’s sung around the table…
Why is this night different from all others?
The answer leads me back to wondering why Mormons don’t have a text describing our sojourn out of captivity and into Zion. We have the story, and in a way we have the holiday (for those that don’t know, it falls on 24 July – we call it Pioneer Day) but we have no text explaining the meanings.
When I lived in Salt Lake City, I saw Pioneer Day as simply an occasion to shoot off fireworks, watch a parade, and to watch the unobservant Mormons get publicly drunk in Liberty Park. The party prominently featured the same flag we originally celebrated getting away from.
Since leaving Salt Lake City, I’ve seen Passover in much the same way. It’s the day I got together with my friend, ate brisket, and heard stories about growing up in Fairfax.
Scratch the surface, and Passover and Pioneer Day reveal themselves as holidays which are inherently subversive. They are days in which common people celebrate their freedom, remembering the brave souls who sacrificed to give it to us.