A relative anecdote
“Being Jewish has taught me how to laugh! First and foremost, to laugh at myself and at my situation. More important, to laugh in order to act in the world. This is not to say we are to make fun of someone or make light of our fate. Rather, one is not to take oneself too seriously, but to take one’s responsibilities very seriously.
Laughter opens the door to hope and healing. It opens up new possibilities. Listen to what’s funny to children and it will reveal a new world and a new generation. The first Jewish child born was called “Yitzchak” (one will laugh).
Laughter- we pack it in our luggage, we season our Friday night soup with it. Often it is mixed with tears. We have fought despair relentlessly. Laughter is one of our secret weapons.”
-Rabbi Naamah Kelman, first woman ordained in Israel, Hebrew Union College
My father shared the above quote this year at our family’s Passover Seder. Earlier in the day, he told us a story from when he was a boy living in Baltimore. On Saturdays, after temple, he and his buddy would use their weekly allowance to go downtown for lunch and a movie. They would catch a street car for a nickel each way. For thirty cents, they could have lunch at the Chinese restaurant, (twenty-five cents for the meal, five cents for the tip.) Afterwards, for seven cents, a matinee at the movie theater. The street car only came every few hours, so if they missed it, they would miss their favorite Saturday adventure. The problem was, it came shortly after temple and the rabbi would walk home right by where they caught the trolley. Since they were Orthodox, they were not supposed to be taking a street car on Shabbat. This was the kind of rabbi that would have certainly told their parents and gotten them in trouble. So, if they saw the rabbi coming, they would hide by diving into the hedges where they would pray that the street car wouldn’t arrive until after the rabbi had rounded the corner. They never missed a movie. “I guess you could say,” my father concluded, “that was an example of living through prayer.”
My father has taught me how to hold up the essence of what our heritage offers us without being confined by it. His rabbi would have said he was not taking his responsibilities seriously but my dad grew up to be the most responsible individual I have ever met.
I intrinsically see and relish universal truths that dance outside the circle of my prescribed faith. Yet, because of my father, I also know that with prayer, you don’t have to miss the matinee.
Year after year, we hear the same story of Moses being hidden among the bulrushes but this was the first time I heard about my dad diving into the hedges. This puts the tradition of gathering together to celebrate our freedom in proper perspective. Emancipation comes in many forms. Sharing laughter with loved ones is perhaps my favorite. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the history of my people.