Tag Archives: Passover

The Sanctity of Laughter

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.

 

Spring’s colorful conspiracy.

The joys of renewal.

“A saint is an earth in eternal spring. Hafiz is a poet whose song I sing. Inside the veins of a petal on a redbud tree are hidden worlds where he may be.”- Hafiz (Rendered by Daniel Ladinsky and The Levins)

Here in NY, winter clings as if it begrudges spring its inevitability. Still, the daffodils have started to blossom in wild packs in our yard. They survived a serious snow storm that buried them after they had started to emerge from the ground. When it was time to shovel the walkway the next day, my wife Julia suggested we make a stop-action short that made it look like the snow was shoveling itself. There is always something to enjoy in winter. It doesn’t stop us from heading out to make music any more than it stops the deer and the groundhog (who lives under our deck) from traipsing all over our yard.  They leave trails that look like elaborate dances in the snow. Still, there is a freedom of movement that we rejoice in as the days get longer. We are excited to shed excess layers, putting away the heavy coats and big boots that crowd our entrance ways and closets.

Next week, we will travel down to Florida to join my family around an elongated table. There will be three generations of us celebrating Passover. There will be singing, joking, and philosophical wrestling during our elaborate symbol filled feast. Even though we gather to remember our emancipation from slavery, one of the dictates of this holiday is to be joyful. A mandate of joy seems like an oxymoron but sometimes we could all use a nudge.

I remember celebrating Easter as a kid with friends of my family. I stayed at their house, we colored eggs, they hid them and I went around their apartment looking for them. Cecil B. Demille’s Ten Commandments was on TV that night. The movie played in the background providing an epic backdrop. Even as delighted as I was with the egg hunt, I was aware that the thrill I felt was the connection I had laughing with my hosts. There was something divine about these bright colors staining our fingers, the prospect of discovery and getting to abandon ourselves to play.

Today, I read about the Hindu holiday of Holi, or “festival of colors.” Thousands of people gather in the streets, showering each other with bags of colorful powder called gulal.  The god Krishna was said to have played pranks on children during spring. In honor of this, everyone is invited to be children and a representative of the love-filled deity simultaneously. Again, joy is worked into the ritual. It is a prankster’s holiday where relationships are mended and friendships rejoiced in. Looking at pictures of vast crowds covered in clouds of color, it struck me what a wonderful way to remind ourselves not to let castes or pigmentation divide us.

All over the world, in its own time, spring comes in to warm us up with the promise of renewed life. That is a colorful prospect. Abandoning care long enough to let life in is a liberation. However we choose to celebrate this month, may we feel renewed, connected, colorful and bright.

Krishna Das chants in the Spring

The song that reaches us from beyond all that we know is the answer to the yearning we have sent out as a signal.

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Between the posts of Passover and Easter, the themes of emancipation and renewal welcome in the Spring with a pagan delight. I found it interesting that this holiday weekend was bookended by attending a kirtan and watching a documentary – both with Krishna Das. Well, sort of- we got to meet him Thursday night, which inspired us to see the documentary about his life on Sunday.

The kirtan Thursday night was the first time we had seen Krishna Das.  He leads the kirtan while paying harmonium, joined by a tabla, bass, guitarist, percussionist, and singing chime player.   It was a benefit for the Tibetan House of Hope that currently houses, feeds, clothes, educates and loves 140 children who would otherwise be homeless. The children aren’t put up for adoption but live and are raised in a Tibetan community where they dance and thrive together.

“I don’t know why they wanted a Jewish Hindu to sing Buddhist chants, he laughed, “People think I’m Hindu because I sing these songs.” “I’m not Hindu, I’m from Long Island.  I think being a good human being on this planet is what is needed now. That’s what I’m going for.”

Kirtan is wonderfully inclusive. He sang two lines and then the audience repeated back. The audience becomes part of the prayer, even if they don’t know it. The ensemble hypnotically settles you into a meditative state and then press into the tempo, raising it up until your atoms are dancing, whether you have gotten out of your chair or not. High vibration!

There are people who follow him around, like the Grateful Dead but without the drugs and as many strung-out and lost feelings.

I encourage you to see the documentary One Track Heart about his life.  It points up the difficulty of finding and staying on our path. He was solidly on his path, but allowed self-blame, doubt and his ego to mislead him. When he made his way back, I felt like I had made the journey with him. The feeling that prevailed opened me up to viewing my own path with renewed perspective.

Wherever you are, may Spring find you fully.