That Weird No Bread Holiday
I am befreckled, pale, and red-headed; if I were a few feet shorter, I'd probably be after your lucky charms.
People are often surprised to find out I'm Jewish. Not because of my looks - I just leave really good tips. (badum!) This time of year, when my non-Jewish friends are happily eating rolls and loafs and other such bread-like substances, they are amazed to find me subsisting on what they previously thought was an uncut sheet of saltines. This time of year means two things. One, it's Passover. Two, the New York Mets are mathematically eliminated from the post-season. That second one has nothing to do with being Jewish, it's just an unfortunate truth.
There are a lot of stereotypes that Jews deal with, and I'm writing this column in part to diffuse them. Growing up Jewish was tough, even in New York. My classmates would always tease me. They'd call me names like "cheapskate" and "hooknose" and "bagel-eater." That Hebrew school sucked.
I observe Passover, and I don't mean that I notice it's there. I do understand the irony of writing a column called "Observational Humor" about observing a holiday ("It's funny because it's Jew!"). As a public service, I'm going to explain Passover to you, the reader. There are many complex and confusing rules about what you can and cannot do, most of which I will omit because I don't understand them.
My typical explanation for Passover is that it's like Thanksgiving without bread or football. And yes, you can watch some Arena League games this time of year. But Arena Football to the NFL is like matzah to a nice loaf of bread. Except when a higher power commands otherwise, there's no way that stuff should be in your house.
The not eating leavened bread thing comes from when Jews were hurried out of Egypt and didn't have time to let their bread rise. To commemorate their flight from slavery, we eat the same crap they were stuck with. This is a valuable lesson - whenever I travel, I pack the night before. If something goes down and my trip has to be commemorated, I don't want generations of kids pissed at me because I forgot to pack my boxers.
Most of what we can't eat comes from the idea of what the Israelites couldn't get their hands on while in the desert. And though it would have been much more convenient for future generations had the Jews been exiled to a Wal-Mart, rules are rules. The stuff you can't have on Passover is referred to as "chametz," which is taken from the biblical Hebrew for "stuff you can't have on Passover."
If you do keep kosher for Passover, you can't simply avoid chametz (pronounced "chametz"). You're also not allowed to own any. Traditionally, Jews "sell" their chametz en masse, just in case they missed anything while they were cleaning. You wouldn't want to get half-way through the holiday before stumbling upon an errant loaf of bread carelessly discarded under a sofa cushion.
I used to call my non-Jewish friends right before Passover and have them take all my chametz. One year, I had to give away about $200 worth of hard liquor. I have since realized that it is cheaper to abstain from grocery shopping and eat takeout the entire month of March.
I sold my chametz this year. I wasn't trying to keep kosher or anything, I just needed the money. Which makes me wonder if I'm a bad Jew or a good Jew. I'm a bad Jew because I only observed the law by accident. But I'm a good Jew because, hey, I made a few bucks.
I'm kidding, of course. We don't actually charge anything for the chametz - it's just a symbolic transaction. And Jews aren't actually cheap either - it's just a stereotype. Passover is one of three eight-day holidays. If we were a cheap people, we'd have found a way to cut those celebrations down a little and save some cash on the gifts.
But perhaps the most important Passover tradition is how cheap other people are (see friends, my). It is rare that anyone offers to buy me beer. Except on Passover, since they know I can't accept. And waving beer in front of a Jew on Passover is like waving a donut in front of a fat guy on a diet. Waving beer in front of a Jewish comedian on Passover is like waving a donut in front of a very poor fat guy on a diet.
But come Passover, everyone I know tries to buy me beer. I've really got to stop going to this Hebrew school.