April 11, 2012

Next Year In Jerusalem, or Everything I Need To Know About Passover I Learned From The Ten Commandments

Thanks, Google!
Aunt Genocide and I are standing in the kitchen, watching Moses return to his adoptive father after a successful military campaign in Ethiopia.

Aunt Genocide looks over her shoulder, sweating slightly as she stirs a hot pot of molten orange honey and ginger.

"This movie is full of eye candy," she says.

"Oh yeah," I reply.  "Charleton Heston was so hot."

"Yul Brynner was hotter."

I grin.  "Oh, yeah."

I have been washing and chopping apples for what feels like an eternity.  I move on to grating nuts into the bowl, and add liberal amounts of cinnamon.

"Who plays Nefertiri, anyway?" Aunt Genocide asks.

I would Google it if the laptop weren't in use.  By us.  Watching this DVD.

Grandmommy points out that Baka the Master Builder is played by Vincent Price, casually glancing over her shoulder from her bowl of goo that will shortly become delicious matzah balls.  The pot of broth is waiting and simmering on the stove, full of onions that my mother cleverly spikes with whole cloves.

Aunt Genocide and I are stunned by this piece of information.

This DVD is one of my prized possessions.  M burned it to disc for me from the old VHS tape the year we got married- cementing my belief that he was the perfect choice of life-mate.  It is at least five hours long, heavily edited, and filled with commercials.  My great-grandfather Abe taped it off a local network back in 1988 or so.  When he lived in Chicago.  The commercials are so dated- it's amazing what you forget about the marketing of decades past.  Everything had a jingle.  Everything.  The Mets were doing well at the beginning of their season.  There was a different Pope, offering different Easter blessings in the same scenery and the same costume.  The cars were boxy gas guzzlers.  There was war in the Middle East.

All of that is background noise.  In fact, The Ten Commandments itself if background noise.

The Ten Commandments has been the background noise of Passover for as long as I can remember.  Certainly since around 1988, when I was four years old.  When the family seder moved out of Chicago and my great-grandfather Ezra's house, and into my granny's instead.

It's full of cheesy, dated nonsense.  Not cheesy in that 80's commercial way, cheesy in that Classic Hollywood kind of way.  With nameless Egyptian guards grumbling and warning, "That'll teach you, Stone Cutter!" as they tie Joshua to the curtains in Baka the Master Builder's tent so that he can be whipped to death.

His hands are caught in gently wound velvet ropes.  We, my sister and I, we know that really- he could just pull his arms down any time.  But honestly... he looks so pretty all tied up, waiting for Moses to come and save him.

Zipporah, responding to her husband's compliment that her eyes are as sharp as they are beautiful by looking directly and pointedly into the camera for a solid four seconds.

Nefertiri (played by Anne Baxter, in case you were still wondering), absentmindedly dragging a garland of flowers off the parapet to illustrate how careless and beautiful she is in her obsessive love of Moses.

This movie is full of eye candy.  Cecil B. DeMille really knew his stuff.

And Aunt Genocide, Grandmommy, and I are on auto-pilot.  We know this movie by heart.  We know this television broadcast by heart.  We can't replay the scenes in our minds without the same commercial breaks, the same Bartles and James commercials, the same constant reminders that Cadbury Eggs only come once a year, or that Max Hedron was on the cover of Time.

This is the background noise to Passover in my family.

I am making the charoseth.  Aunt Genocide is making the ingberlech.  My mother is making matzah ball soup.

Somebody is preparing the pecan sunshine cake- unleavened, of course.  Somebody is prepping parsley and mixing a caraffe of salt water.  Somebody is peeling an army's worth of hard boiled eggs.  Somebody is collecting pillows.  Somebody is setting the table. Somebody is arranging the seating chart.  Somebody is making place cards.  Somebody is putting candlesticks and haggadahs on the table, filling seder plates and arranging candies on trays for dessert.  Somebody is opening up cans of palm hearts for the relish dishes.  Somebody is saying, "Dayenu!" when somebody else mentions that we only seem to have one bottle of Manichewitz.

And great-grandpa Abe's copy of The Ten Commandments is playing.

This year, it's at my house.  Last year, Aunt Genocide's.  As my grandparents are selling their house next month, it will never be at my granny's house again.

But that doesn't matter.

It's not about where you celebrate your seder.  It's not about what you're having for dinner.  It's not about how comfortable you all are when you're crammed around the table.

It's Passover.  It's about celebrating our freedom.

We're free to watch a topless Yul Brynner dust off the sand from his chest with an ostrich feather.

We're free to make batch after batch of candies and cakes and eat them up in a night with the excuse that they aren't perfect.

We're free to joke endlessly about our antique and awkwardly translated haggadahs.

We were slaves in Mizrayim, but today we are free.

It doesn't matter who's house we are in for Passover.  It is always the same.  This year, Aunt Genocide determined that she will pass the ingberlech torch to DD.  I am reserving judgement, I think SI will be the better candidate.  I expect DD will pick up the name card decoration slack when I have moved on to more important tasks.

It is always our family.  Always filled with love, always filled with the same jokes, the same smells, the same foods, the same story.

Once upon a time, we were slaves.

This year, my house.

Next year, in Jerusalem.


  1. Our saying was: This year, our house. Next year, in a bigger house. ;-)



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