Like the children of Israel leaving Egypt, the dishes emerge from the darkness of the Rubbermaid bins at the back of my garage, launching a reunion with long-gone relatives who come rushing across the parted sea into my patient, waiting arms. Slowly, I unfurl the newspaper wrapping and announce Pesach’s arrival in my home.
When I was a child, I watched my mother turn our New York suburban home upside down during her zealous Pesach cleaning. Later, as a young feminist, I resented the fact that my mother (with the help of our house cleaner) did all the cleaning and cooking before the seders, while my father led the ritual aspect of these meals.
I saw my mother as enslaved to an exaggerated notion of the halachic requirement to rid one’s home of chametz, which I thought was totally antithetical to the notion of Pesach as a holiday of freedom.
In those long-ago seders, who were the drab Peshevorskys,
and why were they at our table?
Isaac Steven Herschkopf
Special To The Jewish Week
Their name was pronounced Peshevorsky. I have no idea how it was spelled. Neither do I know their first names. I addressed them as “Mr. and Mrs. Peshevorsky.” It was such a mouthful, I had to practice saying it before they arrived.
They only joined us for the seders. It was, however, a perennial visit. Their presence defined Passover as certainly as the presence of a lulav and esrog defined Sukkot. The difference was, a lulav and esrog were more animated.
Humor is an enigma. Philosophers and physicians and psychologists, historians and linguists have for centuries pondered why we laugh. Aristotle and Freud, Kant and Bergson have offered explanations of humor. But at bottom, there ain’t nothing like a good joke.
Ruth Wisse has taught a course on Jewish humor at Harvard for years, but you might not know it given her most recent work. “Jews and Power,” published by Nextbook/Schocken in 2007, was a very serious book.
It argued that throughout history Jews have often blamed themselves for problems not of their own making. Since the destruction of the Second Temple, in 70 C.E., Wisse detected a pattern in Jewish history in which Jews aligned themselves with ideas that ran counter to their own interests in the hope that it might save them.
When Ronna Glickman and Beverly Ginsburg, two 50-something lifelong friends from Boston who between them have seven marriages, three children and several stepchildren they don’t talk about, come to Los Angeles to promote their book, “You’ll Do a Little Better Next Time: A Guide to Marriage and Remarriage for Jewish Singles,” they announce that they love the used bookstore they find themselves in because “everything is half-off” – and then berate the hapless Jewish clerk they meet because his wife isn’t Jewish.
Thirty years ago, when we were finishing up “The Big Book of Jewish Humor,” a few older comedians were still doing what comedians had always done. They told jokes — by which we mean funny little stories of indeterminate authorship — about a man and an elephant walking into a bar, for example, or a rabbi, a priest and a minister on a train.