...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Birkat HaChamah and Passover

Clearly I fail at blogging.

April 8 was a holiday that only comes once every twenty-eight years: Birkat HaChamah, the Blessing of the Sun. The tradition has it that once every twenty-eight years, the sun returns to the same place in the sky relative to the stars and the Earth where God placed it on the 4th day of creation. (The same place as viewed from the Earth, obviously, since the sun and stars themselves don't move). The calculations are totes confusing and I gave up on trying to understand exactly why it was that particular morning, and why the Jewish year (5769) isn't divisible by 28, and just tried to enjoy the fact that this is an unusual occasion that last occurred in 1981 and won't come again until I'm in my 50s.

P'nai Or met at the gardens behind Pittock Mansion at 6am and sang and danced until we realized that it was too overcast to see the sunrise, at which point we said a shortened version of the blessing (you have to actually be able to see the sun to say the full blessing), said the Kaddish, and trickled off. Afterwards I went out to breakfast with some Pnai Orniks then got dropped off at work, feeling very disoriented, sleepy, and off-rhythm. Whenever I do something before work, even something as mundane as getting up early to finish a Netflix movie so I can send off the disk that day, it makes work feel really strange. It makes it feel like just one of several things I happened to decide to do that day, rather than something I have to do. By the time I got to work at 9am, it felt like it was noon because I had gotten up so early.

The 8th was doubly auspicious (truly a mazel tov--literally "good constellation!") because it was also the first day of Passover (which actually began that evening, since Jewish days begin at dusk). Birkat HaChamah and Passover are not always aligned, it was just just a coincidence--one that made my day all the more weird and off-rhythm. A friend from P'nai Or invited me to her house for the first night seder. She warned me that it would be a long evening, so I planned to get off work at 3pm, go home to take a nap, then another person would pick me up....the seder started around seven-thirty or eight; dinner was served at 10:30 and at midnight, the person who gave me a ride and I left because he was exhausted. Dessert hadn't been served yet; I can only imagine how late the seder must have gone. Two in the morning? Although it was a strange day and a really late night, I was happy to have been invited and to have a place to spend the first night seder. This friend has two college-age children, and it was fun to spend the holiday with a family. They're also on the more observant/halakhic end of the spectrum for P'nai Or and I'm always interested in learning about how people blend a Jewish Renewal consciousness with halakhic observance.

The next night P'nai Or had a community seder at St. Mark's. I got a ride with my friend Jess, and sat with my friend Helana (another Lewis & Clark graduate, but we got to know each other at P'nai Or). P'nai Or's seder was big and sprawling and semi-chaotic (there were eighty people there and there was a ton of unnecessary drama about moving chairs around and seating arrangements...I'm so burned out on synagogue politics right now), but also sweet and emotional and touching. We used a Haggadah that Reb Aryeh had put together, and I think everyone cried a little at different points.

Finally, last Sunday Daniel and I had our own seder at our apartment. Our guests were my parents, Daniel's parents, Amy, Carla, Helana, my friend Jade from work, and her fried Kat. I invited several more people, but I think the mixture ended up being exactly right and anyways, it would have been difficult to fit any more chairs around the table. We used the Velveteen Rabbi haggadah. I think it went well--I can't speak for the others (Amy?) but I know I had a great time and I appreciated that everyone contributed their energy, insights, voices, and laughter. It was my parents' first seder, and I think they enjoyed it and found it relatively accessible. We started the seder by lighting yartzeit/memorial candles for people who have passed away. After the seder ended and the table had been cleared, we left the candles burning. It was my understanding that yartzeit candles burn for about twenty-four hours, but when I got home from work on Monday (26 hours after they had been lit), all of them were still going strong...as they were the next morning. Two of the candles ended up burning for about forty hours.

So now Passover is officially over. It's been a crazy week and a half, but a meaningful and moving one too. I can say that I'm looking forward to eating chametz (leavened products) again. I kept a box of matzah in my classroom to eat at lunch and after several inquiries of "Teacher Jessica, what's that big giant cracker?" I gave all the kids a little bit to taste. Most of them loved it and it was really a sight to see twenty three- to five-year-olds gnawing on jagged pieces of the Bread of Affliction. At least I know where I can get rid of our leftover matzah!