Botox, Buddhism, and the Search for Authenticity on Passover

This Passover we struggle to hold onto our past selves and histories, even as we re-invent ourselves.

In my traditional, observant Jewish community on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, no sooner have the playful Purim masks been doffed then the ponderous, pre-Passover preparations are donned. We work for an entire month toward removing every speck of leavening from our cupboards and our coat pockets. Out come the dishes that are only used on Passover–two separate sets, one for dairy and one for meat. All this, so that during these eight days of the year, our homes will recapture the essence of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt when, in their haste to escape, they had no time to let their bread rise and instead, ate it flat. Even as I allow myself to be swept up in the search for the perfect matzah farfel recipe, and the debate over which is more authentic--the round, expensive, hand-made, half-burned shmura matzah or the boxed, perfectly square, machine-made matzah--I find myself pondering the eternal question: Is tossing a lamb shank on the seder plate and covering my kitchen cabinets in tinfoil truly an authentic re-creation of the journey from slavery to freedom? At moments like these, my thoughts turn to the Samaritans, who have neither been saddled with the entire Bible nor with rabbinical Judaism.

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There are about 700 Samaritans today, most living in the modern day city of Nablus on the West Bank. They parted ways with normative Judaism in 722 BCE, and thus received and recognize only the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, as being divinely inspired. None of this latter-day separation of milk and meat laws, no prohibitions against opening umbrellas on the sabbath (considered work because it falls in the category of constructing a tent), and no month-long preparations for Passover, a holiday that is significant because of its haste! No, on the day before Passover, the Samaritans grab themselves an unblemished lamb, head over to Mt. Gerizim, slit the sheep’s throats, roast them, then bring them home and eat them—quickly--along with matzah and bitter herbs. I won’t go so far as to say that the closer we are in religious practice to the days of yore, the more authentic and correct we are. But I’m willing to edge awfully close to this assertion.

My Passover meal, the seder, is anything but quick, and in these weeks before, I have PLENTY of time to consider not only how cursory I can afford to be about de-leavening my house but also give thought to my ongoing search for authenticity.

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