The Bliss Blog

The Bliss Blog

The Ten Plagues

 

The Jewish holiday of Passover begins at sundown this coming Friday April 6th and lasts until April 14th. During that period, families world wide will celebrate a time of freedom and renewal, of Spring cleaning both internally and externally. It commemorates the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt as they escaped slavery. Think of the Charleton Heston classic The Ten Commandments. In the home of my childhood, it meant taking the special dishes from the attic, packing up the every day dishes into the boxes from whence the first group came; it meant clearing the fridge and cabinets of any food that wasn’t marked “Kosher for Passover” and giving it to our Christian next door neighbors and then re-filling the empty spaces that had been swept clean of ‘chametz‘…anything leavened or otherwise not permitted on Passover.

It heralded a time of preparation of  all manner of delicacies, such as my mom’s oh so awesome matzah ball soup (she and my Uncle Jim would playfully argue over whether the matzah balls should be light and fluffy…her preference or heavy and dense…his choice:)  and my dad’s fried matzah for breakfast. It was the only time of year when we would use sugar cubes in tea…not sure why.

Our festive seder table would be a gathering place for family and friends of various faiths and the Maxwell House Haggadahs would sit at each place setting. We would take turns reading portions from it as we would go around the table. My sister Jan and I would joke about it being “Speed Seder” since my father Moish would run through it quickly…as he did most things. A far cry from the more traditional version that can take hours to complete. In retrospect, I appreciate my father’s brevity. Laughter and lively conversation danced about the dining room table after the more formal part of the dinner was complete.

What I love most about Passover is the symbolic nature of the rituals. The seder plate is a canvas for the artistry of the holiday. It contains

Vegetable (Karpas) – This part of the seder plate dates back to a first and second century tradition in Jerusalem that involved beginning a formal meal by dipping vegetables in salt water before eating them. Hence, at the beginning of the seder a vegetable – usually lettuce, cucumber, radish or parsley – is dipped in salt water and eaten. It is sometimes said that the salt water represents the tears our ancestors shed during their years of enslavement.

Shank bone (Zeroa) / Roasted Beet – The roasted shank bone of a lamb reminds us of the tenth plague in Egypt, when all firstborn Egyptians were killed. The Israelites marked the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a lamb as a signal that death should pass over them, as it is written in Exodus 12:12: “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn – both men and animals – and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt… The blood will be a sign… on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.” The shank bone is sometimes called the Paschal lamb, with “paschal” meaning “He [God] skipped over” the houses of Israel.

The shank bone also reminds us of the sacrificial lamb that was killed and eaten during the days when the Temple stood. In modern times, some Jews will use a poultry neck instead. Vegetarians will often replace the shank bone with a roasted beet, which has the color of blood and is shaped like a bone, but is not derived from an animal.

Hard Boiled Egg (Baytzah) – There are two interpretations of the symbolism of the hard boiled egg. One is that it is an ancient fertility symbol. The other is that it is a symbol of mourning for the loss of the two Temples, the first of which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. and the second of which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. Hard boiled eggs were traditionally the food of mourners and hence they were an appropriate symbol for the loss of these sacred sites.

Charoset – Haroset is a mixture that is often made of apples, nuts, wine and spices in the Ashkenazi tradition. It represents the mortar the Israelites were forced to use while they built structures for their Egyptian taskmasters.

Bitter Herbs (Maror) – Because the Israelites were slaves in Egypt we eat bitter herbs to remind us of the harshness of servitude. Horseradish – either the root or a prepared paste – is most often used. A small amount of maror is usually eaten with an equal portion of charoset. It can also be made into a “Hillel Sandwich,” where maror and charoset are sandwiched between two pieces of matzah.

Bitter Vegetable (Hazeret) – This piece of the seder plate also symbolizes the bitterness of slavery. Romaine lettuce is usually used, which doesn’t seem very bitter but the plant has bitter tasting roots. When hazeret is not represented on the seder plate some Jews will put a small bowl of salt water in its place.

Orange  – Also optional. The orange is a recent addition to the seder plate and not one that is used in every Jewish home. It was introduced by Susannah Heschel, a Jewish feminist and scholar, as a symbol that represents including women and homosexuals in Jewish tradition – both groups that have often been marginalized. You can learn more about the development of this symbol in this article on the University of Pennsylvania’s website.

Source:  judaism.about.com/od/holidays/a/sederplatesymbols.htm

My favorite job in the meal preparation was the charoset, for which I would chop the apples and nuts and swirl in the sweet honey. As a budding feminist, I brought the orange concept to our seders and my parents welcomed the addition.

One of the concepts of the seder is acknowledging the Ten Plagues that were cast upon the Egytptians when Pharoah wouldn’t heed Moses’ proclamation “Let My People Go”.  They include: blood, frogs, lice, boils, hail and darkness and the ultimate plague of the slaying of the first born of the Egyptian families. There are those who say that there are ‘natural occurences’ which coincide with each one.

These days I have been questioning the constraints that I have put on myself which I could easily think of as plagues. I willingly face them as I call them out (both verbally and in the dark alley where they have been lurking), so they can see the light of day and I can find my own freedom.

1. Fear of emotional risks

2. Self limiting thoughts

3. Focus on ‘what if?’ and ‘if only?’

4. Judgement/harsh criticism of myself and others

5. Avoidance/denial

6. Neglecting my health

7. Clutter in my environment and my head

8. Comparison of myself and my accomplishments with those of others

9. Co-dependent caregiving/savior behavior and enabling

10. Excessive activity/buzzy-busy-ness

Wishing you all freedom!  Chag Sameach  (Joyous Festival)

http://youtu.be/awl1KCo_oZ0 The Passover Symbols Song

The Milkman’s Daughter

Tonight, as the Yahrzeit candle flickers, honoring the 4th anniversary of the passing of my father Moish Weinstein, I have perused piles of pictures that represent several generations of my family. Parents,  grandparents,  my sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews all interwoven in each other’s lives. Some remain in body, some long since passed. Tears and smiles as I feel both fragile and strong, resilient and tumbling into renewed grief. A repository of memory, I’m the family matriarch of my immediate clan since my mother Selma died in 2010. At 53, I am grateful to have had my parents for as long as I did (84 and 86, respectively) since both of my grandfathers died before I was born and my parents became ‘adult orphans’  by the time they were in their mid-40’s.

I have written about my parents several times in the Bliss Blog since they have been such influences in my life that extends to every aspect. I was raised by people who lived their spiritual practice, not only by attending synagogue, but taking an active role there. My mother was in the Sisterhood and my father led the Tallis and T’fillin Club on Sunday mornings at our shul and was a man ahead of his time, since he welcomed girls (having two daughters that he raised as whole, well rounded individuals, not limited by our gender) to come to the breakfast of bagels, lox and cream cheese. He stood up to the sexist rabbi who when I came home from college for a Friday Night service, would not include women in the minyan…not that it changed the man’s mind, but I was grateful that my father was willing to tell him that his daughters should count.  The guys I grew up with still remember that my dad taught them to box. He had been a Golden Gloves boxer in the navy and loved introducing kids to the pugilistic art. When my sister and I were young and would battle it out verbally, he would put gloves, head gear and mouth guards on us and tell us to go at it. We swatted at each other and I say that it is a good thing I am a pacifist, since I could have developed a mean right hook.  When we would fall throughout our lives, whether it was from a bicycle, roller skates, a sled or from emotional heights, after making sure we were ok, he would encourage us to get right ‘back in the saddle’. He was a blend of tough cookie and marshmallow, growing up in South Philly (think the neighborhood where the character Rocky Balboa lived) and getting culture from marrying my mother who insisted this meat and potatoes kid eat vegetables as a condition of their marriage.

My father worked throughout his life as both a milkman and bus driver. My sister is a red head and the joke was that she was the milkman’s daughter; because, of course, she is. When he and my mother got engaged, he proposed to her by asking her to go the fridge and pour him a glass of milk. On top of the bottle was the engagement ring. I think he had run the idea past my grandmother to get her blessing. The interesting irony was that my grandfather had also been a milkman, but my father had never met him, since he died when my mom was 18.

When my parents were married 25 years, Jan and I threw them a surprise party (see picture above). I’m the one with the long hair on the left, next to my cousin Renee, her daughter Jennifer, my dad, my cousin Jody and my sister Jan. The day was filled with laughter and love, the ripples of which expand forward another few decades, washing ashore to this moment. Being with his daughters and nieces was among his favorite joys and he cherished his relationships with my cousins who dubbed him “Uncle Milky”. Even after he changed careers to become a SEPTA busdriver, the name stuck, since “Uncle Bussy” just didn’t have the same ring to it.

I was reminding Jody today that she and I had arrived in time to their South Florida home to be with him when he made his transition, holding his hand, reading to him from his favorite prayer book.

Trembling strength to sustain me, this tough South Philly street corner kid remains a fixture in my daily life, accompanying me in the car, singing along with his enthusiastic if not in tune voice. He is most especially present at the gym; his home away from home even nearly 20 years post official retirement as he worked and then worked out there even after the Parkinsons took over where he now cajoles me “Come on, doll baby, one more rep.” And so, borrowing his endurance, I oblige.

 

http://youtu.be/8A4W_iO2pB0  Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet by Ella Mae Morse

Light As A Feather

 

On Friday night, I joined a group of 50-something women that refer to ourselves Yoga Chicks, at the sweet little haven of a studio called Anahata Yoga in Harleysville, PA. The sanskrit word anahata is the name for the heart chakra; that place within us that resonates with love and compassion. We gathered for an evening (and some stayed over) of laughter and play, silliness and snacks…hummus and veggies, decadent brownies and organic greens, tea and multi-grain crackers, dark chocolate truffles and olives…what a combination, just like us…sweet and salty.  Married, widowed, divorced, some moms, all with mothering instincts, with accumulated wisdom and life experience that we willingly share with the world. Creative types all, exhibiting audaciousness that has had us thrive in the face of some pretty major challenges.  We value our connections with women and for months had been planning a time removed temporarily from daily responsibility and remembering what it was like to be giggly teenagers. The daughter of one of the women asked if we were going to stay up, ‘talking about boys’. She answered that we probably would and we did. The subject matter,  as we sprawled on the hardwood floor scattered with colorful bolsters and yoga mats and blankets, ranged from relationships and sex, to children and careers, body image and self esteem, yoga, passions and pursuits, what we would do if we won the mega millions lottery, doing angel card readings with a Doreen Virtue deck, and a game that most of us had played at slumber parties in our youth. Nope, not ‘truth or dare’, since it would have been way too easy with this group in which there is likely not to be TMI (too much information). We played Light As A Feather, in which someone lays down in the middle of the group with the others around her, with two fingers each underneath the person at different points. Attempting to lift her, very little movement takes place. One by one, each woman said that words “She looks light as a feather.” and then “She feels light as a feather.”, followed by “She is light as a feather.”  and finally “Let us lift her.” Each time, with the barest of a touch, the woman in the middle was raised up to 6 inches or so off the mat. That was so, regardless of body size.

It felt heavenly, to be levitated through the merging into group consciousness and a sense of lightness that permeated my body. To what do I attribute this phenom?  Our thoughts are so powerful and we can be open to suggestion. It is much like an experience I had when at 30 years of age, I did a firewalk. Logic would dictate that walking across hot coals, would leave scorches on the soles of my feet. Not so, as I walked twice with nary an ouch.

How many times a day do I forget how tapped in I am to experiences and people around me? Only a gazillion times, do I immerse myself in emotional distress; but fortunately only shortly until I shift gears and lift my thoughts and feelings to higher place. What areas of your life call out for lightening up?

Wishing you light as a feather life experiences as you celebrate your relationships with your cherished friends.

http://youtu.be/h4tNFPXjNB0 Women Honoring Song by Deva Troy

 

Godspell

When Godspell debuted in  the 1970’s, the theme was ancient, but the production was of its time….with a colorful cast of hippie-esque singers and dancers in celebration around Jesus. Quite ‘Woodstock era’  in costume and make-up with the central character opening hearts through parable and by example of love and light with (if memory serves) a heart embellishing his face. Based on the Gospel According to Matthew, the play which was made into a movie in 1973, winds its way through the last days of Jesus. The songs were written by the amazing then 23 year old Stephen Schwartz who would later go on to pen music for Wicked.  Clearly he was ‘defying gravity’ with both musicals.

This past weekend, I travelled to New York to see the latest Broadway version at the Circle in the Square theater with my friend Barb. The last time I saw a performance in the round was at the long gone Valley Forge Music Theater, so this was a treat. The stage was bare, except for a ladder and an open panel from which water was gently bubbling. Anticipation mounted. I had, with delight, watched the movie version of the play whose name is connected with the word ‘gospel’ which translates to ‘good word’. To frame this experience for you….I was raised in a Jewish home, attending Hebrew School until age 16 and the Jesus who is portrayed here was not part of my paradigm. I was curious and my parents encouraged my exploration, allowing me to go to church with friends, but was reminded that our family’s beliefs and practice were different. As I watched the movie and also productions of Jesus Christ Superstar,  throughout my life, I was (and still am) puzzled by the concept of blaming humans for the crucifiction of Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemene, he is in dialogue with God and agrees, if reluctantly, to die. In Godspell, Jesus speaks of the prophecy of the ending of his corporeal existence. The historical Jesus was a practicing Jew and called Rabbi by his disciples, so again, it is at odds with anti-semitism in the name of One who came to teach peace and love. When I began studying A Course in Miracles in the 1980’s, I had persistant headaches, because it felt like it flew in the face of my upbringing. It wasn’t until I recognized the compatability of the loving words of Jesus that encouraged open hearted acceptance, trust in the God of my understanding; the perception of which has undergone major metamorphosis over the years, that the headaches dissipated. When I became an interfaith minister in 1999; ordained through The New Seminary in New York, I embraced the teachings without the ‘hellfire and brimstone’ attitude that sadly accompanies some beliefs held by people who claim to be followers of the teachings. Nothing I have read and nothing I witnessed in Godspell, reflect hatred of any kind. Even when Jesus is speaking about the need for some behavioral change, he is not spewing venom on anyone. The word ‘sin’ is derived from the Hebrew word ‘het’ which means to miss the mark, like in archery.

Returning to the play…. it is updated for modern times, with cultural references that would have had us scratching our heads and saying “Huh?” 40 years ago. In the opening scene, the characters bustle about on stage, carrying iphones; talking and texting,  with labels on their clothing or backpacks or briefcases with names of philosophers with various opinions on Life, The Universe and Everything.  I smiled with recognition at the additions of L. Ron Hubbard and Marianne Williamson. Later on, political references are made that reflect the current presidential campaign.  In two of the dance pieces, the Macarena and Chicken Dance were added to the choreography, What fun!

When one  of Jesus’ followers offers him wardrobe options, he turns down the stereotypical white robe, a vivid purple one, and a  Superman shirt (an homage to the original costume in the 1970’s version). His choice is an unbottoned light blue baseball shirt with the #1 on the back and the word ‘co-pilots’ on the front. Now THAT is a Jesus with whom I can resonate! He offers his disciples a red carnation that they pin on to their own costumes which include a lime green bowling shirt, a purple short cropped military style jacket,  a silvery tutu that floated above a pair of glittery high tops, an orange and white numbered jersey  and pair of short pantaloons and bandana over pig tails,  a t-shirt under suspenders that reads ‘We’re here’, a leopard print set of tights and sleeveless vest that exposed a set of biceps that I endeavor to have, and one costume that I totally lusted over, which was a rainbow colored corset and filmy skirt over kickin’ cowgirl boots. It seems that the flower represented the love that Jesus was scattering and would be a recognizable symbol of their connection to him. At the end of the play, they give them to each other and to him, perhaps as a ritual of affirmation of their shared sense of community as family of choice. I was moved by the way Jesus held space for his disciples to truly shine, reflecting the quote “Greater things than these you shall do.”

The youthful cast which includes recognizable actors such as Hunter Parrish as Jesus (from Weeds), Telly Leung (from GLEE),  Anna Maria Perez De Tagle (from Hannah Montana), Wallace Smith  (from The Lion King) who played the dual roles of John The Baptist and Judas,  as well as Uzo Aduba who, I had never seen before,  and reminded me in voice and appearance of one of my favorite musicians…Tracy Chapman, join together with a score of other talent who seem tireless as they dance, sing, splash water, bounce and leap on mini trampolines embedded in the stage, scatter confetti,  and  run up and down the aisles encouraging audience participation.  The musicians who were seated about the theater, add their voices to the production pieces as well. I found myself wishing for an opportunity to get up on stage and dance with them. Barb and I were sitting in the ‘catbird seats’ since we got last minute tickets an hour or so before the show, so there was no way to do that even if we could…..until…as they were announcing intermission, a voice invited us all to come up on stage to join the cast, so my intention came to be. I was able to stand next to Lyndsey Mendez,  the actress wearing the desired costume and the ooohhhh and ahhh factor was even better up close. The musicians continued to play and  I joyously ‘sweat my prayers’ in the midst of others who were engaged in similar worship. An unihhibited towheaded little boy was moving to his own beat and doing a wonderful job of it right next to me.

Throughout the rest of the play, I found myself moving through laughter, tears,  and heart swelling contemplation of my spiritual practice and the ways in which I could embody the messages in this ‘good word’ that expressed with holy humor that indeed we are each The Light of The World.

www.godspell.com

http://youtu.be/NL4aFn1DxGE Montage from the musical Godspell

 

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