Monday, March 29, 2021

Passover 2021: No Longer a Slave, But Still in Bondage


Passover is the Jewish holiday celebrating the Israelites' escape from slavery in Egypt. I too escaped from slavery: In 1988, I left the home in which I'd been sex trafficked since I was an infant. But I will never be entirely free: My rapists were so brutal, and injured me so often, I am now disabled by constant, chronic pain.

Make no mistake: Sex trafficking is slavery.

So Passover is special to me. I plan some day to make a Haggadah for sex trafficking survivors. (A Haggadah is a book to guide people through the steps of Passover.) Many survivor friends have expressed enthusiasm for the idea. But this was not the year for working on that!

In a way, this year, we're all in a kind of bondage: the bondage of Covid lockdown, when the very breath of our neighours might be poison. This year, we are all waiting for liberation. So I thought I'd do a short little post about how we celebrated freedom in these last, dying days of Covid, when we weren't really free at all. 

I wasn't planning to do a post, so we just used my phone to take photos. Please do excuse the blurriness, the strange light, the colour that's a bit off. Life's kind of like that right now, isn't it? Everything is just... off.

Passover 2020

First of all, I can happily say that we did a better job with Passover 2021 than we did with Passover 2020. Last year, we had all just gone into Covid lockdown. Nobody knew what they were doing. We couldn't even get our hands on most of the foods we needed. Everything was sold out online, and it was not safe to go shopping. Things were still chaos. Fear was everywhere.

So, we did what little we felt able to do, emotionally and pragmatically, but it wasn't much.

Passover 2021

We did a much better job this year.

We started preparing over a month in advance, knowing it might be hard to find what we needed. We got ourselves a beautiful Passover Seder plate. We got all the foods we needed. We were ready. Well, we were ready-ish.

Before I get into that, a note on the two extra dishes on the plate. I found myself quite triggered as we came up to Passover. I hadn't expected that. I found myself painfully recalling having been forced to participate in horrific "rituals" in the near cult-like community of people who enslaved me when I was a child. This included being forced to ingest unspeakable things. 

Even those who are sex trafficked in less cult-like settings are forced to take things into their bodies against their will: drugs, needles, tongues, fingers, hands, objects, knives, guns, flesh, semen, shit, piss, penises. This is reality, never forgotten.

So I put that empty dish on the Seder plate, to symbolize the fact that, in freedom, we never again have to take anything into our bodies against our will. Not ever. 

And then I added a little dish of chocolate to symbolize two things. First, it symbolizes the sweetness of freedom. Second, it symbolizes the fact that, as free people, we can eat whatever we want, whenever we want. Passover may ask us to eat certain things in a certain order. But it's not mandatory. Because we are free.

Beau and I both got misty with all this additional symbolism in a meal that is already full of symbolism about slavery, liberation, and freedom.

Dress: Old Navy; Diamond necklace: Effy; All other jewelry: vintage

So, this year we were ready for Passover. Ready-ish. Just ish.

What had somehow slipped our minds was that one of us was going to have to lead it!

Leading a Passover Seder can be intimidating for anyone, I think, but remember: neither Beau nor I was raised in the Jewish traditions. My father is Jewish, and I'm ethnically slightly more than half Jewish. I've been "doing Jewish" almost my entire adult life, so, of course I've been to Passover Seders, but I didn't grow up with them. 

Meanwhile, Beau was raised in a Christian, British Israelite cult, in which racist, anti-Semitic, cult members believed that they, being of Anglo-Saxon descent, were the "real" Jews. (This group is not to be confused with Messianic Jews, also known as "Jews for Jesus," whose members are born Jewish.) They practiced weird, mixed up, watered down Jewish traditions, without any consultation with actual Jews, let alone rabbis, or Jewish scholars. So Beau's having grown up knowing this or that Jewish tradition and custom is a hit or miss thing.

This past spring, Beau converted to Judaism, the real thing this time. Being a patrilineal Jew, and therefore not recognized as Jewish in some traditions, I converted with him. But leading a Seder? That's a big deal.

Now, Beau is more of a "learn as you go" sort of a guy, so our lack of preparation worried him far less than it worried me. But, on the afternoon before the first Seder, I found myself in tears because we didn't really have a solid plan. Which Haggadah would we use? Would we skip anything? Did we remember the meanings of all the steps, all the foods, all the prayers? If we didn't, how would we even know what we wanted to do, and what we might want to skip?

So we decided to have a Seder on the second night, instead of the first.

I set about reading a Haggadah, making some choices, changing a few things, adding some commentary.

I guess, in a way, it was the first step toward my someday writing a Haggadah for sex trafficking survivors.

we were ready. Was this the best Haggadah for the job? Who knows? Would we do well? Probably not. But would we do it? Yes. That was the main thing.

I think it went well, all things considered.

Like everyone else, we haven't had much chance to dress well in over a year. There have been virtually no outings at all, let alone special occasions. So we decided to at least wear real clothing, and to dress up the table too.

Beau got me this table cloth for my 50th birthday, but, really, he got it for himself, because he likes the idea of having the table look special for Shabbat and other holidays. Me, I always worry we'll spill things on it. He keeps assuring me it will be okay if we do.

We used these beautiful, coast Salish style, hummingbird, wine glasses that were a wedding present from a Musqueam friend of mine. (The Coast Salish are a large group of ethnically and linguistically related Indigenous nations here where I live. Musqueam is one of those nations.)

Being at home, I felt okay not wearing a bra. Has any woman worn a bra this past year? But oi vey, this was too much cleavage! 

So, first I hid it in photos...

... and then covered it ...

.. using this gorgeous, antique, lingerie clip, from about 1910. I wasn't using it quite the original way, but I was close. That was fun.

I miss wearing jewelry. Quite frankly, I miss wearing anything that isn't a onesie!

I added my beautiful, diamond necklace, simply because it's beautiful. But I wore the rose necklace ... 

.. and earrings, because they match a bracelet my great-grandmother gave me when I was about four. I'm very sentimental about that bracelet. I even made a little video about it, which you can watch here.

(Interestingly, though this great-grandmother was on my non-Jewish side, there was always a family rumour that she was Jewish. Doing my genealogy, I've come to believe that this rumour probably came from the fact that her grandfather was a Hungarian Jew who escaped anti-Semitic persecution by moving to Germany and "passing" as Christian.)

After nearly a year living under Covid restrictions, my ear piercings were actually closing over. I managed to get some studs into them but learned that what I'd been told as a child really was true: If I wear something other than gold or silver in my ears, they will infect. My skin is sensitive that way. I can wear anything in my ears for short spells, but not 24/7. So, long story short, I found some tiny, vintage, gold studs ...
... including this cute little bird, and I'm wearing them here. Anyone who knows me knows that I love birds.

Speaking of which, Beau wore little, pink pelicans for Passover. As one does.

And, no, you're not imagining things. Beau really is wearing his hair in a pony tail now. Neither of us has had a haircut since February, 2020, just before the whole world shut down. For quite a while, we were both having fun with our longer hair, saying, "Hey, this looks good. I think I'll keep it long when Covid is over." 

No amount of clever styling makes up for the lack of a good haircut. This was the result of a not so brilliant styling brainstorm: braiding my hair when it was wet.

But we've both passed that point now, which is why both wore it tied back for Passover. If nothing else, I need to get my split ends seen to, and we both need our locks shaped. I do still hope to keep mine long again, as I did when I was younger, but not at the expense of feeling good about the way I look, so I may end up going for a long-ish bob. We'll see. Beau wants to keep his hair longer than he used to, but not this long!

When Covid first started, could any of us have predicted the odd, little ways it would affect us? The big stuff, yes, maybe. But these little things? I don't know.

But back to Passover. It quickly became clear that, really, this was a very special occasion for the cats! Chuti watched everything with rapt attention.

She found it all SO interesting!

She pretty much stole the show, to tell you the truth.

Her brother, Ketsl, wanted in on the action too. 

But mostly just for the cuddles.

On Passover, four types of children ask questions. Ketsl reminded me of the simple child, who just needs to know the basics. Here, his simple question is, "Will you pet me?"

Once he knew that the answer was yes, everything was fine by him, and he had no more questions. 

Chuti, on the other hand, was the wise child, who wants to know everything

Why do we do this? What is the meaning of that? What's the symbolism of that other thing? What are we going to do next?

But, you know, just like a child, she did eventually fall asleep on my walker.

And that's about all I have to say about Passover 2021. Looking forward, none of us knows just what's next.

Like this photo, the future remains unclear. But it's got to be better than it is now, hasn't it? I mean, I'm pretty sure Passover 2022 will be spent in the company of others again. At least that.

Passover ends with the joyful words, "Next year, in Jerusalem!" For me, this is a metaphor. In Hebrew, Jerusalem means "city of peace." I think I now know that "peace" doesn't mean just the absence of violence, discord, and persecution, though, God knows, as a freed slave, I am happy to be rid of those things in my life. But peace also means the absence of fear, the absence of illness, the absence of even the fear of illness.

So, yeah, okay, yes please. Next year, in Jerusalem!

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