Sometimes it is hard to explain one’s interfaith background. Sometimes it causes confusion in a synagogue when you forget to take off your Celtic cross necklace, though to be fair, in my experience, more people understand the significance of tzitzit at a Pagan Pride festival than on the street in Providence.
Sometimes, however, it is just plain awesome. And this year is one such time.
This year, Purim, the drunken celebration often called ‘the Jewish Halloween,’ which commemorates yet another failed attempt to exterminate, convert, or otherwise make Jewishness not happen, comes just one day before St. Patrick’s Day, the most well-known and pervasively-celebrated Catholic saint’s day in Protestant-swarmed America. And being Jewish and of Irish extraction… well, pass the Manischewitz and the Guinness, bhoys, it’s shaping up to be a helluva weekend!
Now, I for one appreciate the fact that St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by Irish and non-Irish alike here in America. Kitchy, leprechuan-and-shamrock-spangled BS aside, for those who want to delve deeper the bottom of the nearest pint glass, it gives non-Irish Americans a chance to learn more about Irish culture, cuisine, folklore, and the experience of the Irish here in America, which was not very nice in the beginning. My modest proposal is to do the same thing with Purim – let everybody celebrate it at whatever level they can appreciate it. Those who just want to get drunk can get drunk. Those who want to get drunk while wearing silly costumes can do that, too. But for those who want a taste of Jewishness that they might not get during the rest of the year, they can hear the Purim story, in English, Hebrew, or any language they want. They can celebrate the miracle of survival and the retention of cultural and religious identity within the heartless empires of days past and today. And those who want to get drunk to feel closer to God can do that too.
There are some factions who want to shut the doors, and say that St. Patrick’s should be ‘just’ for the Irish (or just for ‘white’ people, apparently). On the Jewish side of things, I know of very few who would support Purim taking what we might call the Lucky Charms route to cultural acceptance, but that’s hardly what I have in mind. Most of my Jewish friends will drink with Gentiles any other day, and the best Purim parties I’ve been to have always been open affairs. I believe that opening the doors of holidays like this in a polyglot, multicultural world like ours is a vote of confidence in one’s own cultural identity, and for those who want to learn, it is a bridge to better understanding.
Spring is a time to celebrate survival. The trees are budding, and even those of us not at the mercy of the elements can feel a bit of relief that winter, for the time being, is fighting a losing battle. In the Celtic Pagan idiom, the Oak King is recovering his strength, and challenges the Holly King for supremacy. To paraphrase the Greek idiom, Persephone is hustling her bustle past Cerberus on the way out of Hades. Everyone on Earth today stands on the shoulders of our ancestors, the heroes and the scoundrels, the average and the extraordinary alike all passed on the fire of life to us. Our job is to be grateful to them, celebrate them, and realize their total humanness in its good and evil and mediocre forms. We also ought, I believe, share our cultures with others on as level a playing field as possible – no one culture on a pedestal, no culture left in a pit. History makes this difficult, and no matter what the whiners say, making room for “other” cultures is not a ‘punishment.’ It is an opportunity. There is no one on earth that you – yes, you- cannot learn something from in the right circumstances. Sometimes, those circumstances are academic, professional, or religious. And sometimes they are in a bar.
The world is far from perfect, but we all have a lot to celebrate this Spring. So, stay safe, have fun, and if you have a moment, see if you can’t imbibe some culture along with your beer, wine, or whatever. And even if you don’t go looking for him, if you encounter the Pooka, tell him J Bandaloop sends his regards.