Saturday, February 1, 2014

This year, do us a favor and stay home

I received an email this evening which has me mad. It touches on a topic which has inspired my ire in the past (and actually prompted an anonymous contribution to a local paper) but now I wish to step out of the shadows and proclaim to the 3 Armenians who regularly read this blog exactly how incensed I am.

The email was from a “Kosher Kouponz” site which provides deals of interest to the Jewish community. This one was entitled “WITH THESE PRICES YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED TO STAY HOME FOR PESACH!” and it was offering a travel plan for the Passover holiday. I don’t know where and I don’t know what is included, but the price for the 9 or so days was about $3100 per couple. Let than sink in.

Three thousand, one hundred dollars per couple for 9 days. Do the division – over three hundred dollars a day.

Now, I know what you are going to say (in Armenian, no doubt) -- $300 covers a hotel room, endless food, religious services, speakers and classes plus, probably, all sorts of other things like child care and nightlife; not a bad deal.

I don’t care.

I’ll tell you why. Passover is a big deal. We clean the house pretty thoroughly, buy all sorts of special food and really, try to raise our level of awareness and spirituality for the holiday which commemorates our Exodus from slavery and our national move into the care of God, becoming His people. It is a pretty big deal. And maybe it is more convenient not to have to cook and clean as much. And maybe, it is nice to get away and have horse back riding in between brunch and lunch. And maybe the idea of having to wash our own lettuce and fluff our own pillows is just too daunting for the current Jewish people. And if so, that’s just sad. And disgusting. We may be a free people serving God but we don’t have to serve caviar. We may be a holy people consuming ritual foods, but since when must there also be conspicuous consumption? And how can we, as a people, ever choose to spend three grand PER couple (kids extra) when there are those in our communities and our world – Jewish and not – who can’t afford to eat a simple meal? How can we say the text of the Seder in which we invite the poor person to eat with us when we are insulated by a squadron of waiters and bellhops? Where is the sincere wish to join our brethren in God’s service when we are more interested in being served?

Currently, there is what we call a “tuition crisis” in the religious Jewish world. The cost for private education is daunting with yeshiva costs running over 20 thousand dollars a year. Just to make ends meet is becoming more and more difficult. So, yes, I appreciate that there are those who have made it big – who live in grand houses with nice cars and who can afford to go to the spiritual homelands of the Bahamas or Arizona (or in the case of this ad, scenic Trenton), which is exactly what Moses and the Sages of the Great Assembly had in mind, but for this email to assume that the price point which makes it reasonable for everyone else is 3k? That’s a slap in the face of the religious Jew who struggles and has to explain to his kids why everyone else bugs out in the spring and yet still says that there is a tuition crisis while they have to stay at home.

Are our priorities so out of whack that we can’t tolerate being in our own homes? Do we really think that the, I guess five thousand dollars that a family of 5 (pretty standard in this neck of the woods) has to lay out to go away for a week and a half is really best spent on such a trip? Could that family choose to stay home, buy even $1000 worth of food, spend $500 on a house cleaning service and attend their own synagogue and religious classes and donate the balance to a charity? Are we really that superficial and foolhardy? Even if I did have the money to go away for Passover (and trust me, I wish I did and I wish I could go be pampered for 10 days) I wouldn't do it because it would send the message to my kids that money is best spent not on education, or bettering the lives of those around us, but on room service and massages.

Religion may be communal, but there is nothing wrong with the local and established community. We don’t have to fly elsewhere just to find God. And we can’t fly elsewhere to try and escape Him.

So please – if you read this and are considering going away for Passover (to ANYWHERE that isn't the private house of a family or friend) reconsider. Passover does not have to break the bank. It does not have to force anyone to mortgage our collective future to keep up with the Cohensteins. It should be about how we express what is truly important, and that doesn't require turn-down service and day spas.

Make a matzah sandwich for yourself, read a book in your own living room and give some money so starving babies can live.

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