Celebrating Passover so close to Easter you would think we Jews could have followed the Gentiles’ lead and put chocolate in little baskets to hide alongside the Afikomen. Or, if you prefer the macabre, we might paint our doorposts with Cadbury cream. Please spare us, oh avenging angel of American commerce!
But to get down to more pressing matters, I find it perhaps impossible to commemorate liberation from oppression in a country (the U.S.) which makes common cause with those who would be modern pharaohs: Egypt’s Fatah el-Sisi; Israel’s Netanyahu; Saudi Arabia’s Bin Salman. Once a feeble people, the modern ‘Hebrews’ of the Middle East are armed to the teeth. It seems an utter reversal of the Exodus story with the Palestinians as the new transients, held for their labor but deprived of basic rights so their overlords can grow rich and remain rulers. In Cairo, Washington, and Riyadh the royals all look on and smile. A far cry, dare I say, from the days of Moses, Ramses, manna in the Sinai, and Canaan.
And then there is the problem I have with toasting that wandering mendicant prophet Elijah with the words: Next year in Jerusalem!
Oh, Elijah, most pious. I wonder whether we can make common cause over what I am about to say:
Shall we spend next year with Jared and Ivanka at the new American Embassy or dining at Adelson’s table over Sabbath shellfish in the King David? Will we offer repeated toasts to our dear executor Bibi? Prophet, can guests wipe the blood from their mouths with all of his indictments? Perhaps the Palestinian servers, so servile when in our paid service, can answer this. Maybe they will help us wash our hands incarnadine, even aid in our search for our own organs as we seek relief in a stumble towards the lavatory. Will they be by our side as we recall their lives in a blear of champagne, schnapps, and tsuris?
I digress, of course. Elijah, according to Shin Bet and the CIA is probably a terrorist, a door-to-door recruiter for Meretz. Lieberman is watching him. So is the ADL. And he just might be some poor schmuck like me, a man utterly lost amidst the complacency that comes from watching mine ‘enemies’ drown annually in the Red Sea. I know how prophets and teachers still wander poor in the present. They still get the boot from Roman emperors, Babylonian fixers, and jet-setting defense contractors. They aim their horns at the Big Wall and wait for it to tumble like in old Jericho. And within their protest camps, they break bread with other folks who carry dirt under their nails. Casual laborers. Migrants. Students. Caravaners. Each suffers checkpoints and uniformed Pilates, reminding their tormenters -should their tormenters have memories- of that old phrase: The Wandering Jew. Count me, oh count me among them, Elijah. Please, do.
But since it is also Easter, I turn now to dear Jesus. Oh, Jesus. As you have so many powers I must request that next year on your resurrection you make no more embassies, please. Ignore no more Last Supper calumnies by white-as-snow pastors and priests who wait watchful for the Jews -you, me, and all those others- to get done our work of Arab and Muslim removal from the Holy Land. Perhaps you can tell them how our eventual conversion, the one they pray for with bated breath, won’t even come on the very last day of this Earth.
I would like to invite you, Elijah and Jesus, to help plan the next year’s seder. A feast not of freedom past but liberation present. A festive meal where we shall witness neither Jerusalem, Riyadh, Cairo, nor Washington having any trumps left to play. And also, maybe we will have helped persuade the culture to dispense with those ridiculous candy eggs. Save the rainforest! Protect the Orangutang!
For more than ten years I have been crossing the Niagara River on my way home to a mid-size Canadian city. My route takes me through that benighted burgh called Buffalo. Benighted because people who don’t live there say it is so. But what about Buffalo as seen from Buffalo?
Once there was a western New York metropolis, a humming acropolis of the Erie Canal before there was a railroad. Some of its facts include:
Anglers in karakul caps smoking as they unspool tackle on late winter ice. This year they dig their holes close to shore. Last year the season took them out more towards the middle. I ask whether they believe the world is getting warmer and so many of them say, Buffalo is too cold already.
Then there is the physical graffiti: Church, mosque, temple. Check cashing. Discount drug marts. Downtown art deco towers. A battleship at anchor and some windmills. The Sabres and a skyway. Duplexes and toll booths. Bills football in a burb called Orchard Park. A pair of sneakers hung on a phone line.
You can get about town to dine and you can try locally grown Muscat grapes but you should avoid Lake Erie perch as it is soaked with mercury. Some places serve watercress sliders and local craft IPAs. They are plenty of places to vape. While people do still take wings and Pabst it is whispered that gourmands -and Emos with chain wallets- own the future.
But as always there is the lake.
In winter it sits a blue peeper with a white eyelid as seen from space. In summer, well, it stinks. Erie dons unfashionable green sleeves. Clouds of flies used to rise from her lips. Pandora or Aphrodite, take your pick. But her stench doesn’t stop summer fishers, one of them a 70’s rock group veteran, from enjoying her stocks. That rocker, he walks on the shores of his Elysium. He collects striped muscles and builds a fire with whatever flotsam he finds. You can dine on these bastards. He holds a muscle up in the grey evening light. They're good real good with Chardonnay or a Saranac.
Personally, I can’t get over how many communities -what once were called ‘ethnics’- are sharing their delicacies at last. Sturgeon caviar and bone spoons. Pierogis. Lamb Shanks. Scalding tea from a samovar service. Anise. Sushi from flown-in fish. Some places serve bubble tea and Inca Cola. I caught someone speaking Swahili while cooking jerk chicken.
True, the city’s downtown spires retain about a 35% occupancy on average. Also true, most of the folks who turn off the Thruway are lured for perhaps an hour or two by low price food. It’s a start, local boosters say. Personally, I come for the smell of baking bread which still wafts over downtown from a factory that, were it a restaurant, would be lucky to receive a D grade. I also frequent a small theatre where I’ve seen Leon Redbone and Leo Kottke play their hearts out. Some patrons were drunk. It’s called The Tralf.
And there are some hard truths. Most Buffalo elders notch their winters with salt, Vicks, and canned trout. They grouse about snowbirds and higher taxes. You can get mugged with ease on Clinton and Sycamore Street. Some folks still wonder why there’s plenty of coloreds around. And then again who can forget Scott Norwood?
Jeremy Nathan Marks is the author of Flint River (Alien Buddha, 2023). He works in the adult literacy field and laments that it doesn’t snow in December in the lower Great Lakes anymore. Jeremy recommends the Center for Biological Diversity.