How I learned to deal with tradition
It took a while to realize it’s only the beginning of my story
I hate tradition, which means that several times a year when it really comes alive, I drive my friends and family crazy. It’s boring, it’s annoying and weird, and frankly, it’s kind of dangerous. It’s the cause of a lot of family drama all over the place, and way too much drinking. Passover is one of those days for me.
I am Jewish, which mattered so much to my zionistic Israeli parents who literally risked their lives repeatedly through acts of bravery to preserve and create something they wholeheartedly believed in. Each year, my parents desperately wanted us to have a traditional holiday experience with all the steps and the reading and the Hebrew songs, and every year it died a little more. I could see that it hurt my parents, my mother, and it upset me each year. Passover kept losing meaning, and each year we had less and less connection to it. But it was only ever allowed to be one thing, never evolving into something new. The tradition of passover never really occurred as the novelty of passover. For my parents, it had tremendous meaning and urgency, the story of our forefathers’ liberation from slavery, and the thread that connects all the people of our tribe for eternity. But for the rest of us, it was a family ritual.
Like everyone, my thoughts today are heavily influenced by those days. As a kid. I studied at a very religious school, but our home was basically secular. I couldn’t really make sense of it and at some point I just stopped listening. As well, I’m gay, and tradition has oppressed me. You know, like “traditional marriage”, which is truly just the tip of the crushing, oppressive iceberg. Gay people have almost no home in a traditional world, but thank god our gay forefathers fought for my liberation as well! We are so fortunate to be in this world and to be human, but right now in many places, so many people are being stifled, strangled and smothered in the name of tradition. It’s absolutely true.
Every week in his Savage Lovecast, Dan Savage stands up to tradition, and this past week was no different. His opening monologue was devoted to mourning the recent killing of sex workers in the name of traditional values, and he eloquently used this tragic moment to remind us that even if we can’t feel it some days, the world is changing for the better; we have to hold onto that and keep asking for more better. I am the beneficiary of that better change. I have certainly lived my best life because of progress , but tradition as well.
I said that I hate tradition, but that’s not exactly true. Tradition is awesome, but not as the boundary and the obligation it is often thought to be. At it’s best, it’s the opposite. Traditions are beautiful, elegant, spiritual entities when they have meaning to us, any meaning which we love. What has meaning for you may mean nothing to me but so what? Let tradition be the seed, the grain of sand that the pearl forms around slowly and mysteriously.
Progress and change, it takes work. Often the new thing sucks the first time, and even the second. It’s always easier to do what we did last year and what someone else tells us to do, but after a while it’s just no fun and it’s absolutely not in our nature, because we’re not just made to evolve, we’re designed to create our own evolution. Evolution for humans is not a passive process that’s just done to us. Every human has the power to create our own unique, psychedelic, trippy pearl that changes as it grows, and when we share those pearls and hold onto them together, it’s mind blowing. That’s the power of humanity and it’s amazing.
So, as I prepare for my large, outdoor, social distance passover seder, I’m not making any of my mother’s classic dishes, nor anything I made last year for that matter. Most of my guests aren’t even Jewish. But who cares; everyone enjoys a good liberation story, and anyway, we’re creating something new and beautiful together.