Yesterday, in preparing for a long car ride along the Taconic State Parkway, I found myself explaining the origins of the Jewish wedding ceremony to two 8 year old girls who were planning their own mock-wedding for Saturday night. There was the matter of the veil, which concerned them the most: where does it come from? What does it mean? And who gets to make the decision that women should be veiled at all? Suddenly I was cast in the unenviable position of explaining what one of the eight years said was "obviously sexist."
I soldiered on, explaining how religious traditions evolve with time and even though certain customs remain, their meanings change. That bought me some credibility, for which I was exceedingly grateful. The discourse on veils created an opening to talk about Jacob and Rachel and Leah (and Bilhah and Zilpah) and the copious amounts of children they all produced. Their concern rose again as they considered why it was that men could have multiple wives but women could not have multiple husbands (or, for that matter, wives, since these two kids were planning their own marriage.)
This spontaneous lesson in Biblical history wove through the time we were parked in front of a fire hydrant near Trader Joe's, watching two young Arab men work a jigsaw through a piece of plywood (without eye protection, I'll add.) They were building some contraption for their store off Court Street, speaking excitedly to one another in Arabic about their endeavor, the eleven year old in the car was putting her recently hennaed hands into a context of veils and Middle Eastern traditions, and that's when I suddenly realized that our Passover week was in full-swing.
Clawing our way through traffic on the West Side Highway on the way to the Hudson River Parkway (stupid move, I know--I just didn't have the patience to wait in line on the Brooklyn Bridge for access to the FDR--it's a classic dilemma for me which I often fail at) I was then asked to explain Easter, Easter Eggs, and the Easter Bunny.
I conjured an image of Jerusalem none of the kids has--that is to say, a place of ancient sacrifice, a conquering empire, the blood and gore of the past. Their earthly Jerusalem has a pool where you order chips and lemonade with mint; buy stuffed grape leaves from a merchant who flirts with their mother; and where you see free Shakespeare performances in the Botanic Gardens at Hebrew University. The look of horror on one of the eight year old's faces at the thought of religious strife, crosses on backs, executions and claims of messianism was too much to bear. "I think the slavery in Egypt was enough suffering," one pronounced.
Schubert's Ave Maria was on WQXR.
By the time I got to the Easter Bunny, I had lost them to Glee's "Rocky Horror" episode on the iPod, their voices wailing along to their own messiahs: Rachel, Santana, Mercedes, Quinn, Brittany, and Tina.
"It's like Santa Claus, only furrier and, well, a rabbit," I offered.
But by then they were singing the words to "Science Fiction."