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Pesach in Paris

Passover is both my most and least favorite Jewish holiday. I love the symbolism and beautiful ritual of the seder, the ancient story of the Exodus with its modern message of working to free all those who are in bondage … Read More

By / April 12, 2009

Passover is both my most and least favorite Jewish holiday. I love the symbolism and beautiful ritual of the seder, the ancient story of the Exodus with its modern message of working to free all those who are in bondage throughout the world. However, once the seders are over, I spend the rest of the eight days moaning, whining, and generally being a bitch about my newly chametz-free diet. My typical non-Pesach days begin with a bagel, end with beer, and feature pasta in the middle. And, because apparently I’m as much a glutton for punishment as for carbohydrates, this year I’m spending Passover in Paris, the pastry and bread capital of the world. Before I left, my friend Lily assured me that if I ate croissants in Paris it wouldn’t be a black mark on my Jewish permanent record. "It’s like cheating on your boyfriend," she said. "If it’s in another country, it doesn’t count."

The pro is that I’m here hanging out with my friend Uri, who is not only Jewish but allergic to gluten. The cons, however, are numerous. My favorite pastry, pain au chocolat, is in the window of the dessert cafe across the block, and every time I find myself wanting one I just eat a delicious French macaroon instead. True to cliche, Parisian men and women walk up and down the street with baguettes in tow, sticking out of their grocery bags and designer purses. After some translation-related issues, my friend Erik managed to find matzoh at the local Monoprix grocery store – here, it’s called pain azymes ("unleavened bread"). Plus, there are plenty of falafel stands and kosher restaurants along the Rue des Rosiers, the best-known avenue through the largely Jewish Marais neighborhood, which are some of the only places in town that are open today, Easter Sunday.

There’s something about being away from home that seems to make Pesach easier. Perhaps it’s that traveling already puts you into an altered state, and things that would make you crazy or frustrated at home (the subway closing at midnight, for example) are just accepted as "how things are" in a different location. It’s as if, along with speaking French, not eating chametz is simply an action I do while traveling, another thing I’ve adopted temporarily during this week away from my home.

So far, this has been the easiest Passover of my life (keep in mind, though, that I’ve only been observing it for five or six years now). I’m considering always traveling during the holiday and pretending that eschewing carbohydrates is simply the native custom of whichever place I go to. It just can’t be Italy, though, or I’ll crack for sure.

And now, on a somewhat related side note, to celebrate Easter we ate matzoh brei prepared beautifully by Erik, the token goy from Teaneck, NJ, and watched this campily awesome movie from the ’70s called The Adventures of Rabbi Jacob. It’s in French, but if you can find an English version, you totally have to rent it. Basically, there’s this dude on the run from the cops who winds up stealing the identity of this famous rabbi from New York. This pivotal scene, in which the Jews of Paris ask their esteemed visiting rabbi to lead them in a dance, takes place (where else?) on the Rue des Rosiers. Many Jew-related hijinks then ensue. Enjoy:

 

 

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