Illustration by Lior Zaltzman
The other day at work, I got goysplained.
Let me back up. In 2008, Rebecca Solnit wrote her seminal essay, “Men Explain Things To Me.” In the essay, Solnit relates a story where she went to a party and mentioned that she had been writing about the famous photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Almost immediately, a man begins talking over her, pontificating that a very important book on the subject was published recently and she should really know about it. The book he is talking about, despite not having read, was the one written by Solnit. Another party guest had to point it out to the man several times before he would acknowledge Solnit’s book, and he didn’t apologize for lecturing her.
Although Solnit herself did not coin the term “mansplaining,” she is often given credit for identifying the phenomenon where men who are less knowledgeable on a topic insist on lecturing a woman who may know more than they do but who is ignored or taken less seriously because of her gender. And thanks to her essay and others like it, I finally have words to articulate the feeling of being condescended to by people who are less informed than I am. That’s why when a non-Jewish colleague at work spent ten minutes explaining Passover to me as if I, a Jew, had never heard of it before, a word immediately popped into my head: “goysplaining.”
St. Patrick’s Day was yesterday, but I feel like it’s been here for weeks. Perhaps because there’s a commercial void between Valentine’s Day and Easter, this Irish Catholic feast day has permeated America so thoroughly that you’d think it was a national holiday. The muffins and bagels at the supermarket have been dyed green since early March, and the seasonal aisle overflowed with green beads. My wall calendar, on which each month is printed in a different, seemingly random, color, March is a cheery green. Amazon.com decorated their homepage with a shamrock; click on it and you’re taken to a page full of Irish-themed products. There are shamrocks on the streets of my city, too — they’re stenciled there to mark the parade route, but the paint is permanent so they remain there all year — to no one’s objections. And everywhere, I keep noticing the catch-phrase, “Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day!”
What amazes me, as a member of another minority group familiar with historical marginalization, is how strange and wonderful it is that everyone wants to be Irish. The Irish and the Jews have both “made it” in America. A Jewish or Irish individual can now achieve virtually anything anyone else can. But what the painted shamrocks on the streets remind me is that personal equality does not always extend to the group. Imagine a holiday in which all Americans were repeatedly told that on that day, they were Jewish too. I don’t think very many would be thrilled about it.
If ever there was proof positive that a once-marginal feminist Jewish ritual is now mainstream, this is it: The latest Pottery Barn catalog touts a new seder plate — holding an orange.
The modern, leaf-themed Passover tabletop accouterment has seven compartments. In addition to spaces for the ritual re-telling’s traditional symbols, there’s a leaf meant to hold an orange, which is also featured in the catalog photo.
Including an orange on the seder plate dates back to the early 1980s, according to the innovation’s creator, Susannah Heschel, a Jewish studies professor at Dartmouth and the daughter of famed Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.
As she relates, adding an orange grew out of her experience visiting Oberlin College, where she encountered a student-written feminist hagaddah. That hagaddah suggested putting a crust of bread — prohibited, of course, during the chametz-free festival — to express solidarity with lesbians and gay men after a rebbetzin had said, “There’s as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate.” Heschel decided, the following year, to put an orange on her family’s seder plate.
For the first time in months, I am actually sitting down to work and I am able to actually think about work.
There are no Hanukkah candles to light, no Purim costumes or mishloach manot gift baskets to prepare, no campfires to plan for Lag B’Omer, no Passover cleaning. I don’t have to take the morning off to watch and videotape my kid are taking part in Yom HaShoah or Yom HaZikaron ceremonies, I don’t have to purchase the meat for grilling on Israel Independence Day, nor bake a cheesecake and assemble a fruit basket for Shavuot.
Any mother who moves to Israel seeking a more intense and involved form of Jewish life for themselves and their children has little idea of what she’s in for.