Purim, Pi, Patrick, Passover!

OK, I admit it: I love alliteration, and that title was just too good to pass up. We just celebrated Purim. Pi Day is today (yay! Pie in the oven right now!) St. Patrick‘s Day is soon, and all this takes place in the midst of Passover preparations (there’s another P!)

This does have a point.

I celebrate Purim and Passover specifically because I’m a Jew. I understand myself to be obligated to celebrate them. They are required for me, optional for any Gentiles who wish to celebrate, although they are certainly welcome at my table.

I celebrate Pi Day with other members of my Jewish community. We celebrate it because (1) we love pie,  (2) we love puns and similar geekery and (3) some of us love math. I would never have met any of those friends were it not for the fact that we happen to go to the same synagogue. We weren’t friends before synagogue; we are dear friends now. Pi Day is neutral religiously, but it offers the added Jewish benefit of using up flour before Passover.

Which brings me to the other P: Patrick. St. Patrick’s Day is a bit more complicated. Start with the “Saint” bit. First, Jews do not celebrate saints’ days. Not our tradition. There are people in our past whom we revere, but we tend to call them tzaddik (righteous person) or chasid (pious person) or we use their names with a certain hush. Second, Christian saints in past centuries were often hostile to the Jews, to put it mildly: see the writings of Ambrose or John Chrysostom. Third, certain Christian holidays became days with excuses for being nasty to Jews: that’s where Patrick gets into the mix.

I am a Jew of Irish-American descent. That ancestry is an important slice of my identity, as important in its own way as “Californian” or “expatriate Southerner” or “queer.”  It’s so important that had one of my sons been a daughter, she’d have been named Bridget. My grandmother’s stories, handed down from her grandmother, about the Famine and our arrival in America were key narratives in my childhood. Traditionally, St. Patrick’s Day is the day to celebrate that heritage.

Unfortunately, when I wear my bit of green on March 17, I am sure to hear a story or three from Jewish friends and colleagues about their childhood experiences of St. Patrick’s Day. Their memories are of hostility from Irish-Americans that day: pinching (“Where’s your green?”) and excuses for the ongoing antisemitism of the schoolyard: people throwing pennies at the Jew, etc. I don’t recall ever witnessing such as a kid, but since I was part of the majority (at school, not in the culture) I may well have overlooked it.

I still wear green on March 17. I embrace the contradictions, because face it, I embody them. I eschew the leprechauns and green beer because they only play into the worst stereotypes: there is more to Irishness than superstition and alcohol. I don’t celebrate the conversion of Ireland, but I celebrate Irish culture, Irish art, and Irish literature. I celebrate Irish-American grit, and stubbornness, and enterprise. I celebrate my grandmother and her stories and her love.

And yes, as a Jew, it’s complicated, that particular P.

Pi, anyone?

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

8 thoughts on “Purim, Pi, Patrick, Passover!”

  1. I love your post! We Jews have entered a new phase in our history – integration and acceptance – no more “us” and “them”! Bravo!!

    1. We seem to be in a period of unprecedented acceptance here in the USA right now, may that welcome long continue. Elsewhere in the world, experiences vary. I am painfully aware of the situation of Jews in some parts of Europe right now.

      1. Indeed, Rabbi Ruth….Europe is in a state of flux(that’s the expression which came to mind, so I’ll go with it….I think it fits….) ….and the UK, well, I never know whether ‘we’ are part of Europe, or not – but that’s a whole other question with its own set of issues. Acceptance, hmmm, not really, I don’t think. Me, Im a Scot. I’m only first generation Scot( my family are from ‘a the airts’, an expression I like, which means ….everywhere, basically 🙂 Like you I have Irish heritage – my maternal grandfather was from Dublin. St. Patricks Day isn’t so much of a celebration here. My Mum’s middle name was Patricia, as she was born the day before St Patricks day, her father being Irish(she was born in Malta….it’s a complex lineage I have, indeed…) anyway, today, Sunday, here, Is Mothering Sunday, the Christian holiday ….ie Mothers Day. I don’t know what the actual Christian reasoning is, just that that is why it’s today. And tomorrow, the 16th, is both my parents’ birthdays…he would have been 89(he beamed up to heaven aged 70. Too soon. It’s always too soon, no matter how old…) and she would have been 87. So it’s a bit stressful, in my head, right now….the mix of Mothers Day, and my fractured relationship with my mother….her death in the fire….their birthdays tomorrow….and just generally an emotional mess in my head, grieving the loss of my husband last May. So, I wish you a happy UK Mothers Day, Rabbi Ruth: and thank you for your wisdom, and support, and help. You do give me strength, and help, from reading your blog. Thank you. And apologies for blethering on, again, about basically the same thing…..but it’s so much of who and what and where I am that it is very difficult not to.

  2. I am one of the lucky Jews who celebrates because I actually have Irish Jews in my background. I don’t consider the day a celebration of St. Patrick rather than a celebration of All Things Irish. I feel very proud of my Burnside ancestors as they surely survived a fair amount of difficulties within the culture they lived in, yet they persevered, kept their faith and prospered. So Tuesday I am celebrating them!

  3. I (who didn’t grow up Jewish) went through a phase of defiantly wearing orange on March 17; my dad’s family is Protestant from Northern Ireland, and although I emphatically didn’t intend to express solidarity with the UK’s oppression of the Catholic population, I just never felt a connection to the green.

    1. Apologies in advance, Rabbi Ruth, and please delete this if you wish:
      Patti, you said……
      ” and although I emphatically didn’t intend to express solidarity with the UK’s oppression of the Catholic population”
      ……then, why mention it/bring it up?
      Alex(born, raised, living in the UK, with connections to both sides of ‘the divide’)

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