Mar 30, 2013

Passover...It's Smokin'!

Israeli children smoke cigarettes during another Jewish holiday--Purim. Smoking cigarettes is one of 
the celebratory rituals of the holiday, even amongst youngsters.  Purim, many argue, is how most
Israeli smokers begin a lifetime smoking habit. Creepy-ass photo via Associated Press. 

Welcome to my Passover post.

Yeah, yeah, I realize I'm almost a week late, but fuck it, I've never been a practicing Jew a day in my life.  Why, as a kid I'd only know it was Pesach when food service would break out the Rokeach matzo in the school cafeteria (prompting my friend Shana to complain about the goyim happily eating that shit when, unlike her, they could be enjoying a nice turkey sandwich or a slice of pizza).  Indeed, my only experience with formal Judaism was at weddings, funerals, and bar mitzvahs (bar mitzvahs being the most painful to sit through).  Oh, and there were the one or two instances when I somehow randomly ended up at the house of a deeply religious friend or distant relative for a Shabbat dinner or a seder.

Take for example, one Passover when I was a kid, when a woman named Miriam invited my family to her home for the holiday.  To this day I am not really clear as to why we were there, or even who this Miriam woman was to begin with.  From what I gather, she was a distant relative, not by blood but by marriage--the cousin of the husband of one of my grandmother's sisters, or something like that.  I had never seen her before, and I never saw her again after that evening, but somehow, at some point, someone decided it was a good idea for our polar-opposite families to break matzo together.

And it was pretty intense.

Miriam's family was strict orthodox, the kind that had not only had two sets of plates but also two separate dishwashers, one labeled for dairy and the other one for meat. You know, just as the Old Testament tells us our high-efficiency dishwashers must be labeled.

During the seder, I sat, bored and confused.  I ate the gefilte fish (like a boss), but was completely freaked out by the crusty lamb shank, and the whole slay-the-first-born thing kinda traumatized me as well.  Not to mention frogs and boils.  WTF, man?

Anyway, after several Manischevitz-lubricated hours of poring through the Hagaddah, the evening culminated in a big fight between Miriam's husband and her eldest son, over what the son felt to be insufficient financial compensation for his successful retrieval of the afikomen.  Because it's not a holiday until you've reduced yourself to the most stereotypical caricature of your people.

It was at this point I slipped away from the group and ran upstairs to use the bathroom. 

Now, when you're a kid, it's always interesting to see what other people have in their bathrooms.  This was especially true for me, for when it comes to brand loyalty, my mother is as unwavering in her fidelity as a member of the mob.  There was no product deviation whatsoever in our home. We had Dove Soap, White Cloud toilet paper, Vidal Sassoon shampoo, and Close Up toothpaste--the toothpaste that evidently shares a PR account with Newport cigarettes (hello, creepy smile campaign). 

And so, when I visited other people's homes, it was always fascinating to see people using Irish Spring (too drying) or Charmin (too much dust) or Agree (makes your hair greasy) or Crest (feh!). It was almost like traveling abroad, to countries with customs and products you'd only seen on television or read about in magazines.  

But that evening, I saw a brand of toothpaste I'd never seen, not in a home, a television ad, not anywhere.

Kosher toothpaste. 

Nope, never seen that before. 

I finished up in the bathroom, resisting the not-very-powerful urge to sample this mysterious Jewish toothpaste.  I had a vague suspicion that it tasted like chopped liver.

On the way home in the car, I told my parents.

"Did you know they had kosher toothpaste in their bathroom?"

"Really? No!" My mother was shocked.

"Yeah, " I said. "I didn't know that toothpaste could be unkosher."

"Traif," corrected my father.


"Traif.  Not unkosher."

I rolled my eyes.  "What-ever."

"How do you know it was kosher?" my mother asked.

"It said KOSHER in big letters right on the tube. I think it was Zofart brand or something."

My father let out the moan he reserves only for extreme cases of religious dogma he finds too absurd for words.

My mother laughed.

"Because you know," said my dad, finding his tongue, "that the Old Testament clearly specifies what kind of industrially pre-packaged, highly processed fluoride toothpaste God allows. I wonder if Moses used Zofart, or if he took a little chometz now and then in return for a dazzling Pepsodent smile?"

"Pepsodent? Feh!" said my mother.  "Tastes like chalk."

"I wonder what that kosher one tastes like?" my dad pondered. "Hmm..."

"Chopped liver," my mother and I responded in unison. "Chopped liver."

Alas, I never got to try the kosher toothpaste, but this Passover I hope they're making a whitening version of it, particularly one that will remove smoker's stains.  That's because this year, Israeli Jews  can enjoy not only a week of matzo-induced constipation, but also kosher cigarettes

Yes, kosher cigarettes.  Is this a politically correct act of inclusion towards smokers of all faiths or, as the Hipster Jew seems to opine, a diabolical money-making scheme of carcinogenic proportions?  You be the judge.

From Time:

The stamp of approval came from the Beit Yosef private rabbinic group, which certifies foods as compliant with Jewish dietary restrictions. Last month, Beit Yosef approved three local cigarette brands for smoking during Passover. The chief rabbinate in Israel,
however, disapproved of the measure, saying cigarettes are life-threatening and should not be approved by rabbis. “Poison is not kosher. For all days of the year, not just Passover,” said the chief rabbinate’s spokesman, Ziv Maor.

What?  NuPoison is not kosher?  Clearly Mr. Maor has not read my post about the palatability of Passover candy.  Oy.

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