Taking in the roadside scenery of life-sized mermaids, supermarkets shaped like stalks of broccoli and motels disguised as medieval castles, I’m both appalled and amused at the prospect of spending Passover amongst such company. The town of Kissimmee, Florida, is home to the most popular theme parks in America, serving as a mecca for tourists from all over the world. Knowing my family’s choice of location was based on coincidence, I consider how the setting of Jerusalem brimming with Jewish history, or even New York City, also steeped in the heritage of the chosen tribe, would be a far better venue to celebrate the sacred holiday.
My stomach plunges as I think of American dreams built on the emptiness of fairy talesI can’t help but compare the bloated relics of American customs garishly littered around the town with the holy ritual services we will be conducting over the approaching holiday. Can Kissimmee, Florida, be home to the pinnacle of the American dream? It’s difficult to comprehend that beyond being a freak show, cotton-candy castles, ninety-foot alligators and real-life cartoon characters could hold much purpose in a meaningful life. My stomach plunges as I think of American dreams built on the emptiness of fairy tales.
Sure, Passover is laden with its own fable-like traditions, yet it is a forgone conclusion they serve as means to an end. The stories of the Bible, rich with mysticism and G‑dliness, serve as a guide and foundation to reflect on gratitude toward G‑d, our roles as Jews in the Diaspora and our values as human beings.
I help my family get settled, or rather “encamped,” in the house we have rented, nestled in a gated Stepford-like complex, once a drained swamp. To prepare the site, normally used by tourists with large families, demands near–slave labor from all us, participants. Jews, I think, particularly the ones I was born to, are crazy. Looking at our makeshift, bizarre and conspicuous synagogue (the Torah having been imported and chauffeured from a synagogue four hours away), it appears that our Passover preparations might be doing more justice to the literal reenactment of the exodus from Egypt than any recital of the story at the Seder. The hard work could have easily been avoided by spending the holiday at a resort, but for us Jews the minutiae are done with joy, each effort fulfilling a Divine command.
As the cabinets are duct-taped, the ovens blowtorched, and the sinks boiled, our temporary home, and we, are transformed. I see my immediate and extended family seated around the table amidst piles of haggadahs, and listen to those reciting the four questions while my father is shouting for us to dip the “poh-tay-tuh” in saltwater. I admit I am impressed that we have pulled off a Seder with some semblance of authenticity.
Could the spaceships, mountainous wizards, and larger-than-life statues of safari animals have anything to do with the splitting of the sea suddenly seeming normal?Yet something is different this year. I notice, as we each have our turn at reading about the miracles of the Exodus story, this year something within in all of us seems at peace. There are fewer heretical questions, challenges and sarcastic remarks at the validity of the ancient story. Most likely the tranquility can be attributed to a justifiable exhaustion from the past few days, though I can’t help but wonder if our peculiar setting has helped to create this effect. Could the spaceships, mountainous wizards, and larger-than-life statues of safari animals have anything to do with the splitting of the sea suddenly seeming normal?
As we relive the Exodus, strictly adhering to family customs and stringencies, it’s hard to ignore the Divine Providence that led us to the most sought-after destination in America. We, in our own diaspora, in the artifice epitomizing Western culture, are extensively commemorating the miracles of the splitting of the sea, water transformed to blood, fire and hail existing in harmony, while they pale in comparison to the magic of Walt Disney. And yet these sensational beliefs endure in a very deep place within us all. Something tells me that this year, only in a place where every ten yards Mickey Mouse promises this is a place “where dreams come true!” can an exodus feel like a reality.