The five Four Questions, or: Why do we only drink Coke from Houston on Passover?

Passover

Passover celebrates Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea allowing the Jews to escape Pharoah in Egypt and shlep across the Sinai for 40 years

Each year, lots of people look forward to getting mad at me over my annual “I hate Channukah” posts. While Hanukah is my least favorite Jewish holiday, Passover is my favorite.

I love the two nights of Seder — a dinner with a service — with family and friends, the constipating food, the terrible singing and The Four Questions.

Every Seder begins with The Four Questions:

Why is this night different from all other nights?

On all other nights we eat leavened products and matzah. Why on this night do we eat only matzah?

On all other nights we eat all vegetables. Why on this night do we eat only bitter herbs?

On all other nights, we don’t dip our food even once. Why on this night do we dip twice?

On all other nights we eat sitting or reclining. Why on this night do we only recline?

If you’re counting, that’s actually five questions, but that’s one of the things I love about the holiday. Another thing I love about it is that during a traditional Passover Seder, those questions are never really answered. (I’ll answer them below).

Passover is the quintessential Jewish holiday because it’s about asking questions. In Judaism, we learn never to accept something because a rabbi or teacher says it. We always question, and I love questions.

Like when anyone asks me, “Do you always answer a question with a question?” I invariably respond, “What do you mean?”

But I digress.

If it were me writing the Passover Haggadah (the book used for the Seder service) instead of Maxwell House writing it, I’d ask different questions.

Like: Why have more copies of the Maxwell House Haggadah been printed than any other Haggadah in history?

Because in 1934, Maxwell House noticed there was a drop in coffee sales during Passover. To encourage sales during that week, the company printed and distributed copies of its Haggadah free.

Why did coffee sales drop? In the original Hebrew, the Torah instructs that during Passover, we can’t eat legumes (string beans, peas, lima beans, things like that). Some languages don’t differentiate between the words legume and bean. In my grandfather’s Ukranian dialect, apparently, that was the case, because I grew up with no coffee or chocolate — both from beans, but not legumes – during Passover.

The good folks at Maxwell House wanted to make sure we knew there was a difference. The Maxwell House Haggadah remains in print, and this year, they came out with a new, gender-neutral version of their Haggadah to keep alive the true spirit of Passover — a time to remember which companies make huge profits stamping kosher for Passover on some boxes and doubling or tripling the price.

Another Passover question for a modern Seder should be:

On all other nights we drink Coca Cola bottled anywhere, why on this night do we only drink Coke from Houston?

The Torah bans a number of grains. Coke is normally made with corn syrup. Now, obviously corn wasn’t a banned grain since it’s native to North America, but it was never declared kosher for Passover, either. So the Houston Coke Bottling plant makes a kosher for Passover version by substituting sugar for the week. Stock up if you find some. It’s much better than regular Coke.

Speaking of grains, the Orthodox rabbis declared quinoa, a grain from South America, kosher for Passover this year for the first time. So even though we have to give up spelt, rye and barley, we can now substitute quinoa.

Some business news just last week might prompt us to ask this Passover question at this week’s Seders: Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers?

Because on all other Passovers, we ate Manischewitz products, and last week, Mitt Romney’s old company Bain Capital bought the food division. The crappy, sticky, sweet wine is made by a separate company.

Us Jews are funny about our kosher food. I don’t know how to explain it to Christians who are fine with Irving Berlin and other Jews writing all their Christmas music sung by Barbra Strisand and Neil Diamond, but Mormon matzo? It just didn’t sit right with me, and that’s the only Passover brand Kroger on Cedar Springs carries. I went to Whole Foods and bought imported, organic, whole wheat Aviv brand instead.

So happy Passover and the answer to the five Four Questions that this night is different from all other nights because we do the things listed in the other four questions. We eat matzo to remind us of the Jews not having time to let the bread rise before making their exodus from Egypt. We eat bitter herbs to remind us of the hard labor in Egypt. We don’t really know why we dip twice, but ask any rabbi and they’ll give you some ferkackta answer. And we recline to symbolize freedom from slavery.

—  David Taffet

‘Happy Holidays’ vs. ‘Merry Christmas’

Progressive religious leaders weigh in on 1st Baptist’s ‘Grinch Alert’ website, calling it everything from a marketing ploy to just plain mean

DAVID TAFFET  |  taffet@dallasvoice.com

Locally owned Viewpoint Bank is on First Baptist Church’s naughty list. They have poinsettias in their branches, but they don’t have a Christmas tree.

American Airlines made the naughty list because of “excessive use of holiday, no mention of Christmas. With a name like American Airlines, come on.”

Because what’s more American than telling someone else that they need to observe your religion?

Cracker Barrel “includes Santa and Christ in store.” That’s nice according to First Baptist.

Hopefully it’s Santa as we know him today — in the red suit that was created by Coca Cola for a 1935 ad campaign. The red was chosen to match Coke’s corporate color. Apparently, nothing says Christmas like corporate greed to First Baptist.

Previously, Santa was “dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot,” as described in Twas the Night Before Christmas.

To combat the so-called “War on Christmas,” First Baptist Church in Dallas created a new website, GrinchAlert.com, for people to report stores and other service companies that are naughty or nice. Naughty is anyone who greets you with that offensive term, “Happy Holidays.”

The Rev. Steven Pace suggested the website shows that First Baptist isn’t paying attention to the right issues this holiday season.

“I can’t believe an institution with that kind of capacity to do real social action work could concern itself with something so trivial,” Pace said.

“They need something more meaningful to do.”

Yet emphasizing the consumer side of Christmas and penalizing retailers that don’t put Jesus in the middle of their marketing plans is, apparently, exactly what First Baptist wants.

Macy’s in the Galleria is on the naughty list because a single employee in a single transaction returned a customer’s “Merry Christmas” with the offensive “You, too.”

And no doubt it was the Muslim extremists in the small town of Crowley, Texas south of Fort Worth who hung “Happy Holidays” in huge letters in front of city hall. Or was it their massive Jewish population?

“How about peace on earth and good will to all?” suggested the Rev. Colleen Darraugh of MCC of Greater Dallas. “It’s the kind of thing that gives Christians a bad rap.”

She said that although she’s Christian and celebrates Christ at Christmas, she has Jewish friends whom she wishes Happy Hannukah.

“We want to wish happy holidays and seasons greetings to people of all faiths,” she said.

Darraugh said that by emphasizing what retailers are doing, it emphasized that Christmas was for consumers.

She questioned whether the website’s creators know about the religious part of the holidays … uh, Christmas.
Cantor Don Croll of Temple Shalom in North Dallas said, “So I guess at New York-style delis, they should just say ‘Happy Hanukkah.’”

He pointed out that The Christmas Store in Richardson has a large Hanukkah section and wondered if it offended First Baptist that a store with that name would be selling anything else, or if it should offend Jews to shop in a store with that name?

“I guess I’m old fashioned. I like saying happy holidays and including everybody,” he said.

The Rev. Jo Hudson of Cathedral of Hope was aghast at a church’s emphasis on the retail aspect of the holiday rather than the religious part of Christmas.

“It shifts focus from what it should be,” she said.

Hudson suggested more appropriate lessons from a church might be feeding the hungry, caring for the sick or, if retail must be the emphasis, buying toys for poor children.

She admired it as a successful marketing scheme. But questioned whether Christmas be used as such a blatant promotional mechanism by a church?

But Hudson did acknowledge the ploy’s success.

“The website is clever because people have responded to it,” she said.

Northaven United Methodist Church Senior Pastor Eric Folkerth agreed with Hudson, but he questioned whether the campaign appealed to prospective members or the lowest denominator of the church’s base.

“The pastor there has shown himself to be a master of publicity,” Folkerth said. “But it only speaks well to the people they already have.”
Folkerth called the campaign silly, annoying and mean.

“Among his base it sells, but it sells a theology of division. He has a remarkable way of doing divisive things,” Folkerth said, referring to Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church.

Folkerth also suggested that during a recession, the website sends bad signals.

“Given the way the economy is, it’s such a bad message to say we’re not going to this store or that because of a perceived lack of Christian-ness,” he said.Folkerth said that religion should call us to our better natures.

“This doesn’t seem like our better nature,” he said.

“People who are secure in who they are don’t have to impose it on other people,” Hudson said, adding that people of different faiths have more in common than they have differences.

“How you greet people isn’t a measure of your faith,” she said

“How you treat people is.”

She said the GrinchAlert.com website was a good example of people not treating each other well and she found it particularly offensive during Christmas.

“Someone can wish me Happy Holidays and I can wish them Merry Christmas,” Darraugh said.

Taking either of those greetings as anything but best wishes, she said, “flies in the spirit of Christ who brought good will for all.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

‘Closer to Heaven’ closes this Sunday at Uptown Players

Closer to Heaven wallows in sex, drugs & rock

The performances in Closer to Heaven surpass the material. If the androgynous Master of Ceremonies from Cabaret were a coke whore and more clearly a woman, she’d probably look and sound a lot like Morgana Shaw’s Billie Trix. In her leather fetish garb, it seems as if the director, Bruce Coleman — here and with his bondage-themed take on Equus last winter — is working through some S&M fantasies at Uptown Players. In Shaw, in thigh-high latex platform boots, he’s found an excellent medium.

DEETS: Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. 2 p.m. $30–$40. UptownPlayers.org

—  Rich Lopez

Paris Hilton in Vegas Coke Bust

PARIS HILTON X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COMParis Hilton was arrested for cocaine possession Friday night in Las Vegas, her third drug-related incident this summer.
Advocate.com: Daily News

—  John Wright