Passed Over

In recent years, Pesach has become one of the holidays I hate the most. The children are off from school, stuck in the house, bored out of their minds, and spend most of their time fighting with each other. It's nothing but abysmal drudgery.

Once, going back five years or maybe more, I really liked the Pesach holiday, and even waited for it expectantly. True, it is not an especially well-known Muslim festival, and it's equally true that religious festivals in general and those with a national character in particular provide one more terrible recipe for preserving the folly and ensuring that the coming generations will also feel special, be atomized and appreciate the shocking things known as religion, nation and roots. Still, it was a matter of freedom - at first freedom from school, and later, freedom from work.

I remember vividly my first job as a caregiver in a hostel, when I was a student. When I started work, I was asked to fill out an official form, including my holiday preferences. I could choose Muslim, Christian or Jewish holidays to take off. I remember the look of disappointment I got from the accountant when I wrote clearly that I preferred the Jewish holidays.

"Why?" she asked, taken aback. "You're a Muslim, aren't you?"

"Yes," I replied, "but I am in an advanced conversion process."

I later discovered that all my Arab co-workers, most of them students who had just landed in this society, had asked for time off on the Muslim and Christian holidays. By Rosh Hashanah, they grasped the enormity of their mistake. I, who had attended a Jewish high school, knew very well that the Jews, unlike us, know how to celebrate big-time. We have seven miserable days that fall on different dates every year in the wake of the moon, and usually coincide with weekends, whereas the Jews, baruch Hashem, have holidays nonstop, whose implication, for the Arab worker who knows how to choose his holidays wisely, is paid time off; and if, nevertheless, his employers have to use him as a Shabbos goy, they will have to pay some serious overtime.

When I was a little older and started to work at a local Jerusalem weekly, Pesach continued to be a beloved holiday. In that peace-laden post-Oslo period, I was more desired by the Jews than even Sheikh Yassin. Weeks before the seder night I would sit down with my wife - who was then just my girlfriend - and we would think long and hard about which of the dozens of invitations we should accept this time. Student friends of hers, friends of mine from the weekly, nice neighbors from the Nahlaot neighborhood - all of them had invited us to sit at their holiday table. They would rattle off the advantages of their seder over that of others. "We have an up-to-date, liberal Haggadah without all that 'chosen people' and 'pour down Your wrath on the goyim' stuff," some said. "We barely read the Haggadah - a blessing or two and we plunge right into the meal," others claimed. But we always chose the seder of whomever we figured would serve the best and tastiest food.

But in recent years, Pesach has become one of the holidays I hate the most. The children are off from school, stuck in the house, bored out of their minds, and spend most of their time fighting with each other. It's nothing but abysmal drudgery. There's no festive atmosphere in the house, no intense preparations for the holiday. No first holiday, no second holiday, no shopping, no cleaning, no cooking. Just a family of Arabs stuck in the middle of Israel for two weeks with kids who are going to kill each other.

There's nowhere to escape to and there's not a minute of rest. They wake up at the unheard-of hour of six in the morning, and in contrast to regular days when they skedaddle off to school, they stay put. There's not even a day camp.

"I swear to you," I told my wife one morning as I opened my eyes to the sound of a clan quarrel in my living room, "I love my father so much, I adore him."

"Why is that?" she asked, yawning and preparing to get out of bed to greet another wonderful day off work.

"Because Dad, unlike me, dared to hit me when I was little and interfered with his sleep." He was totally right, my dad. I deserved it - God knows I deserved it.

"It's not so terrible," she said. "Another week and the school break will be over."

"Have you noticed," I said, suddenly noticing it myself, "that in the last six-seven years no one has invited us to a seder?"

"You're right," she said. "Weird, eh?"

It is weird. What is different? I asked myself, but couldn't come up with a good answer.

It's not that we have fewer friends or acquaintances than we used to. On the contrary: now that the kids have friends from school, our social circle has expanded exponentially.

"Maybe they're afraid you'll write about them?" my wife said. But I ruled that out immediately. After all, these are friends we socialize with all the time, on outings and for meals - friends who know I won't write about them even though they can be real stinkers. And besides, they stopped inviting us even before I started writing the column. Now that I think of it, something really is different - suddenly I recalled all kinds of explanations and half-hints given by those friends before Pesach. Things like, "Oy, it's so depressing, again the whole family, a nightmare" or, "You won't believe the chaos - the whole family is coming to us this year."

Only now do I get it: in the past few years the Jews I know have been portraying the seder night as torture, something they just want to spare us: We are so important to our friends that they don't want us in their homes.

But what's the big nightmare? To judge by the voices I hear through the neighbors' windows, it's a joyful event that often generates bursts of laughter, not to mention the endless clinking of dishes.

What, am I no longer dikhfin? My kids are no longer ditzrikh enough?

As a matter of fact, on my recent trip to the United States, I understood from the Jews I met in Florida and Boston that they always invite non-Jews. It's a kind of regular ritual in which the goyim expect to be invited to the seder of their Jewish colleagues. And here? How many Jews invite Arabs to the seder? And I'm not talking about families who can afford an Arab chef who specializes in gefilte fish, or a street cleaner who knows a thing or two about fat stains from lamb.

"Quiet!" I shouted from bed at the children.

"Will you calm down?" my wife retorted.

"No," I replied with a shout. "It bugs me that we were not invited to a seder. And you know what? I'll show them - all those pretend friends of ours. I'll show them what's what."

"Yes, you're right, it's a bit offensive. Why do you think weren't invited?"

"How would I know?" I replied edgily. "I have no idea how free people feel."