Passover 2021 has arrived. I can tell by the festive masks!
— Hannah Simpson חנה הייה-לב סימפסון (@hannsimp) April 8, 2020
(This is Ms. Hannah Simpson*. The Instagram with her original and initial post of the image is at this link.)
For those of you who celebrate Passover, as well as for those that don’t, like a lot of Jewish holidays it can be boiled down to: “(Insert name of oppressive ruler or nation here) tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!”
The longer version can more accurately be distilled down to two key parts. The first is that the ancient Hebrews were enslaved by the Egyptians when a new dynasty came to power, eventually rose up, and, through a successful slave revolt that featured a lot of the hallmarks of what we today think of as irregular and asymmetric warfare, gained their freedom. The second is that the reality, that our religious forebears were enslaved simply for being who they were – a distinct community – has a relevance for all Jews in every generation in terms of both understanding the world and relating to it. While the Passover ritual, the Seder (Hebrew for order), focuses around why this night – the first night of Passover in Israel and the first two nights everywhere else – is different from all other nights, the lesson is that, in truth, this night isn’t all that special. That some three thousand years or so ago, depending on which dating schema one subscribes too, our forebears were enslaved. That we, their spiritual successors should consider ourselves to be in their place; hence the constant use of “we” throughout the Seder. And, as a result, we need to understand that the world of 2021 isn’t all that different from the Egypt that enslaved the ancient Hebrews as there are far too many who are still enslaved discriminated against, and/or subjugated for simply being a distinct community.
The lesson here is one of empathy leading to action. It is recognizing that the inequalities and inequities that our fellow Americans, regardless of faith or ethnicity or race experience, and that non-Americans face every day is exactly the same as what our forebears experienced in Egypt. The ongoing attempts by those who lost the Great Rebellion, now doing business as the Civil War, on the battlefield to win the post war peace by consolidating minoritarian, white Supremacist rule through reimposing and reinforcing the Jim Crow system first created in the 1870s to keep Black Americans functionally enslaved in a legally permissible manner given that slavery was and still is technically illegal and unconstitutional is one example.
The abuse of those non-Americans fleeing tyranny, oppression, and political, criminal, and/or domestic violence to reach the US is another. As was the case with the Hebrews led by Moses into the desert, no one grabs whatever they can carry, takes their children, and flees from danger through danger for shits and giggles. They do it because they have no choice. Because staying put is not a viable option. And, in the case of those fleeing to the United States, because they know if they can make it to the end of their journey, they’ll eventually reach the border and, if they’re seeking asylum, a US government facility flying the American flag. They know that if they can make it to the end of their journey, if they can survive fleeing from danger through danger, they’ll eventually see the American flag, like a pillar of smoke by day or a pillar of fire by night, and they’ll know that they’ve reached safety. Because they believe to the point of knowing that where that flag flies, there is hope and safety and the chance for something better. A modern promised land even if those of us living in it all too often take it for granted and we fail to live up to the ideals that inspire non-Americans to risk everything to join us here.
The intolerance, discrimination, and abuse of LGBTQ Americans, especially the recent shift of focus to discriminating and abusing Americans who are trans, is a third example. Since the political and judicial battle regarding gay marriage has been lost, the same bigots, or simply political and religious hucksters seeking to enrich and empower themselves through the use of a wedge issue, have decided that transgender Americans make a useful target. Exact same type of bigotry with brand new packaging and marketing to continue a grift that puts people lives at risk.
Passover teaches us, in the words of Faulkner, that the past isn’t dead; in fact it really isn’t past. But where Faulkner’s turn of phrase was meant to illuminate the benighted nature of the south that was the Confederacy, for Passover it has, or it should have, a different meaning. Specifically, that because our forebears were slaves then, which has to be understood as we were slaves then, that we cannot forget what it means to not be free, to fight for one’s freedom, and to make sure that we continue to help others do so until everyone is free.
And now, if you’ll indulge me, I will put on the emergency tiara, the new grill gloves (rated to 1,427F!), and the frilly apron so I can regale you with the culinary part of Passover 2021.
I just got a new 22 inch Weber Master-Touch Kettle Grill. And I inaugurated it this afternoon by doing an indirect heat roasted boneless leg of lamb and roasted root vegetable medley of multi-color fingerling potatoes and carrots for my Mom and myself for a small, COVID-19 safe Passover meal. I did the reverse sear method. So I brought the lamb up to an internal temperature of 125, removed it from the indirect heat side of the kettle, wrapped it in silver foil, and let it rest for half an hour while my oven warmed up to 500F. Then I reverse seared it for 15 minutes until it was nice and crackling crisp on the outside, removed it, and sliced it. I had the indirect heat side of the grill at a consistent 278 to 283 degrees and the direct heat side around 375 or so. It took around 2 and a 1/2 hours from lighting the charcoal chimney to doing a 20 minute burn off to prepare the grill, to actually roasting the lamb and the vegetables, to resting the lamb, to reverse searing it, to slicing and serving it.
Here’s a picture of when I opened the kettle to put the potatoes and carrots on:
And here’s the finished product ready for serving:
It came out perfect. You could really taste the difference between doing it over coals versus in the oven. I’m sure I’ll be doing steak or chicken on it over the next couple of days, but the next big project for the kettle grill will be to do a hybrid brisket sometime in the next couple of weeks. Basically, this’ll be for my mom who doesn’t really like smoked foods other than pastrami and lox. So while I’ll set the kettle up for an indirect heat as if I was smoking something, the snake method of setting up the coals, I’m not going to add any wood chunks for smoking, just the all natural chunk wood charcoal. And I’m going to prep the brisket like I would for in the oven: trim the hard fat that won’t render, then apply kosher salt and black pepper in a dry brine/rub for 12 to 24 hours prior to cooking to form a pelicule. Then a light wet rub of mustard with a little tomato paste or ketchup and bed it down in a roasting pan on thinly sliced onions with more on top just before roasting time. This will go on the grill and I’ll use the indirect heat to do it low and slow. So not a Texas style smoked brisket, but sort of a hybrid of how I’d do it in the oven with doing it over hot coals. I’ll do a post to let everyone know how it turns out.
PS: Last night when I removed the lamb from the shrink-wrap so I could dry brine it, I managed to splash lamb’s blood all over my face and head. So I’m pretty hopeful that the Angel of Death will definitely be passing over tonight.
* Update 11:30 PM 4 APR 2021: Ms. Simpson reached out and contacted me, via the comments, which, of course got caught in the SPAM filter for a week and would’ve gone completely unnoticed if WaterGirl hadn’t been in there trying to recover a regular commenter’s comment that had been eaten out of there. She wanted to let me know that she was both the creator and the model for the image in the original post and, of course, to be properly acknowledged as such. I’ve updated this post with her tweet of the image and a link to the original image she posted at her Instagram and done a new post giving her explicit credit and apologizing for not attributing the original pic because I had no idea who it was.