The Crime Lady: A Plague for Passover

Dear TCL Readers,

These last three weeks — or centuries, who even counts time anymore — have seen unthinkable changes to the way we live, love, work, and parent. There’s no getting around the difficulty of surviving in this changed world. I’ve been holding up, and one highlight was participating in the all-star Virtual Noir at the Bar last week. I’ve also reached a point in the book-writing where it was a good time to take a breather, happy so far with the progress I’ve made.

But the impending arrival of Passover, which begins on the night of April 8, has upset my own equilibrium, as it will for so many Jews unaccustomed to being alone on a holiday designed for communal gathering. I’d resigned myself to being alone for the Seder (and fortunate to have access to good, catered food) but resignation doesn’t mean negate the hurt. I’m not with my family. I’m not with my loved ones. In fact — with one exception — I’ve never been anywhere other than my childhood home for Seder, something which had caused many an argument with my mother in the past. Arguments that now seem terribly quaint, since my mother is, also, alone in her house for Seder, as is my brother in his.

Our custom was to keep the first Seder night to the immediate family. When I was young that included my grandparents, who would travel from Montreal to stay with us. In their final years they visited from the local nursing home where they lived, together but separately, until their deaths, six months apart. For my teen and early adult years it was just my mom, dad, brother, and me. And for the past eight sedarim, after my father died, the three of us.

Passover, then, became associated with loss and with grief, with stress and with anxiety. It was hard to conduct the rituals, the reading of the Haggadah, the prayers and the songs, and not think of those who weren’t there, who had set the family tone, and no longer could. Last year, the fog began to lift. It was with the realization that I wanted more out of my own Jewish life, and that my mother has more years in the rear view than in the future. Time felt precious, and I was looking forward to spending Pesach with her.

Then, the pandemic.

Of course I’m still spending Passover with my family, even if we are not physically in the same space. And so many more people are spending the Seder apart, in solitude, in a world where plagues feel dangerously current, where grief intrudes as the most unwelcome, all-too-frequent visitor. It’s a reminder of grief’s asymmetry, that it kicks you in the gut on its schedule, not your own. But Passover is also a chance for reflection, for realizing we’ve been here before, that every generation flees Egypt, manifest in reality or metaphor, looking for greater purpose, immediate safety, and refuge.

Whatever your Jerusalem is or represents, I hope you find it and get there next year.

**

READ/WATCH/LISTEN

  • Since I’ve been home I’ve been plowing through my print galley stack and requesting digital galleys I most want to read. Which is why I can recommend, unhesitatingly, Maria Konnikova’s The Biggest Bluff, using the skin of a great story — writer goes from poker novice to champion in a year — to tell a far deeper one of how human decision-making must respect luck and chance far more than it does (in other words, this book is awfully timely; see also Konnikova’s recent interview of Daniel Kahneman.)

  • Natasha Trethewey’s forthcoming memoir Memorial Drive just bowled me over. Is it the best true crime memoir I’ve read? It’s certainly in my upper echelon now.

  • Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind won’t be out till October and it unnerved me utterly in how it rewrote the usual suspense beats for something more jagged and contemplative, which made its conceit — privileged white family renting a summer home are visited by its black owners, with word that Something Terrible is happening back in the city — all the scarier.

  • Emily Schultz’s Little Threats also impressed me a great deal, finding a fresh approach to narratives about wrongful convictions, sisters, female friendships, adolescence, and being scared by the wrong things and people.

  • While I’m still having trouble with television, the four-part limited series Unorthodox was the exception. It’s beautifully acted (Shira Haas is a revelation) and full of compassion for the Satmar community in Williamsburg. Is it 100 percent accurate? No scripted television show ever can be. So I understand the critiques from within the community, as well as my own criticism of its fantasyland portrayal of Berlin, but I also enjoyed the show immensely.

  • If you are not listening to the podcast You’re Wrong About — and if not, why not, it’s wonderful — they are doing a book club-in-progress on Michelle Remembers, the long out-of-print 1980 tome by Michelle Smith and her psychiatrist (and future husband) Larry Pazder, that was essentially the “Patient Zero” of the Satanic panic. I am beyond fascinated with this story, since it originated in Victoria, BC, and 40 years on, encapsulates everything about the panic in a single story.

  • And if you watched Tiger King, well, I’m still not gonna.

I’ll be back next week with a subscriber-only missive. If you want to get in on that, here’s how:

Stay safe and healthy, and above all, stay home.

Until next time, I remain,

The Crime Lady

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