We Jews have always been wanderers. Taking road trips. Traipsing, trekking, and schlepping. Forced to leave many places. As Tevye says in Fiddler on the Roof: "Maybe that's why we always wear a hat." We never know when we'll have to move on.
Now when it's a pleasure trip, we rent air B & B's, take cruises, safaris, eco-tours; go river rafting, kayaking, and camping. Ok, so maybe it's Glamping.
The Book of Exodus (the Passover story) is also about a trip. Well, maybe more of a departure: the flight of the Jews from Egypt -- fleeing from home, escaping enslavement.
It's no wonder that this Passover I chose to take a journey. Actually it was a two-part trek (coinciding with the two Seder nights), both in search of a joyous path, seeking freedom, which is really what Passover is all about. So, without consulting Trip Advisor, Google Maps or Frommer's, I created my own itinerary of freedom: escaping the drudgery of my office, the squoosh of my thimble -sized apartment, the gloom of the daily headlines, the blahs of endless town halls and political blather.
TRIP # 1 - FIRST SEDER NIGHT
My mind wandered back to the twilights of Passovers past, with images of Maxwell House haggadahs and macaroons swirling in my head. These were the priceless childhood seders I remember vividly, sitting on a barstool at the kitchen table, watching my mom slice hard-boiled eggs and sauté onions for the incomparable chopped liver. I sat upstairs, impatiently trying to absorb lessons on fractions and feudalism, as smells of matzoh balls simmering in chicken broth wafted up the stairs to my bedroom, distracting the heck out of my algebra studies.
When my Mom served dinner, it seemed like she was taking a trip -- constantly running back and forth from the kitchen to the dining table (all of a four-foot span), never sitting down, floating from the soup cauldron to the family guests. I remember the taste bud trips: her homemade charoses (from the Hebrew word for clay) -- a crumbly paste of walnuts, wine and diced apples, recalling the brick and mortar the Israelites used to build Pharoah's cities. Then came the bitter herbs, the improvised Seder Plate with chicken neck (a stand-in for the traditional lamb shank), and not one, but two options of horseradish - the watch-out-for your life peppery white one and the sweeter, red beet version. But way beyond the tzimmes and the potato kugel, there were fantasy and reality trips to the glorious "mornings after" of matzoh brie breakfasts.
So, while simultaneously stuck to my joyous memories of Pesachs past, and surging forward, I was marching to the tune of a new gefilte fish path.
Photo credit: Angela Peterson www.jsonline.com
MARCO POLO/GOING SOLO
My parents gone, I needed to go it alone, become Mia Magellan, embarking on uncharted turf, exploring new territory, creating a personal, custom-tailored expedition.
Photo Credit: www.lighthousestampsociety.org
FLOCKERS TO KNICKERBOCKERS
First stop, first seder. I was drawn back to an emotional spot -the site I'd reached on 9/11. Having finally escaped the turmoil of the towers falling, the chaos of uncertainty, the dangers of the monsters, I took an anxiety-ridden trip: I trekked from the World Trade Center uptown to a landmark Greenwich Village NYC jazz spot: Knickerbocker Bar and Grill (http://www.knickerbockerbarandgrill.com/).
It was a packed house then (everyone desperately in need of a cocktail), and now, on Passover night, the line curved down the long Washington Square East/University Place block. If you ever want to see a swarm of Jews in search of a community, check out this annual Seder event.
BARSTOOL SEDER - MARTINIS & MATZOH BALLS
What better way to celebrate the holiday of freedom than to have the option of a martini with your matzoh ball soup?
I chose my favorite dining location -- the bar section -- to observe, reflect, recline and remember. After all, Passover is about freedom: of speech, lifestyle, religion, expression and, of course, choice of restaurant tables.
SKIPPING DOWN BLANE LANE
It was an escapade to the wild and divine world of Rabbi Steven Blane, whose take on tradition is nothing if not untraditional. Evolved. And way cool. Holding court with his Jewish Universalist shul, Blane's online services (http://simshalom.com/) have widened the paths to observing, without ever stepping into a synagogue. (On Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Blane leads a rockin' jazz service at the landmark Greenwich Village club The Bitter End). On his hip, open road to personal freedom, Blane beckons us into an innovative land of "dynamic outreach, Jewish education and connection."
FROM MANISCHEVITZ TO MONTANA
As we sipped our wine, dipped our bitter herbs in salt water, learning about oppression and plagues, we also got some festivity mixed in with our religion. The sweet, subtle, and schmoozing Steve Blane blends prayer with comic stand-up, telling the story of Moishe the Yeshiva boy who runs off with a shikse to Montana... reinventing himself as Little Feather Running Deer...and, well, you'll have to attend next year to hear the whole deal.
GASTRONOMY & AUTONOMY - BRISKET AT THE BAR
Sitting at the bar table, I had the vantage point of traveling in time back to Egypt, hearing Rabbi Blane strum his ukulele, leading his congregation in a rendition of Don't Sit on the Afikoman to the tune of Glory Glory Hallelujah. Along the winding path of my Jewish sojourn, all this, as I savored the melt-in-your mouth brisket. A luscious bonus to the serious story of the Passover exodus, the flight to survival.
4 QUIXOTIC QUESTIONS
I guess it's all part of the voyage. We answer questions by meandering, taking a roundabout route, curving and swerving. No "shortest distance between two points-straight line" approach here. Look, I know we're curious, and asking is just par for the course for our tribe. Traditionally, the youngest at the seder table asks the famous four questions. Okay, so Jews don't answer questions directly; they're renowned for answering a question with a question. It's just another side trip.
Rabbi Steven Blane (above) playing ukulele at Passover Seder
Passover Seder Table - Source: www.thejewishmuseum.org
Each of four sons (the wise one, the not so wise one, the angry one, and the frightened one) responds to the question: "Why is this night different from all other nights?" with four explanations about sipping, dipping, dining, and reclining, but I'm always a bit confused. So why are the four questions really four answers to one question? Who thought up these questions? And who exactly decided on these four specific types of children to respond? I guess someone up there in charge knows best, but When, Where, Who, What, and Why? Maybe that's just the Jewish journalist in me. On the perennial Jewish Journey.
THE QUANDARY OF QUINOA -- FROM PHARAOH TO FARRO
The evil rulers made the Jews flee quickly into the desert and eat the unleavened, no-time-for-yeast-to-rise matzohs. And so, our ancestors rose to the occasion of the exotic exodus. As for "farro," it's a great foody rhyme for "pharaoh," but it never would have made it to the Seder table, considering it's made of wheat (the forbidden chametz), or yeast grain. Quinoa, on the other hand, is just fine.
TRIP #2 - SECOND SEDER NIGHT
We've got field trips, guilt trips, ego trips, power trips....and now we've got TRIP OF LOVE, Broadway's vibrant, pscyhedelic trip flashing back to the Swingin' 60's. As creator/director/choreographer James Walski reflects, "It's a mind trip down memory lane...a celebration of the decade." From the flamboyance of flower power to the darker tones of draft dodging, it was a time of innocence and consequence. Walski's motive? "Sit back and have a great ride." What better way to celebrate Passover than to watch a musical, nostalgic tribute, a "high octane dance show," traveling back to a time of love, peace and personal freedom?
MOSES, MARLO & MUSHROOMS
From the moment I entered Stage 42 on Theatre Row, I was in a space capsule, transported on a backwards journey into my childhood wonder years ...
Photo Credit: Alan N. Denner
The nostalgic, theatrical journey takes you on an Alice in Wonderland-ish trip down the mysterious rabbit hole of history. The opening number features a stunning silhouette, a vision in white, Angela (Laurie Wells), crooning Windmills Of Your Mind. My mind wandered on a mushroomy trip of its own. Hearing "footprints in the sand," I imagined white-robed prophetess Miriam (Moses' sister), whose cup of water quenched the people's thirst as they fled the desert, running for the Promised Land. Leave the Evian. Take the Manischevitz.
A.B.C.'s of the '60's - A.NNETTE, B.IKINIS & C.ALIFORNIA DREAMIN'
It's in our blood. Okay, so maybe some of us Jews would rather bask and suntan than actually do the breaststroke, but Walski and Axe's Trip of Love twist on the Wipe-Out number is right up there with the Ten Commandments. Thou Shalt Not Splash.
Was I hallucinating? Had I stepped into Beach Blanket Bingo? Watching wide-eyed Caroline (Walski's Sandra Dee/Gidget combo) in those pop-art Crayola ocean waves, I was swimming right along with those fun-lovin' gals in neon. Call it '60's Beach Girl Power. Was this Viva Las Vegas or Viva Las Moses? The dazzling babes were eye candy, if not honey cake for the soul.
Swimwear? Authentic down to the last detail (credit the mind-blowing designer Gregg Barnes); each costume was designed after the original '60's model: the iconic Rudy Gernreich topless bathing suit; Ursula Andress Bond girl (Dr. No); and, of course, that itzy bitzy Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.
In essence, Walski parted the Red Seas of bondage, opening up a passage to the Holy Land of Peace, Free Love, Milk and Honey.
THE FRUG, THE FREDDIE & FREEDOM
But it's not just all about bubblegum music. Trip of Love salutes the profound along with the frothy. On the Trip of Love road to '60s personal freedom, I witnessed a liberating These Boots Are Made for Walkin' (remember Nancy Sinatra's famous white vinyl go-go boots?) The striking Jennifer (Dionne Figgins) auditions for Dance A-Go-Go (à la vintage 60's tv shows Hullabaloo and Shindig), but her message is hardly plastic.
The wild dancers may recall the free style bare midriff hot-pink capri number in Bye Bye Birdie. But Walski's girls are all about 60's activism. Jennifer ("a Lola Falana/Diahann Carroll mix" is the symbol of civil rights. Crystal ("a blend of Jane Fonda and Ann-Margret") stands up for her fellow women's rights, putting her independent foot down in the defiant You Don't Own Me.
Ann-Margret in Bye Bye Birdie Photo Credit: www.tcm.com
A former ballet dancer himself, James Walski spent over three years researching 60's dances from the Monkey to the Samba. He even purchased original dance instruction, "How To" (Do the Mambo, Cha Cha) books from the Decade of Love and Peace.
LANDING ON THE MOON-RIVER
Details are key to any itinerary: the Seder ritual ride, and the Trip of Love spectacle. It took James Walski over three years of focus groups, studies, collaborations (brilliant Orchestrator/Musical Supervisor/Conductor Martyn Axe; Producer Makoto Deguchi, Costume Designer Gregg Barnes; Scenic designer Robin Wagner) and revisions to thread together each song/story with accuracy.
The giant moon on the set of Moon River (from the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany's) is a replica of the Buzz Aldrin moon surface landing in July 1969. All part of the travel motif, from NASA Apollo 11 to the Exodus.
As Angela looms large, gliding on a gigantic swing above the moonstruck lovers, singing "we're after the same rainbow's end," I connect the "flight for freedom" dots... from Haight Ashbury to Israel. I hear the plaintive Johnny Mercer melody, the cries of the oppressed, and the annual Jewish chant: Next year in Jerusalem.
WHERE HAS ALL THE FLOUR GONE?
Okay, so the Jews ran fast, and couldn't wait for the bread to rise, so had to run from their tormentors. Hence the unleavened matzoh. So too, the soldiers were drafted quickly, ran into the eye of the enemy, and the "Make Love Not War" hippies' movement began.
I went on a peace march with my high school cronies in the late 60's, and I remember making out with one pacificist hipster guy. Our political activist minds and hearts and anti-war intentions were right up there..but who could resist the power of love?
Peter Paul & Mary's addictive Where Have all the Flowers Gone swoops us toward the darker ACT II of Trip of Love. The lush forest backdrop could be the California Redwoods or the Canaan Promised Land. When will they ever learn? has been haunting us all for decades.
VIVA LAS VESPA -
As George (Brandon Leffler) goes zipping through assorted musical story numbers, we get it. He's got it all, from the leather jacket to the Italian, Roman Holiday inspired vespa. The one thing he doesn't have is a sweetheart.
David Elder in Trip of Love
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
Seems George is a James Dean disciple, on a 60's Rebel Without a Cause mission, a Passover-esque pilgrimage, searching for his soulmate. He steps into an exquisite, dreamy world of moonlight, glimmer, and the heart-stopping Girl from Ipanema, who enchants him with sparkle and Samba. We're all rooting for his love search to end, but, like the Seder, it continues onward.
The pulsatingly vibrant solo If You Go Away is another moment of heart-stopping reality check...in the depths of the 60's draft, young kids were torn away from their mothers, their daughters, their wives. The plight of those left behind, forced into misery, reminds us of the torment of soldiers departing their loved ones for Iraq, Afghanistan.
And, on the lighter side, it's a Jewish son moving away from his devastated mother, living in Queens, as he departs for the suburbs of Westchester. The ultimate question: Will he invite her to Passover Seder in his new home?
Martyn Axe, Musical Director, Trip of Love
Photo Credit: Alan N. Denner
THE FOUR (MUSICAL) QUESTIONS
Coinciding with the seder, Walski has carefully selected the divine morsels, the musical gems to celebrate the decade. From acid rock to folk to British invasion to tv and film theme songs. But not without those famous 4 questions:
1) What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?
2) Would you Like to Fly in my Beautiful Balloon? (Up, Up & Away)
3) How Gentle is the Rain?
4) Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
MACAROONS & MOTOWN
In a sort of trip reversal, Nowhere to Run addresses the universal agony of the break-up: the heartache for the one left behind, after the lover has gone. A tribute to Motown girl groups (The Supremes, Martha & the Vandellas), it explodes with a plea for freedom; for a place to run to, and hide from, after he's left her cold.
Photo Credit: Elizabeth LaBau
BURN THE BRA, NOT THE BRISKET
In the end, the 60's and the Exodus were odysseys of liberation. Both trips stood for liberation. One by paisley, one by parsley. The 60's was about free love; Passover about free chicken fat. Both share a parallel message: Do your own thing. Fight for civil rights like Jennifer. Declare women's rights like Crystal. Be America's sweetheart like Caroline. Create your own story. Draw your own path. Follow Moses and cross the line in the sand. Follow Petula and go Downtown.
If you're Born to Be Wild, climb high, "get your motor running, head out on the highway...take the world in a love embrace," and you'll reach euphoria.
Or at least Mt. Sinai.
Joey Calveri & Tara Palsha in Trip of Love
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy