Unleavened Dead: Guest Post by Rabbi Ilene Schneider
Today I welcome back Rabbi Ilene Schneider. How perfect for this post--during Passover!
Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Ed.D. hasn't decided yet what (or who) she
wants to be when she grows up. In her current incarnation, she is
Coordinator of Jewish Hospice for Samaritan Hospice in Marlton, NJ, near
Philadelphia. (She was one of the first six women ordained as a rabbi
in the US, back in 1976.)
In addition to ordination, she has
earned a few degrees over the years, all in different disciplines and
none worth much in the market place. (BA in Publication from Simmons;
M.Ed. in Psychoeducational Processes from Temple; Ed.D. in Foundations
of Ed. from Temple; honorary D.D. from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical
College for surviving 25 years in the rabbinate.)
In her spare time (which she finds by never cleaning the house), she's a birder and gardener, although her garden’s almost as much of a mess as her house. (She believes in
benign neglect: she plants it; if it comes up, great; if it doesn’t, she
tries something else. She lets nature do the watering, which is why
everything in the flower boxes is dead, and refers to the weeds as “wild
flowers and decorative grasses.”) When the weather’s nice enough to
garden, she’s more apt to be birding.
Unlike her protagonist, Rabbi Aviva Cohen, Ilene has been married
to the same man since 1976, and has two “millennial” sons, making her
part of the trendy group of “older” parents.
She is the author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen mystery series that includes Chanukah Guilt and Unleavened Dead. In addition, she is the author of Dirty Yiddish: Beyond Drek: The curses, slang and street lingo you need to know when you speak Yiddish.
SOME EXCERPTS FROM UNLEAVENED DEAD: THE 2ND RABBI AVIVA COHEN MYSTERY, BY ILENE SCHNEIDER (OAK TREE PRESS, 2012)
[before calling her sister, a few days before Passover]
I decided to do the freezer first, as it would be easier than the refrigerator. I had been eating weird combinations of foods (blintzes and pizza, barbecued chicken and cold Thai noodles – actually not that bad together – vegan egg rolls and spanikopita) for weeks, so all that was left now were stale ice cubes (yes, they can get stale), heels of freezer-burned rye bread, and Friendly’s Candy Cane ice cream, left over from the previous December.
[while speaking with her sister on the phone:]
“I told you, I’m cleaning out the fridge. I just looked inside a container and I’m not sure what the contents were in a former life, but I think I may be brewing a cure for cancer.”
[later in the conversation]
“Oh, double yuck.”
“I don’t know. I think it’s a new life form. It just winked at me. Listen, I’ll see you soon. I really have to concentrate on this refrigerator. I’m not sure, but I think some old pickles just spoke to me.”
“How can pickles go bad? They’re already preserved in vinegar.”
“I don’t know, maybe they hung out in with a rough crowd of slimy lettuce.”
[after the phone call]
I finally could give all my concentration to the refrigerator. It was even worse than I had thought. After dumping all the unidentifiable objects, I kept a couple of containers of yogurt, a jar of peanut butter, and some milk not yet past its sell-by date so I would be able to eat at least something at home the next few days. By the time I had emptied tins half-filled with green tuna, bottles of fuzzy tomato sauce, and jars of mutated olives into the garbage disposal, my recycling bin was overflowing with glass and metal. Some of the leftovers got thrown out directly into the trash, along with their storage containers; I was afraid I would unleash poison gases if I opened them. I turned on the lights in the rooms facing the back of the house and opened the shades so I could find my way through the dark backyard to the composter, where I added the fruits and vegetables that had begun to morph into creatures that any director of horror films would love to use. Everything else went into giant black plastic trash bags, which I dragged to the curb and added to the trashcan. Being green has its limits, and if I hadn’t gotten that stuff out of the house, I would have been turning a very unflattering shade of green.
[end of excerpts]
The above scene took place on the Tuesday night before the first Passover Seder the following Monday. As I write this blog, it is the Thursday night before the Monday Seder. Because of a variety of commitments – some personal, most professional – Aviva had to start even earlier than we have in real life. Well, perhaps not all that much earlier. We have been assiduously eating (and dumping) our way through the freezer and the refrigerator for a while now. The other day, we ran out of margarine. We would never finish a new tub before Pesach (the Hebrew for Passover) begins, so rather than buy one that would have to be tossed, my husband discovered that olive oil tastes great on baked potatoes. We find a lot of substitutions as we run out of condiments close to the holiday.
Did I exaggerate the descriptions of the results of Aviva’s excavation of the contents of her perishables for comic effect? Well, yes, and no. After all, they say to write what you know. We are often amazed at what we find what has been lurking in the back reaches of the fridge since the previous Pesach. Generally, though, the mutated veggies go into the composter before they have become sentient; I have gotten to the point where I can identify which veggie has gone bad just by the smell. (Onions and potatoes are particularly distinct.)
So, you may ask, with good reason, what am I doing sitting in a local branch of a nationally known coffee shop known for its highly addictive and overpriced frozen drinks, typing away on my laptop instead of helping my husband clean out the kitchen so the cooking frenzy can commence ASAP? Because the pre-Pesach shopping and cleaning have become his job. He has a stronger stomach than I do. And he finds shopping a challenge; I find it a chore. My job is to do the cooking, after I unearth the needed ingredients from the dozens of shopping bags that fill every open space in the garage, the family room, and the enclosed porch. And to draw up the shopping list, forget to add a crucial ingredient, and then blame him. Isn’t that what an egalitarian marriage is all about?
I wish all my Jewish friends a Zissen Pesach (a sweet Passover) and to my non-Jewish ones: please pick up some discounted Easter candy and put it away for me until after Pesach. My kitchen is Kosher for Passover.