Today is a perfect reminder of why I love being a journalist.
Last night my editor calls me “I need you to do a photo shoot of someone.” We have a story written with quotes from Silva Tenenbein, a local professor. However, we didn’t have a photo.
“I can only do it on Saturday at 3 p.m.”, says Silva over the phone. “I’m in the middle of moving and preparing for Passover.”
Before I even see or meet Silva this beautiful black cat named Delaney comes to greet me. After five seconds of petting he kisses my hand and hops right on my lap.
Silva enters the room.
“Can you please take a photo of this?” I say, knowing this is probably one of those once in a life time moments of joy that I want documented. For a moment I forget that it’s my job to take photos of her. For a moment I’m not a reporter or a guest – I’m just a boy with a kitty on his lap.
Perhaps Delaney’s excited because it’s Passover.
Silva’s dining room table is immaculately set with the finest silver, fine bone china and candleholders.
“It’s my grandmother’s china”, she tells me. “We bring it out once a year for Passover.”
Passover, she explains, marks the liberation of Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. It’s marked with a formal dinner as well as an hour and a half to three hours of formal ceremonies.
Growing up I can’t recall a time when I’ve eaten off my grandmother’s fine china. She’s always keeps it locked away in one of her cabinets for use by her favoured branch of the family.
China has always been something to be viewed – never touched or used.
“Can I look at your china?” I ask, promising not to upset her display. “Oh, of course you can even touch it if you like!” I look at the bottom of the serving bowl and it’s stamped with the name of some ancient china factory in England.
Her grandmother, who was from Winnipeg, died so in the ‘60s so the china is probably from the ’30s or ‘40s.
Silva’s a pretty modern person, nothing about her is dusty and ancient. She’s queer, into leather and is professor who focuses on how language is used to fuck with people. Reporters, for instance, use language to send a message: freedom fighters versus terrorists or global warming versus climate change.
I don’t fully understand the significance of Passover but I know it’s an ancient tradition. It’s probably been celebrated by her ancestors for hundreds or thousands of years. The times have changed so has culture, language, identity and so forth. However, this tradition seems to be every bit as serious and important today as it was in her ancestors’ time.
It’s a poignant reminder that history must be seem, heard, touched and practiced. These old traditions, whatever they may be in our lives, keep us grounded and connected with the universe and are not exclusive of our modern values.
I’m inspired by the values and stories of my ancestors who were miners and loggers on Vancouver Island. They spent decades fighting for the rights of workers. A century later I’m mindful of this in my current struggles. People tell me that the past is the past, that I need to forget the struggles and victories of those who’ve gone before me, but I take great strength, courage and inspiration from their example.
History is happening right now, whether it be in my own life or a dinner at Passover. The stories, traditions and customs of yesterday have a purpose and a place today.