neworleans: April 2008 Archives
Just when I was feeling guilty about heading into Passover without a thought of my desert-crossing ancestors or my going-without-bread family members, I ran into Ronald Lewis, a sweet-hearted, tough-minded guy who is still among the lonely pioneers who've returned to his Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood. (He was a key character in a piece I did for Salon last year.)
"You comin' to the Seder?" he asked.
"The one at my house."
Turns out LJ Goldstein, photographer, Jew-about-town, founding member of Krewe du Jieux, was holding his krewe's ritual dinner at Lewis's recently restored home. If my culture was on display for a night at Lewis's place, so was his, permanently: When I introduced my wife, Erica, Lewis commanded: "Go see my museum!" -- the House of Dance and Feathers located just behind his home (this is the second edition, and impressive at that, reconstructed after Lewis lost his previous artifacts in the floods).
Some guests had prepared traditional Jewish fare -- kugel and matzoh ball soup and so on. There was brisket, too -- from The Joint, a favorite Bywater barbecue spot. We sat on the floor and worked through two hours of a Passover service far more faithful than my family's version. And different -- the Haggadah, for instance, began with "Shalom, y'all." Helen Regis, scholar of all things second-line, was there, as was Joel Dinnerstein, who is on Tulane Univeristy's faculty. So was Willie Birch, whose paintings, drawings, and mixed-media sculptures tell stories of struggle and transcendence as powerfully as the Haggadah.
"Yeah. I'm doin' a multicultural thing," Lewis joked when Birch showed up. When it came time to give thanks and to reflect, he turned serious. "I'm thankful for being back. But I miss the Ninth Ward like it was. I used to be able to just walk and see everyone and everything where there is still mostly nothing."
From there, as any good Seder does, we traced the tale of enslaved Jews on the run from Egypt, and I thought about how little difference there is between "Let My People Go" and "Let My People Go Home."