Biur Hames

by Loolwa Khazzoom • March 20, 2013 • Family Secrets

It was my senior year of college. I was up to my eyeballs in my senior thesis (yes I went to a college that required a thesis) and other coursework. Despite feeling completely overwhelmed, I flew back home from New York to California, not only for Pesah itself, but for the night before Pesah, when the family would comb through the house with a beeswax candle, paper plate, and tongs – saying the special blessings to purify our souls and our homes, while searching for the hames my mother and/or I had hidden. The activity was quite possibly my favorite part of Pesah, because the spiritually-elevated game of hide and seek involved cleverness and silliness and the element of surprise.

I remember feeling giddy with excitement and happiness as we prepared to search. My father, to the contrary, was having none of it. “Just tell us where it is, and let’s get it over with,” he snapped, irritated, at the outset of the search. He wanted to get back to work.

My 43 year old self says, “You have got to be fucking kidding me. Your daughter is so committed to her Iraqi Jewish heritage and family that she flies 3,000 miles to come home, despite sleeping a scant two or three hours a night because of the deluge of work, and you cannot spare 15, maybe 20 minutes to have a little family fun? For the ritual, I might add, that you taught her, that you wanted her to commit to?”

My 20 year old self, however, peacefully and sweetly offered that my father could do a speedy version either then or later with my mom, whatever his preference. I, however, had flown across the country to be home for this very ritual (despite the massive pile of work on my head); I had looked forward to it eagerly; and it was very important to me to do it in the full spirit of the holiday, before or after a turbo-charged version.

I was disappointed that my dad did not want to participate in the full celebration, because I loved him and had looked forward to sharing the event with both my parents. But I respected his choice. By age 20, I had been in therapy – both with my father and alone – for just shy of five years. After a lifetime of my boundaries routinely getting bulldozed by my father, I had become skilled at asserting my boundaries, in a way that was loving, firm, and taking into consideration the needs of all parties involved. To this day, I am proud of how I handled the situation. I felt calm, peaceful, and loving, inside and out.

My father, however, was having none of it. Not only did he want a clipped version of the holiday celebration, but he wanted everyone to have the same clipped version of the celebration. In other words, we all had to do it his way, and it was absolutely unacceptable for me not to comply.

I remained loving yet firm. If he wanted my participation, I needed the full megillah. If he wanted an abbreviated version, he could do it with my mom, either before or after I did the full version with her. My father, true to form, stormed out in protest — his trademark end-of-the-world, disaster-and-misery, tohu-vavohu look in full effect. It was the look that accused one of being a horrible, atrocious, meany-pants, ugly monster – a very, very, VERY bad person who had behaved egregiously and would be subsequently punished, by the complete and total withdrawal of affection.

I neither bit nor collapsed. Instead, my mom and I went ahead and did a proper biur hames. I do not have clear memories of that search, but I vaguely recall enjoying the search – determined not to get thrown off track by my father’s run-of-the-mill temper-tantrum.

The next night, the night of Pesah, my father was busy pouting in the den. He had been going at it a full 24 hours. It is unbelievable to me how much time and energy was spent in my family over matters that would have been so tiny if handled appropriately. I recall being aware of how much emotional destruction my father created over something as petty as a minor purchase. “He is willing to emotionally crush someone,” I remember thinking in my teenage years, “to save a tiny bit of money.” (And so my money issues began. I never wanted anything to do with money. I never wanted money to compromise the quality of a relationship or interaction. But I digress.)

I went into the den and said to my father, “When you’re ready to have a conversation like a mature adult, I’m here.” He made a face. I left the room – again, not allowing my father’s black cloud to affect my state of mind.

We all gathered at the seder table and began the ritual. By that point in my life, I had progressed from participating in the first part of the seder and falling asleep for the second half, to leading the majority of the seder, from the beginning through well after everyone else had fallen asleep. So there I was, actively remaining calm and joyful, leading the seder, when my father announced, in his trademark miserable, end-of-the-world tone, “I’m going to sleep.”

He got up and walked out on the seder.

I stopped reading the shetacha, took off my glasses, and put my head in my hands. I said nothing for a while. Five years. Five years of therapy, and nothing. My dad would seemingly make progress, then go right back to where he had started. More progress again, then right back to zero. It was not three steps forward and two steps back. It was two steps forward and two steps back. Over and over and over again.

Finally I sat up in my chair and looked at my mother. “I’m done,” I said.

That was the night my father lost me. From then on, my goal was simply to coast by until graduation, to thank my father for all he had provided me, most notably an outstanding education, and then get the hell away from him, to a life of safety and freedom.

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Loolwa KhazzoomLoolwa Khazzoom has worked with leading media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, Rolling Stone, and ABC News. In addition, she has published two books and has lectured at prestigious venues including Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Harvard University. Loolwa is passionate about health, music, dance, multiculturalism, and Judaism.

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Loolwa Khazzoom is a a public relations manager specializing in holistic media, holistic marketing, holistic public relations, and holistic promotions. Her services include branding and messaging development, image and communications management, website content development and optimization, social media management, traditional media campaign management, book development, and in-house writing and editing.

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