Author Archives: Jan Bross

Passover Seder Meals

Main Piece: Everything we eat in Pesach has a special meaning behind it. We eat an egg, a lamb bone, bitter vegetable herbs and fruits and nuts, all because it reminds of the deeds of good Moshe. The lamb represents the sacrifice of a goat that was offered at the Holy Temple, for which Moshe was responsible. The fruits and nuts are the mortar that our people used to build storage houses for Pharaoh. The egg, which is hard boiled, was eaten on the first Pesach Seder that took place in the Holy Temple after the sacrifice. We also sacrificed a chicken for the Lord, and ate the egg it laid behind to remind ourselves of our connection to Him. Finally, there’s the matza, the most important of all the meals. Bread with no yeast. The meal of our people for 40 years in the desert. When we eat it, we are reminded of the suffering and dedication of Moshe and the slaves that gave the Holy Land back to us. At the end of the night, we have a little game where the elders hide the matza in some place of the house and the children look for it. Whoever finds it first gets money from the grandparents, and they get to eat it. I don’t know if it has a deeper meaning behind it, but it was my way of keeping the children up for the entire thing. It’s very important to me that they celebrate the Seder with us and understand their history through our food and traditions.

Background information about the piece by the informant: Ethel is the matriarch of a Jewish family in Mexico City and always organizes the Seder dinners in her house. As she said, they are very important to her, as her grandchildren learn about their cultural history through it.

Context about the piece: Pesach, or Passover, celebrates the Biblical event in which Moses freed the Hebrew people from the slavery of Egypt. According to the Torah, they wandered 40 years in the desert before arriving to Canaan, or Israel, to build their Holy Temple.

Thoughts about the piece: Like many other Jewish festivities, it is celebrated and remembered through food. This goes on to show that the Jewish culinary tradition is not simply based on the ingredients available to the culture, but is rather strongly tied to the significance of their traditions. The game of the mazta in the end gives an interactive aspect to the Seder, which involves the younger participants of the ritual and draws in the younger generations to continue the tradition.


Argentine Riddle

Main piece:

  1. Q: Lana sube, lana baja. Qué es?

La navaja.

  1. Wool up, wool down. What is it?

The knife.

  1. Wool goes up, wool goes down. What is it?

The knife.

Background information about the piece by the informant: Emanuel was born and raised in Argentina, where this is a common joke riddle. He says it is exclusively Argentinian, as it can only be understood in Spanish being a play on words, and can only be funny in Argentina, as its humor is very specific to the country.

Context on the piece: This is an innocent joke riddle in which the answer is much more simpler than what is expected. In Spanish “Wool goes down” is “Lana baja”, which sounds like “La Navaja”, meaning “The knife”. The audience is supposed to break their heads finding a hidden meaning in the ambiguous question, while the answer is an obvious play on words. It’s a classic “it was so simple the whole time” joke. This makes the person trying to give an answer seem dumb for not knowing such a simple question, so the comedy if for the performer instead of the audience, as he gets to make fun of the person trying to give the answer.

Thoughts on the piece: Emanuel claims the riddle can only work for Argentine sensibilities, which can tell us that this is a society of pranksters who enjoy simple jokes. This joke could be either for kids or adults due to its simplicity and inoffensive nature, despite its point being leaving a person dumbfounded. It also creates a strong sense of community when only people who speak Spanish in Argentine can get the joke.

Jotos and 41s

Main Piece: In Spain, they call gay people “Jotos” because of a jail cell. Jail cells are either numbered or labeled by a letter , and until recently, when gay people went to jail they used to put them in cell “J”. Don’t ask me why, ‘casue I don’t know, that’s just the way it was. Now cells are numbered with much more complicated digits because of the increasing number of criminals, but back then, the cells had normal numbers to label them: 1, 2, 3… Again, they used to put gays in cell 41, maybe to keep them away from everyone else. That’s why 41 is the gay number in Spain. It’s like when people in America laugh when someone uses the number 69. If someone says the number 41 or something, it’s pretty funny here. And not only that. In some of the most conservative parts of the country, the number is seen as obscene, and some hotels even take it out of its room numbers, like the number 13. That’s why if you’re gay, the call you a Joto or a 41. It could be used both as an insult or a sign of affection, but they can call you this even if you’re not gay as an insult.

Background information about the piece by the informant: Jordi was raised in Mexico and resides in Madrid and claims to hear people being called Jotos and 41s on a daily basis. He knew that Jotos were gay people because they are also called that way in Mexico, but didn’t know about the 41s. He asked about that to one of his close friends, who told him the story.

Context on the piece: Although there is no recorded reason to why gay people are called Jotos (Jota is the Spanish pronunciation of the letter “J”), there is one about the number 41, which actually originated in Mexico. Apparently, in 1901, there was raid in which 41 men were detained for showing up in women’s clothing. This was reported by the contemporary press and became a scandal during the conservative years of president Porfirio Diaz. The new reached Spain and they adopted the insult.

Thoughts on the piece: Considering the recorded history of using 41 as an insult for homosexuals, it shows how history still has an effects on the present. This is something that happened over 100 years ago, and not only that, but people in Spain have adopted the insult and gave it their own story. To goes to show how the folk from a culture can appropriate even insults to serve their own purposes, and as Jordi says, most of them believe that the term originated in Spain. Not everyone knows the story behind the terms though, showing the disregard of the history of certain words that might be offensive to an entire group because of their past which is also present in American culture.

Dite from Madrid

Main Piece:

  1. Como cuando Franco.
  2. Like when Franco.
  3. Just like when Franco was here.

Background information about the piece by the informant: Jordi lives in a predominantly right winged neighborhood in Madrid where the former military dictator Francisco Franco is considered a hero. Jordi finds the dite baffling, as he is amazed at how people can still support a known mass murderer and oppressor.

Context on the piece: This is a common saying for people who believe that Spain was better under Franco’s rule. It is said whenever something they consider to be good happening in their land, and it could be something as big as a political move or something as minimal as the weather. For example, if they think they are having a nice day, they might say “Just like when Franco was here”.

Thoughts on the piece: It’s fascinating to see how people from a land are so attached to the politics that perspired in there. In this case it makes even more sense, as Franco’s ideals were nationalistic and populist. Thus, it would it is understandable that these people that feel attached to their land and nation glorify Franco to such a degree, as he protected the ideals of the nation state.

The Golden Temple

Main Piece: One of the most beautiful buildings in Kyoto is the Golden Temple of Kinkaku-Jin. It is a small shrine to Buddha that is covered in golden leaf and sits on top of a pond, where its reflection is mirrored by the water. But this is not the original temple. This is a second temple that they constructed exactly the same as the first, because its beauty came with a curse. Many years ago, a young monk arrived to Kyoto and he fell in love with the beauty of the gold temple. He loved it as if it were a spouse; he stared at it for countless hours, he talked to it, and it made him feel closer to God. He loved it so much that he became jealous of all the other monks that prayed in the temple, and he became to be tortured by this jealousy. In time, the only thing he could think about was the beauty of the temple. He couldn’t eat or work or even pray; he became consumed by it. So, one day, he decided he couldn’t take it any longer. He lit a steak on fire and there it in the temple, which was immediately consumed by the flames. After there was nothing left of it, the monk tried killing himself with a sword, but he was stopped by the local authorities, who arrived because of the fire. When they asked him why he did it he told them that he “could not stand the beauty of the temple”.

Background information about the piece by the informant: Ga Hyun was born and raised in Tokyo Japan. She and her family heard this story this from locals when they visited the rebuilt Golden Temple. They gave her no specific names or dates.

Context on the piece: Historically, the building was burned down in 1950 by a 22-year-old monk who did try to commit suicide. The part of the story which gives it its status as a legend is the motives that the monk had for doing this. In reality, he was trialed on the accounts of mental illness, and there are no official documents in which he is recorded saying that he did it because he couldn’t stand its beauty.

Thoughts on the piece: The motive that the story gives to the monk for burning the temple shows an emphasis on the aesthetic beauty on the Temple. It makes me wonder if the story is not actually folklore, but rather a fakelore to attract tourists by using the beauty of the temple as a plot device.