Bagels, bazaars and concerts: A Passover of grievance

Mug illustration of Arts columnist Ryan McCullough.
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I spent my Saturday avoiding Jewish responsibilities. It was Passover, but I had no plans for a Seder. For personal reasons, I can’t go to Hillel, and most of my Jewish relatives are either too far away to hold a Seder with — or dead. With my invitation to the celebrity YouTube Seder apparently lost in the mail, I felt like the personification of the “wandering Jew,” heading from one art event to the next. 

I started my day with hametz, which you’re not supposed to do. I went to Boichik Bagels in the late morning with plans to meet a friend. She’s always 20 minutes late, which is almost impressive since she’s a five-minute walk away. I passed the time standing adjacent to Boichik and staring at my reflection in a storefront until I started to disassociate. 

Now, bagels were created by Polish Jews, and “bagel” itself is a Yiddish word. The Yiddish language, filled with countless variations of the word “idiot,” is maybe my favorite language, and it’s also responsible for the word bagel. The bagel, then, has powerful origins. 

That said, I was surprised the bagelry was even open since many New York City bagel shops remain closed over Passover. This brief waiting period allowed me to practice one of my favorite traditions: ordering a bagel. 

I strongly believe that a bagel order is an artistic expression.  There are many potential missteps in delivering a bagel order, from the bagel to the toppings. When I had a Tinder profile, my bio was “tell me your bagel order,” which was both a sort of calling to other Jews and also a way for me to gatekeep. A bagel order is indicative of taste and can easily stretch into a tocsin. 

As an example, I’ve lost friends over the topic of the blueberry bagel. Often topped with strawberry cream cheese, this affront is a cake masquerading as a bagel. It’s a Trojan horse with ill intentions toward the integrity and tradition of the bagel. 

This treif –– ordered by Christian Seder enthusiasts and other categories of undesirables –– is suggestive of a character defect. Boichik, as a worthwhile bagel establishment, does not offer the blueberry bagel or strawberry cream cheese. It is a safe place. I was once scorned at Boichik by a Fran Lebowitz impersonator for taking up too much space on the sidewalk, exactly the kind of interaction I crave when I leave my apartment. 

After ingesting enough dairy to be reminded of my lactose intolerance, I walked 1.5 miles to deliver a bagel to a friend. She was busy with her stand at a bazaar. This was a very artsy event. Attendees were crocheting in corners, and most were well-dressed. 

In artsy scenes, it’s easy to notice that everyone dresses well in the same way or dresses weird in the same way. Some of these clothes exist outside paradigms of good or bad. These outfits veer toward a neutral, neutered kind of weirdness. Contrary to what some parts of Twitter may tell you, this is fine. People typically dress the same as their social groups, and art scenes are no exception. 

At this point, a significant number of young people know how to dress well. Being stylish is becoming less impressive; having no sense of style is becoming more unforgivable. 

Sales spaces, even in an artistic environment, are exhausting. Needing to be genuinely cordial toward more than 10 people a day is unnatural. I don’t know if Karl Marx wrote anything about that, but he should have. 

This social exhaustion was coupled with a sudden feeling of guilt stemming from not attending a Seder. In response to the guilt and the exhaustion, I left the bazaar for the pastures of an outdoor concert. The first band I saw was adorned with paisley bucket hats, dark beanies and turquoise guitars. These style choices told me they were about to cover The Frights. 

I think it’s funny when a band is all men. Maybe this is because I haven’t had more than three male friends at a time since middle school, but it’s quaint to me. Did they all meet in their dorm? I actually know they all met in their dorm — they said so. Do they not have friends outside of their dorm?

On my way back, I kept lamenting the lack of a Seder and the lack of connection to other Jews. While in my friend’s car, an ambulance barreled toward us, so we didn’t notice a pedestrian starting to enter a crosswalk, who dramatically threw his arms up in response. Even on Passover, he was unwilling to part alongside the seas. 

My window was down, and I reactively let out an “oh, stop it.” He flipped me off in response. Sometimes, the art of being culturally Jewish is being a thorn in everyone else’s side.

Passover is about the series of events leading to the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. It’s a tale of liberation, but also one of diaspora. As I tried, and failed, to find a sense of community, my own wandering on Passover was perhaps the product of diaspora — or maybe I’m just a jerk.

Ryan McCullough writes the Monday A&E column on exploring the irritations of art. Contact him at [email protected].