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Why is This Night Different from All Other Nights?

matzoh

It was really just going to be too much trouble to do a Passover Seder this year. My mother is Jewish, and I live in the same town as my parents and my only sibling, but we are just all sort of Professionally Busy.  My brother (a doctor!) runs a hospital, I (a lawyer!) have a couple of jobs, and our entirely gentile spouses are willing participants in Jewish holidays, but unlikely organizers thereof. Then there are the kids, the dogs, the community obligations, the laundry, the cello lessons, the baseball conditioning…there is always a reason to opt out of anything that involves lots of cooking and dressing up, particularly in the middle of the week.

(I should also mention that members of my own household attend church on a regular basis, and that this week is also Holy Week and culminates in the “Big E.”  Easter and Passover are certainly not mutually exclusive, since Easter would not exist without that last Seder, but a Jewish Hootenanny requiring the production of everything from matzoh balls to flourless cake is daunting if there’s a Christian Ham Fest coming at you at the end of the week). We decided, in a round of phone calls, that a Seder was just too much this year. My parents (one Jew, one Atheist) would join us for brunch after Easter Sunday services, and my brother’s family would be on their own and scot-free.

Then, while I was cooking dinner the other night, I happened to listen to a podcast version of American Public Media’s “Speaking of Faith,” in which a Talmudic scholar was talking about Passover, and the Exodus story. She spoke about the fact that a Seder, a ceremony that takes place not in a temple, but in a family home, is about “telling the story” of the Exodus from Egypt. The point is not that it be read and assimilated in some private, scholarly way, but that it be “told” again and again, year after year, with the children who are “told” in their childhood becoming the “tellers” as they grow to adulthood and bring their own children to the table. For me, this telling has significance in terms of both religious faith and of family connection; the story also has great resonance with the story of any people enslaved by an unjust government and finally escaping to freedom. It seemed, as I sliced onions, that I was maybe, possibly crying some complicated combination of tears involving both irritating gas and a sense that I was letting something slip away that was of great importance to my son, and to my brother’s children.

haggadah

So, in the spirit of any good Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movie, I said (to no one in particular) “let’s put on a Seder!!” I knew I was on my own – the Seder of my childhood with an army of women cooking briskets, roasting lamb shanks, and starching table cloths was simply not on. I also knew that the Seder couldn’t be held on the actual first night of Passover because I was going to be out for oysters (traif) and beer (a yeast-containing product forbidden during Passover) with a friend on that night. I decided on Thursday night, which is the second night of Passover, and on which some more orthodox Jews actually hold a second Seder. It was nothing that would make a Rabbi proud,  but I get points for scrappiness. Or something.

seder-table

I called my brother and told him that all I wanted was the kids, and that he and my sister in law were free to attend, not attend, go out to dinner, or disport themselves in the manner of their choosing. He said I could have them, and that he would make the matzoh ball soup (as he always does) whether or not they decided to come for dinner. That meant I had the opening act taken care of, and an army of minions (not to be confused with minyans) to help me chop apples, snap asparagus, serve and clear. I called my mother and told her we were on for Passover, and that my conditions included the use of plates, glasses and silver that could be washed in the dishwasher, a tablecloth that could go in the washing machine, and freedom to tweak the menu in a respectful manner. The tectonic plates shifted, and I was given a free pass (over).

Here’s the menu:

Matzoh Ball Soup (Made by my brother)

Brisket (Made by me, using the Ancestral Recipe)

Asparagus (Nice and springy, and a welcome break in a heavy meal)

Gfelte Fish (Ick, ick, ick, but some of the family loves it)

Noodle Kugel (This recipe although I will probably use apricots instead of apples. My mom says it should really only be served if the main dish is chicken, but I have reminded her of the Great Passover Compact of 2009).

Fresh Fruit for Dessert (No one who has consumed matzoh balls, brisket and noodle kugel needs to eat cake, flourless or otherwise).

passover-plate

In addition to the actual meal, there must also be bitter herb (probably horseradish), charoset (fabulous stuff made of apples, nuts and honey to symbolize mortar), a shank bone most likely a bone from tonight’s chicken thighs), roasted eggs (hard boiled instead so they don’t freak out the kids), salt water, and free-flowing matzohs. There will also be a couple of bottles of good wine (I’ll need it by then), and sparkling cider for the kids. I believe that part of freedom for the children of Israel is that they be spared from drinking Manischewitz.

(NOTE: None of these pictures is mine, they are all stock photos taken by Strange Jews in Cyberspace. I will take pictures of our own actual Seder on Thursday night).

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About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

15 responses »

  1. What’s “traif”?

    Reply
  2. Congrats to you. It’s a lot of work, I imagine and good of you to continue the tradition. I myself am a fan of traditions even though I was raised in a religious(less) home. I loved the minion/minyan a possible shout out to my error last week? 😉 I have no clue about these things. ..

    Reply
  3. Eric – traif = not kosher.

    Michelle, I think there is room for great tradition without religion, it just happens to have been “packaged” that way in my mom’s family. In my actual household growing up…pretty religious(less) aside from holidays celebrated by the families on either side. Yes; you reminded me of the “minyan” and it stuck in my brain.

    Reply
  4. Ok, I grew up on Sydney Taylor’s All of A Kind Family series, chronicling the lives of young Jewish girls growing up on NY’s lower east side. As a Hindu who celebrated lunar calendar dictated festivals and holidays that didn’t fit with anything Christian, I always felt a kinship with those who celebrated Passover, Yom Kipur, Purim and the like. I’m thrilled to see you telling the tale once more.

    Reply
  5. I love this! I am relating quite a bit…May I link to you? And provide your first paragraph as an intro. if I get my act together here?

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  6. Sorry, but I can’t stop laughing at “Strange Jews in Cyberspace.” Best photo credit ever!

    Reply
  7. A note from the guilt ridden brother’s wife: I do not enjoy tradition much, mine or others. Also, I am not well this week and may still be on clear liquids for said Seder. Although I am not opposed to sharing the burden in future years given a little more notice and the unprecedented flexibility indicated here.

    Reply
  8. Sue, those are my favorite, favorite, favorite books – I read them so many times I wore out the original set. I was always torn between wanting to be Sarah, with whom I identified strongly, and Henny because she was naughty and I was such a goody two shoes. Thanks for reading!!

    Kate, of course you can! I’d be honored.

    Lisa, I’m honored to have a personage of your importance visiting the blog. The photo credit is the kind of thing that one can only get away with if one is a member of the Tribe….

    Mary, I certainly intended to create no guilt; my only request was the kids. Hope you feel better soon.

    Reply
  9. What a good memory you’re making for that family. I believe in rituals and customs. They help bring families closer together, sometimes in spite of themselves.
    We’ll celebrate the Christian Ham Fest here, (lol) followed by the Pagan ritual of hunting for the colored eggs in honor of Fecundity.
    What a wonderful mish-mosh of celebrations!!

    Reply
  10. Trisha, thanks. I totally agree that it’s those “ties that bind.” It’s all good, this Easter/Passover “mish-mosh.” In fact, tomorrow I shop for Passover food and Easter Basket stuff.

    Reply
  11. Ann,

    Interesting comparison of motives.

    Celebrating because of feeling somehow inspired by the actual concept and meaning of the holiday, not because of feeling obligated to celebrating based on the date on the calender…. Who said we quit growing?

    And that brisket recipe, so silly, that will never be refridgerated overnight. Nope, that will be eaten as soon as it doesnt scald the mouth lining. Recipe needs to read “make 3 briskets and hide one well, and carry the last one well wrapped next door. Then, once the first one is scarfed down, you can go “find” the hidden one and maybe, just maybe there will be the 3rd one for the next day.

    Reply
  12. Robert, astute as usual. The whole thing feels pretty different when it’s done out of passion rather than duty. As for the brisket, it is going to live in my parents’ fridge before it hots non-scald. If I made three, though, we’d eat them all….

    Reply
  13. Wow.
    The Great Passover Compact of 2009…
    you’re too much.
    I’m proud to know you and can’t wait to see the pics.

    Reply
  14. Tonight I’m going to Seder dinner at a friend’s house. This will be my third Seder celebration in my life.

    Gfelte fish can be quite good, I think my friends bought it at some special place in Brooklyn.

    It should be lots of fun as they are inviting a bunch of friends and famly! I anticipate this will be a Seder party!

    Reply
  15. Mary, I’m in the home stretch – the brisket and noodle pudding are done, and I will snap asparagus and chop apples with the kids later. My mom is showing signs of violating the Compact, though. I’m shocked?

    Diana, I hope it’s fabulous! It is a happy holiday, and the food is great. I’m glad you like gfelte fish…maybe I’ll try again this year. Maybe not. 🙂

    Reply

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