I love a good play and a memorable story line. And that is one reason why I love the Passover Seder.
We act out this timeless story at our dining room table with puppets, costumes, poems and song. We bring to life the evil leader whose politics of oppression and dastardly antics (plagues) forces a group of believers (our invited guests) to leave their homes – to escape in the middle of the night – to pull up their roots and find a new homeland. We philosophize about leaders and community. This is the story of our ancestors and sadly, the very same story that is playing out again today throughout the world most notably in Africa and in the Middle East and the Ukraine. We talk about all of this.
I have heard and read this simple bible story of the Jews leaving Egypt for at least a half a century. And no matter where I am in the world, I always feel its relevance. Every year I feel the presence of the ancestors and of my loved ones as I take my seat at the Seder table.
Since I left my home in Boston at 17, I have never missed going to a Seder because it keeps me feeling connected to my community. I observed and participated in a Seder in Japanese when I lived in Tokyo for 6 months. I have participated in a Seder in French during my year abroad in Paris. My husband and I brought our matzo and Hagaddahs to a hotel room in London with the boys and dear friends the Fredmans (nope, note a typo…blame it on the Ellis island clerk) so as not to miss this special night.
I dragged my aching legs across the finish line of the Boston marathon with my son Jake in 2011 and we went that very evening to “sit” at my friend Debby Green’s Seder table.
Bill and I sat at my darling Susan Sirkman’s Seder for the past 6 years on the second night of Passover but her death last year ended this tradition …we will bring her spirit to our table this year, but will miss her laughter beyond words.
I have sat with my grandfathers, in-laws, and aunties and with my dad, all who are no longer at our table. And each time I sit at the Seder, I bring all these places, and all these people with me, as a reminder of my rich history. And I know, that I too will inevitably become an integral part of this Seder for my children.
When my husband Bill and I visited Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam this past Fall, I thought of their Passover in hiding as we stood in their home. And, I think about how this tradition has endured because its message is timeless. No matter where in the world you are, you can come together with others and share a story that connects and reminds you to treasure the freedom you now have and to open your heart to those who are suffering and oppressed.
And the craziest thing is, this “heavy” message is told in the liveliest and most celebratory way at the Seder, which makes it accessible to all generations. We always sing and laugh side-by-side, with our young and old, and we leave the table full of hope and renewal,optimism and very very drunk.
And, as much as I love the Seder, I love getting ready for it especially this year because the “kids” are now outnumbering the adults at the table.
Setting the Stage and The Table:
With young children I learned to make the Seder food with the help of calls to my auntie for her jello mold, to my nana for her brown sugar and butternut squash, my best friend’s mother for her Passover Kugel, and my Mom for her matzo balls. I learned to cook brisket in my 30’s from friend Leslie Garfield, and matzo covered in chocolate from my business partner. This year I’m learning a new gefilte fish recipe from my foodie friend Susan Leon (maybe someone will actually eat this version).
My Leonard Baskin Hagaddah needs an update but I use them anyway, because my dad gave them to me 30 years ago when I was first married. He was thrilled I was making a Jewish home. (I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I figured if I could pull off a Seder I qualified).
It doesn’t really matter that the book is dated because it’s only a backdrop for the evening’s discussion. It’s filled with simple timeless readings that are not the main event. What matters is the discussion. We will surely talk about the elections in Israel and most likely our outrage and fear. We will talk about what it means to be Jewish in the world today.
My son Jake is the eldest of all the kids by months. He has led the Seder since his dad passed 10 years ago. He was 18 then. He will be red-eyeing in from Seattle that morning to lead us once again from his father’s highlighted Haggadah.
My husband Bill, who converted to Judaism 7 years ago, loves this holiday and has claimed his place each year with a provocative contemporary story that inevitably ignites a heated discussion. He will most likely bake an astounding dessert.
At our table youth will reign. This year there will be 10 “kids” (4 who are not Jewish), 3 parents and my Mom (Nana Carol).
It’s amazing how the table has turned over the years.
And, we will sit for hours and laugh and talk and eat and sip our wine, sing our hearts out and in so doing embed our own living history on this generation and for future generations. And this is what makes for a great living play that never gets old, and why this night is different from all other nights.