Monday, March 25, 2013

Happy Passover!

Passover has always been my favorite holiday--at least since I've been an adult. As a child, Passover, like the rest of Judaism, was something I could not quite claim as my own.
My parents assiduously avoided religion, though my father was quick to condemn me for dating non Jewish boys and eventually marrying a non-Jewish man. They were maddeningly irrational, and I guess religion is irrational, and so is family in general, most of the time.
We went to my Orthodox uncle's house for Passover, and while I have some fond memories of playing with my cousins, who were just a year or two older than me, the seder, conducted all in Hebrew, and thus incomprehensible to a child who had not been either to Israel or to religious school, was no fun. It went on and on, way past midnight. And it required me to drink thimbleful after thimbleful of cough medicine-sweet Kosher wine. A tiny, skinny child, I was usually asleep under the table before long. And I couldn't have sung the questions anyhow.
Part of the seder features four sons (liberal Judaism like the branch to which I belong later changed this to "four children."),  one of who was wise, one wicked, one simple. I don't remember the other. At various parts of my youth, I played the simple child, who didn't know how to ask, because I had been taught nothing, and playing the wicked child, who questioned the faith. And as I got older and began investigating Judaism, I did that questioning a lot. It was how I learned.
It strikes me as odd, looking back, that this was a holiday whose major reason for being was to tell the story of the exodus, an event that scholars now declare never actually happened. Yet it is so important, so central to the tradition that it is repeated over and over in the Torah and in the prayers.
How could they claim to be telling the story if one person at the table at least had no clue what they were saying at all?
But once I was an adult, married to said gentile, and I had a son, he was going to be Jewish in a different way from the way I had been. I reveled in my new role as Jewish educator, for I had to educate myself first, and I did that, in the way a convert might have.
I sampled lots of different kinds of synagogues, approaches to the faith, etc., and ended up with one that made me feel comfortable and unaccountably at home.
I would preside at these seders and explain things to a table full of round-eyed innocents who didn't know what they had let themselves in for. They only knew I was a good cook, but not that they would have to wait for so long to eat.
By the time the meal was served, they could identify with the rag-tag bunch of former slaves in the desert, wishing there'd be something to eat besides that damn manna stuff. Bitter herbs? Parsley in salt water? Enough already, Dayenu!
I organized Jewish-Palestinian seders, anti-modern-slavery seders, feminist seders, peace seders... there was a seder for every day of the Passover week and then some. And most of the attendees were celebrating the holiday for the first time.
My son was initiated into Passover from an early age, and although the haggadahs I used were child-friendly,  in gender-free, nonsexist, polically correct English, and contained activities a young child could understand and enjoy (puppet shows! plays!), he also became bored and tended to wander away from the table.
On the other hand, as he grew older, he brought his friends home to show them Passover at his house, obviously proud and pleased to have a tradition the others didn't have to show off.
He attended religious school for a while before the teachers at the synagogue threw up their hands at him, and we allowed him to enroll in baseball, which became his refuge.
Later, the frequency of the seders at our house tapered off. I sometimes didn't attend any at all. There was no use trying to have one at our house because I couldn't get anyone to cooperate, and having two or three people at a seder is just sad and pointless.
Now that he is grown up, I attend the choir seder, and sometimes, if I'm lucky, am invited to a friend's first or second night meal.
I don't organize these things anymore. I'm happy to sit back and be part of someone else's seder.
Whatever celebration this season brings you, I hope it is a fine one.
Chag sameach!


marly youmans said...

No seder for me this year, though last year's was splendid.. Am overloaded with choir and more, so... Hope you have a good one somewhere!

Robbi N. said...

It's nice that you did a seder. I've been to some at the Catholic Worker, and in fact, am invited again this year, but I already said yes to something else (poetry related) this year.
I did have a lovely first-night seder at my friend Elizabeth's house, where she and I were the only Jews, and she didn't know any of the melodies to the songs, so I had to sing and tell stories, and generally do my shtick. And I also made a nice charoset made out of the customary apples, but also marsala, tangerine juice, dried cherries, frozen cranberries and dried cranberries. It was yummy, and did double duty with the cake the hostess requested that I make.
Passover pastry is a flimsy sort of thing, generally, made out of nuts--in this case, almond meal, and lots and lots of egg whites. I folded it over (it was made on a cookie sheet, smeared out in a rough rectangle, and covered with lemon curd. Then I froze it.
It was a hideous cake, speckled and suspect, as well as very sticky from the lemon curd, but when I cut it into slices and put them in a bowl, spooned on the chareset and also home-made whipped cream, it was ethereal! The secret is, just cover the thing up with good stuff and avert your eyes.

marly youmans said...

Funny! I had some scrumptious food at last year's seder... Was surprised by some things that I though I didn't care for--much spicier than I'd had before.

marly youmans said...

"Speckled and suspect": nice!