Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Different Night

The way things are going here, we might be serving pork loin and shrimp cocktail at the next Seder. There was a time when I admired Orthodox Jews and envied their singularity of focus and cohesiveness of community. I was appalled when the French banned yamulkes and headscarfs in public schools and was of the mind that freedom of religion trumped any other liberty. From infancy, Joe College attended synagogue with us weekly. This dwindled when we had Spuds but the temple still remained central to our lives. Both boys celebrated Bar Mitzvah. Mandatory temple attendance for the High Holidays was present on the list of their teenage complaints but in college both gravitate towards Jewish friends and participate in Jewish activities. Spuds calls me this week for a brisket recipe.

I've always created at least one real and sort of elaborate Seder each year, nights of remembrance that differ from all the other nights. I'm not into it right now. Seven children are burned to death in Brooklyn because in adherence to the Sabbath their dinner is left to warm on a hotplate. I drive down Fairfax on an unseasonably warm March day and see women in long skirts with wigs and men in black wool coats. Perhaps, refusing to switch on an oven or cleaving to 18th century Polish fashions in the middle of a heatwave makes one feel closer to God but maybe it just makes one feel more detached from people who are not the same.

I tell Joe College that I want to keep it simple this year and that he and Girlfriend In-Law should just come up for a Passover dinner. “Really?” he asks, disappointed. I agree to host a scaled down Seder and tell him that he and GF In-Law can invite three guests. This grows to eight. I'm o.k. with this although my usual week of Seder prep is condensed to two days. However, the anticipation of guests does not exactly transport Himself to his happy place. When the little Seder blossoms from seven to fourteen he is mopey, his misery abject.

Joe College and I hash an April Fool's prank. We know that while Himself's work space is right next to the answering machine, but unless a call is from a number he recognizes he will not answer the phone. Joe College borrows a friend's phone to call and starts speaking into the machine. I am reminded what a talented actor the lad is, so good in fact that despite the lousy odds of success in the field, I wouldn't discourage him from pursuing this as a career. “Mom,” he starts. “I'm in a sort of awkward situation...” He goes onto explain that there will be six additional guests at the Seder, including a particular big personality-ed kid who has a way of sucking the life out the room.

When, in this long marriage, we actually refer to one another by name, the situation is dire. Himself bolts down the stairs screaming, “Laaaaaaayne!” He is ashen and unable to form words as he thrusts the phone in my face. He threatens that he'll get me back good next year but this one will be hard to top.

While I assemble the traditional Passover foods the TV news shows footage of the massacre at Kenyan Garissa University College. In an interview, the owner of an Indiana pizza joints says they'd refuse to cater a same sex wedding. Because so many gay couples are clamoring to serve pizza at their weddings... Business at the pizza place diminishes after this but a crowd funding campaign raises a nearly million dollar contribution for the restaurant. Islamic extremists behead aid workers on TV. Never in my life do I remember news of such barbarity and hatred in the name of faith.

The Seder is the annual Jewish celebration commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, which freed the Jewish people from slavery. The story is that God subjected the Egyptian people to plagues which grew more brutal, culminating in the death of the first born son. The tears of thousand mothers finally softened the Pharaoh’s heart.

Jews are commanded to tell the tale, not once, but twice. We have done so dutifully for a quarter of a century. We clean the house and get rid of bread and noodles and cookies in order to simulate the Jews hurried Exodus from Egypt. We do this though because we've always done it. We our proud that at this time Jews all over the world are reflecting on their freedom but the story we're commanded to tell might as well be Cinderella or Hansel and Gretel. We celebrate, with four glasses of wine, the violence God wreaked on the Egyptian people to secure our freedom. The token nod the Seder makes to the grief of the Egyptians is a tiny drop of wine we spill to represent each one of the plagues. The fairy tale trivializes our wonder at our own blessings and brushes the struggle of those less fortunate than we are under the rug.

We go free form this year and encourage our guests to envision his or her own celebration of freedom. Spuds sends from Annadale a picture of his friends preparing for their own seder. The kids here aren't wildly enthusiastic about the non-eating parts of the evening, more hungry for food than meaning. All of the kids have been at the house before. We've known most of them for four years and many will be graduating, along with Joe College in a couple of weeks. All are polished and interesting to converse with, after four years of college. Even Himself, King of the Introverts, enjoys their company. Now most will move away and find jobs. They will have their own homes and no longer seek refuge from a dormitory at ours. It is bittersweet to think that now they will have their far flung lives and there will never be another Seder with the same guest list. Indeed, the night is different from all other nights.


John L. Murphy / "FionnchĂș" said...

Rosie O'Donnell mused that not even lesbians would serve pizza at a wedding. While I contemplate next April 1st, in the meantime, thanks to your spousal inspiration, my take on the same, if pre-Seder! Elijah's Chair"

Jerome said...

Fwiw we're commanded four times to tell the story(verses available on request). We don't drink or I dont drink to celebrate the deaths of the Egyptians ler SE. The death of oppressors at the Red Sea is recounted. But you can add the midrashim of god telling the Angels to stop singing with the Israelites as the Egyptians were drowning. Still, I wouldn't expect auschwitz prisoners to shed too many tears for Dresden. In any case, the Haggadah can certainly be read in a fashion consonant with your concerns. Denying that in fact there have been people committed to the destruction of the jewish people is silly. I'd not want to be a Jew living anywhere close to where ISIS controls. The plight if the Yazidis is shocking.. We can use the seder to talk about real Slaves today and oppression like what happens to the Yazidis and other minotities oreven to jews in say, France. I wouldn't confuse orthodoxy with basket tshuvah or Haredim. If you see the israeli film, Foitnote, you'll sed Orthodox Jews not too different from you both. Kisses and a happy Passover. Btw, 16th century Rabbi, the Maharal (of Golem fame) taught that as israel was saved by the merits of Abrahsm isaac and Jacob (& their covenant) we have the three matzot on the Seder plate. And in remembrance of the merit of the four matriarchs by whose merit we were redeemed from Egypt, we have four glasses. And had egypt ket israel go ehen first asked and not one Egyptian had died, I think we'd still celebrate. (For a thought, read all of Lincoln's 2nd inaugural address and read what he says about the blood ring spilled during the Civil War and how it might relate to Egypt).