Seder? I Hardly Know Her…

I am a sucker for musical theater, and no matter how you slice it, that’s all a seder is. There’s the religious theater, which I have to admit, is not only my very favorite way to digest anything religious, but it’s also one of my favorite bits of theater, and there’s all the singing. Also, sitting with more than three members of any family immediately becomes an Albee play, so if you’re not finding a way to enjoy it, you’re just a fool.

I’m not Jewish, but my wife’s family is, and at this point I spend as much time with her family as I do my own (which is my own family’s fault for living so damn far away). Just to clarify, when I talk about either of our families, I always think of them as “our” family, instead of mine and hers. She said the other day “our brother and sister-in-law had a baby” because, I guess “our brother and sister had a baby” has a totally different meaning, even to Northerners.

Anyway, in our family, we do two seders, the first two nights. And, although we don’t eat bread at the meal, the whole leavened bread thing isn’t applicable. If Jordana went eight days without bread, I probably would to, at least in front of her. I fast with her on Yom Kipur, although it’s a “fluid fast” which includes not only drinking water, but also coffee and diet coke. So, Jordana and I split a turkey and cheese sandwich on wheat bread yesterday for lunch, we just didn’t tell her folks.

So, some highlights from the two nights.

Night one.

1. Jordana suddenly found herself the youngest person at the table and, in a sweet small voice, sang the four questions. I nearly died. She has a sister who is three years younger, so the only time she has done the four questions was when she was old enough to know what the hell was going on and her sister was still too young to. Jordana looked at the haggadah and read the Hebrew without much ceremony, it’s a song she knows in her hindbrain the way I know “Longer” by Bread or “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” by Bach.

2. Jordana’s mother, who is genetically incapable of allowing something to happen without offering help, began singing along, completely uninvited, with Jordana’s four questions. This is a woman who lives to be of service, who has faced traffic in both directions just to be on hand to paint at our new house, who will get you a drink if she suspects you are thirsty, but who will also remind you to turn left into your own driveway lest you might forget. One has to take the good with the bad when the motivations are identical, and I certainly wouldn’t want her any other way, but I would love to have heard Jordana finish the song.

(By the way, everyone calls it the four questions, but when I’m following along, it looks like it’s one question followed by four answers. Maybe it’s one big question “Why is this night different from all other nights?”, and then an array of smaller questions, like “why do we recline?” Even weirder, we don’t recline, and I don’t know what the answer to that is…)

3. Jordana’s dad flipping through the movie times while the Hebrew is being sung, belching loudly and eating the fruit salad out of the serving bowl using his fingers. It is no wonder Jordana married me. This is a guy who doesn’t know what the hell is going on, is basically disgusting, and somehow he gets away with it through sheer charm. Jordana found me disgusting and thought, “Aha, this is the man for me!”

4. Grandma Clara’s fiance (yes, they are getting married at the end of the summer) putting on his tape of Passover songs. I won’t be able to do this justice, I wish I could include a clip, but it’s a tape of synth-rock songs which set the themes and tunes of the Passover service to late 80s medium hard rock ballads, sung by a moany, floating RockStar who found himself a niche. If it hadn’t been quite so loud and if I hadn’t really needed a nap, I would have enjoyed it more.

5. Clara’s six pounds of kugel, eight trays of side dishes, three pound chicken, giant stew pot of *amazing* matzo ball soup, two whole large fish and 21 pound turkey to feed seven people. The difference between the amount of food when we started and the amount when we were past-sated was almost indistinguishable.

Day Two

1. 22 people at a table that fits 16. Every bite of food you took was like a romantic toast, your arm entwined with the person next to you.

2. Gabby’s baby, now three months old, doing the four questions. Gabby sang them with Skylar in her carrying sling, honest-to-God, staring at the Hebrew in the hagaddah the whole time. Gabby has a lovely singing voice, and she reads Hebrew better than anyone at the table, and Skylar, who’s a bit of a talker and singer, was silent the whole time like she was trying to memorize the words.

(I apologize for how much this means to me, but people have been singing this song as children and infants for thousands of years, in different languages and in different cities, sometimes in gorgeous homes on Long Island, sometimes while bombs were going off over head, sometimes while in a tent, running from a pogrom. The songs from this night are a connection to something more historic than archaeology, more meaningful than the musical trivia we’ve committed to memory, more holy than church hymns. I’ll write on this later, but this is why I want my children to know the songs, to have the ceremonies, even if Jordana doesn’t care.)

3. The inevitable political discussion. Politics start, and I hang my head and hide. Y’see, the Jewish population voted for Bush to the tune of 8% in 2000, and in 2004, that jumped to 12%. Jews are still mostly democrats, but there is a powerful conservative movement that is wooing Jews, and our family has become part of that. Every family gathering, it’s the same Hillary bashing bullshit.

So, imagine my surprise. The Schiavo case has turned almost everyone, (except my father in law) against the Republicans. And the Christian right has pissed off the Jews, who are all pro-choice, anti-prayer in school, anti-Christians Rule The World. They were united in a hatred of Arabs, the Christians and Jews, but if the successes in the war on terror (or so-called successes) continue, the Jews may swing back.

4. In one three minute stand, John Kerry was called “the most liberal man in the senate” and “a man who didn’t stand for anything.” It was noted that “all of his positions were radical left” and “we didn’t know what he stood for.” Man, Bush had his cake and ate it too, then pooped it out, and the poop was more cake, and these people ate that poop.

5. Jordana made our excuses because we had to return a piece of equipment to Home Depot.

It should be said that I love these things usually. I really love the Jewish side of our family, there’s nothing in the non-religious side that matches up. My brother’s wife has bemoaned the lack of any kind of ceremony surrounding things like Christmas and Thanksgiving, and she should, but my family just wants to sit around, snack and talk shit, there’s no way to wrestle any kind of religiosity into this group. I am grateful that I have this other side.

But this year, it happened when I was at my crankiest. No sleep, heavy lifting, hard jobs that I’m simply guessing how to do every day, so my patience was a little short.

Anyway, enough time wasted writing blogs. Coming soon, a pictorial history of the front two rooms, and my actual feelings on the passover story.