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Poetry and snark blogger who also has a creative side (who knew?)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why Is This Night Different?

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I got the phone call. My mother called me the other day to ask if we'd be able to come up for Passover Seder this year. For those of you "goys" or non-Jew readers, Passover is a Jewish holiday commemorating the Jews' escape from Egypt following their persecution at the hands of the Pharoah. Seder is the meal eaten at Passover. This is pretty much the gist of all Jewish holidays: 1. Jews are persecuted. 2. God helps us overcome our persecutors. 3. We eat.

Passover is a particularly groan inducing holiday. Prior to eating the Passover meal, one must participate in the Seder ceremony. This ceremony includes many blessings, readings, odd foods, hand washings, songs, rituals, and thankfully, glasses of wine. Now, being raised in the "Jewish Light" tradition, the Passover Seders of my childhood were typically no longer than 30 minutes and usually left out songs (no one knew them), more than one hand washing (except for my obsessive compulsive uncle), and many of the readings (snore...) As I was often reminded, "back in the day," Seders often lasted over 3 hours, were conducted entirely in Hebrew, and children had to sit through the entire ceremony before they could eat anything. I guess this was supposed to make me appreciate the shorter duration of the boredom and oddness of our Passover Seders.

I do remember fondly one year when I was about 11 or 12 and had a migraine. My mother gave me one of my prescription painkillers before Seder and then I had the requisite 4 small glasses of Manischewitz kosher wine with the Passover meal. After about the 2nd glass, I began giggling at what was not really a funny passage in the Passover Haggadah (the "script" you read that has the blessings, stories, etc.) My inappropriate behavior continued until somewhere in the middle of dinner, I fell out of my chair and lay on the floor in hysterics, at which point my mother stated, "I think she's drunk." Ah, holiday memories...

Then there is always my uncle to contend with at our family holiday gatherings. I believe his lifelong goal is to demonstrate every symptom in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, and he is succeeding quite well thus far. We never know whether he will arrive in a depressed state, a manic state, with obsessions/compulsions ablaze, with a disordered personality leading the way, or as some wild card. Or he may not show up at all because he is in jail. Again. I have one particular childhood memory of my uncle unexpectedly bringing a "friend" to a family holiday (Thanksgiving this time). This "friend" was a skinny, young, blond kid (I pray he was at least over 18) with stringy hair and dirty clothes who would not make eye contact with anyone. My uncle announced that they were going to the red light district of a nearby city after dinner, so he hoped we would eat early. Then he told my mother that his friend wasn't comfortable eating in front of other people (great choice to bring to a family holiday meal, Uncle Inappropriate!) So, while the rest of us ate turkey at the dining room table, "friend" took a plate and sat by himself in my brother's room. But, back to Passover...

Unfortunately for us, the Seder has grown longer as my parents have grown older. I attribute this phenomenon to 4 things: First, both my brother and I married non-Jews, so I think my parents feel the need to make sure some "Jewishness" remains in my life and in the lives of their grandkids. Second, as all old Jewish people must, they have moved from their house to a condo in an "over 65" community, which is comprised of many other old Jewish people. This, by unwritten Jewish law, must be done if one does not move to Florida. Thus, they have become more involved in Jewish "stuff." Third, I think they are trying to hedge their bets with God as they get older. And fourth, there is always "the Guest."

"The Guest" is a non Jewish friend invited by one of my parents, usually my father, who makes the fatal mistake of expressing some tiny modicum of interest in the Jewish culture. This person then gets issued an invitation to Seder so that my father can educate him or her about the Passover Seder, its meaning, and its rituals. This can make the Seder drag on and on and on. Much ado is made of the fact that "The Guest" has never been to a Seder, and meaningful glances are cast in the Guest's direction during the service to make sure he or she is appreciating the significance of this occasion. Several times during the Seder, my father likes to add little tidbits of information to enlighten "The Guest," many of which are factually inaccurate, such as "We often fry matzoh (the unleavened bread eaten during Passover) in oil to commemorate the Miracle of the oil in the Temple," (no, that's Hanukkah.) "The Guest's" job is to nod solemnly and act impressed.
Last year my daughter and I suffered through Passover Seder at my parents' house. My husband wrangled his way out of it by working or something and still owes me big for not having to attend. We initially amused ourselves by kicking each other under the table and then surreptitiously trying to tap each other without the other one noticing. These amusements only entertained us for a minimal time. We spent the rest of an agonizing evening listening to my parents' friends complain about various aches and ailments, rail about the faults of the Obama administration, and brag about their son (recently divorced and also present at Seder.) My daughter and I dubbed this son "The Mumbler" due to his exasperating yet entertaining habit and beginning a sentence, only to have it trail off into incomprehensible mumbling by the tail end of it. We couldn't comprehend a single thing he said all evening! He could have been the most brilliant man on earth or he could have been confessing to a string of murders; we couldn't tell the difference!

So it looks as if come April 19 I will be subjected to the funfest of Passover with the parents once again. Because I have to drive over an hour in heavy traffic to reach their home, I won't even be able to get myself snockered on the wine and let the evening pass by in a Manischewitz soaked blur. Why go, you ask? If there's one thing we Jews understand better than persecution, it's GUILT! I couldn't live with myself the rest of the year knowing that they were disappointed in me. I just hope they don't read this!


  1. Ugh. I would go too... out of family obligation, but it definitely doesn't sound like much fun. I suggest taking count of how often one word us said and / or taking a drink of wine / water every time someone says it. :)

  2. Love it. I'm assuming that this is not embelished-whatsoever!
    I've never had Manischewitz. Is it tasty?

  3. How could they not read your famous blog? I thought everyone did. I am not Jewish and has attened one Seder at an episcopal church. Don't know what similarities are there but it was interesting. Anyway, good luck with this years celebration. I really enjoyed this one.

  4. ahhhhhhhhhh What we do to be in good graces ;0)

  5. keep the Manischewitz in a flask in your purse and chug it real quick as soon as you get there.

  6. LOL! Nothing is more amusing or entertaining than the dismal misfortunes of others. Please don't invite me!

  7. And my mom wouldn't even let me sniff her whiskey sour...gotta say that situation with the mute blond kid...creeeepy.

  8. ah, inappropriate drunkeness . . . those were the days!

    I think it must be a thing at LW-my folks have gotten more into God (my mom does bible study???) too.


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