Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Next Year, Right Here

Monday evening was the first night of Passover. (Don't be fooled by what most calendars say, Jewish holidays start at sundown on the night before the first day of the holiday.) Ellen graciously agreed to host this year, and we divvied up the cooking and other responsibilities.

Seder table 2

For those of you not familiar with Passover, it is a bit like Jewish Thanksgiving in that both holidays involve foods and activities that vary from family to family, but which MUST be done for the celebration to feel complete. In the years since Chris and I returned to Portland, we have celebrated Passover with Ellen and Jiro, and it is our tradition that Chris makes brisket, Ellen makes a lovely vegetarian stock, and I swoop in at the last minute with matzo balls. (Great, huh? Ellen spends hours and days making stock, and I get to whip up a mix.) I usually make the charoset, but Ellen was kind enough to make it this year. Ada and I made a lemon nut cake on Sunday, so we didn't entirely shirk our responsibilities.

Pre-seder pile 
The traditional pre-seder jump-on-Jiro

No matter that the event was a little chaotic and messy, I had a great time. Maybe even more so because of the mess, which is, after all, my style. There was a little bump when we realized we did not have any matzo, but friends were sent out to retrieve some (thank goodness we don't live in a place with more Jews, or we'd REALLY be out of luck) while I conducted a short seder with the kids.

Last year I told the Passover story to Ada and Monkey Boy, and they were riveted by the plagues. This year was not much different. This year, Ada and MB were joined by Monkey Boy's One True Love. I recounted the tale to the kids, from the burning bush (Isn't that crazy? AND IT TALKED!) to the plagues (frogs EVERYWHERE, plopping on people's heads, landing in their soup!) and exit from Egypt (though I did change "slaying of the first born" to "the kids got really sick" and said the Pharaoh's soldiers were forced to swim downstream when the water closed in on them, instead of saying they drowned). The real highlight was the four of us running to the front door, throwing it open and yelling "Welcome Elijah! Come on in!" The kids asked lots of questions, got excited by my colorful commentary on the plagues, and even got a little heavily diluted wine to go with their ceremonial meal. When we were done, the kids ran amok while the grown-ups started the main seder.

Telling the story
This photo doesn't show it, but they were REALLY into the story.

A number of years ago I put together a hybrid hagaddah and every year since then I have meant to revise it. Let's just say, this was not the year that was going to happen. So we limped along as usual, but happily so. As commanded, we drank a lot of wine (pouring for one another as is the tradition of some good friends from the east coast) and kibbitzed a lot. When we talked about appreciating the freedom we take for granted, and recognizing the holy in the everyday, I read the footnote to Howl. (Reading this aloud to a group is definitely facilitated by drinking two large glasses of wine first.) At one point we somehow got into a heated conversation about men who are sub-par lovers due to failures that if discussed here will get the blog a lot of funky traffic. One of the male guests brought this up, in case you were wondering.

And we ate. We ate ceremonially (wow, love that horseradish) and for fun. We ate Chris' delicious brisket and Ellen's fantastic soup while we continued to drink. (hmm, maybe that whole b-x licking conversation wasn't so surprising after all.) I got to use my silly ancient rabbi-accent and laugh a lot.

Seder table 1
The table, set. 
In the context of the holiday, it is traditional to say we will celebrate Passover "next year in Jerusalem." Literally this is about a return to a rebuilt temple (yes, the one destroyed 2,000 years ago, but who's counting?) but it also has metaphoric meaning. This year things are not as we want them, but next year the world will be healed. This year we have peace but there is war in the world. We are free, but others are enslaved. There is injustice, pain and sadness. The world is imperfect, but we can hope (and work) for change. 

As a secular Jew, the literal Jerusalem is not much of a draw. The wish for peace is compelling, however. I feel so lucky to be living in such a beautiful place, and one in which people have a strong commitment to social justice. For me, the wish is not so much next year in Jerusalem as next year in Portland. Life may not be perfect, but I have so much of what I have wanted over the years. My Passover wish is that others get to experience that fulfillment and joy as well.


  1. It sounds wonderful!

    Do you read Niobe? She had a great post on all the kids' toys and candy (?!) you can buy representing the plagues.

  2. This is such a lovely post!

    Believe it or not I was forced to take part in a Passover Seder dinner for many years as a kid. My version was a lot different and less fun.

    Picture this: A bunch of Mexicans busting out their fine China and sitting around reading the bible in Espanol for 90 hours and occasionally eating a matzo ball dunked in chicken broth. Ok, I am exaggerating a little but seriously they did it only for the religious aspect of things, there were no fun kid stories. My favorite part was the Charoset and because I was only allowed a teeny bit, each year I would fantasize about eating an entire bowl of it.

    The 90 hours of bible reading would have probably been better with copious amounts of wine. My mother is Pentecostal and Pentecostals don't drink, so we were forced to drink copious amounts of Welch's.

    I am glad Ada and the twins will have way better memories than I did! : )

  3. Lori - apparently a lot of Christians do seders, since the last supper was a seder.

    It seems terrible to have charoset withheld. One of the things charoset symbolizes is the sweetness of life (fruit and wine? sweet!). You should make some and eat the whole bowl if you'd like.

  4. Like Mayberry said, you must go read Niobe's post.

    I haven't been to a seder in years - the ones I went to were much like yours. Though I don't think anyone was reading "Howl"...

  5. Chag Sameach Nonlinear Girl!

    I'm still recovering from ours.

  6. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading that a lot! I always want to bring more tradition into festivities, but it seems to be a lost case with my family. For example Christmas is really just about the presents and the food as my father usually just sneeres at religious things. Spiteful as I am, I provoke him even further by saying "Well, your loss. I feel sorry for you."
    Things will change when I finally have children of my own. I hope I will be able to enchant them as well as you did with stories from both testaments =)

  7. And Amen to your last wish!

    I loved that. And I love the image of that Ginsberg poem with those lines (surely not that footnote, I thought. So I went and checked. And it was) as one of the finales of a religious festival. Can't imagine my family taking to it so well.