Saturday, April 15, 2006

Eat matzoh. Drink more wine. Slouch. - Thoughts during Passover

Here we are, about halfway through the Passover holiday, and unfortunately, about three-quarters of the way through the Passover cookies. Our Seder was mercifully quick, and seems to get quicker and less structured from year to year, which suits me just fine! Fourteen of us at my sister-in-law's home, which is where we've held the Seder every year since my mother-in-law passed away, just before Passover back in 1999. The food is always wonderful and always plentiful, and I am extremely, extremely lucky that my sister-in-law actually enjoys making the family Seder, as the thought of doing it myself practically brings on a panic attack.

The Seders I remember most from my childhood were held at various hotels in the Catskills, where the amounts of food served at any given meal were simply mind-boggling, and Seders were performed by various high-powered cantors. We often spent at least part of the holiday there, depending on how the school vacation was scheduled during a given year, and we would spend our time running around with all the other kids, begging quarters from all ancestors and blood relatives, to be spent on the hotel arcade pinball machines and video games (Pacman, Asteroids, Phoenix, and the like), and I shudder to think of the house I could have now had I saved all the quarters spent on arcade games in my youth. For the most part, the same kids would return year after year, and we wandered around like a pack, looking for things to do (Bingo, anyone?), going swimming/ice skating/bowling/etc, participating in Simon Says, going to the evening shows that embodied the Borscht Belt genre of comedy. Those were good times, characterized by food (it always comes down to food with us, doesn't it?), bingo, Latin American waiters who were often both charming and handsome (and given the amount of time spent at our assigned table in the dining room, we got to know our assigned waiters quite well), and endless supplies of Kosher-for-Passover rolls that my grandmother (and all the other elderly ladies in the vicinity, of which there were many) casually nicked from the dining room by stashing them in a pocketbook seemingly designed for just such an eventuality.

We even managed to maintain contact with some of our "Passover" friends during the year, and no one was more surprised than I at a new student orientation lecture on my first day at university when a guy came over and sat down next to me and said, "hi, don't you recognize me from "Unnamed Hotel"? I'm Garey. I saw you and your parents moving you into your dorm room." I did indeed recognize Garey, but had always assumed him to be older, as he was always with his grandparents, and never hung around with the other kids. While never becoming great friends, we maintained casual contact throughout our four years on campus.

I must say, that despite nearly 13 years of marriage, I've never become completely satisfied with my husband's family Seders. While I do enjoy the "rapid" pace of the Seder itself, I often find myself missing the Seders of my own family, always a special occasion where everyone gets dressed up and makes extra effort to get into a festive mood, where the pace is comfortable and familiar, where the traditions are mine, and not something I've had to adopt (and anyone who has attended a Persian Seder probably knows what I'm talking about...). Every year, I tell myself that maybe next year we'll plan our trip to the US to coincide with Passover, but it never seems to happen. Admittedly, though, my joy knows no bounds when it comes to the fact that we only have one Seder in Israel, instead of the two held everywhere else, and the holiday is one day shorter here (isn't it, or am I just making that up?). All good eating habits go out the window whenever this holiday comes around, and one of my most anchored traditions is spending a week feeling guilty about my calorie consumption. As the old saying goes with regard to Jewish holidays, "they tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat." And that, my friends, sums it up.

In keeping with the holiday theme I've got going here, I'd like to share a recent email that my father sent...

The Two-Minute Haggadah - A Passover service for the impatient

Opening prayers:
Thanks, God, for creating wine. (Drink wine.)
Thanks for creating produce. (Eat parsley.)

Once we were slaves in Egypt. Now we're free. That's why we're doing this.

Four questions:
1. What's up with the matzoh?
2. What's the deal with horseradish?
3. What's with the dipping of the herbs?
4. What's this whole slouching at the table business?

1. When we left Egypt, we were in a hurry. There was no time for making decent bread.
2. Life was bitter, like horseradish.
3. It's called symbolism.
4. Free people get to slouch.

A funny story:
Once, these five rabbis talked all night, then it was morning. (Heat soup now.)

The four kinds of children and how to deal with them:
Wise child - explain Passover.
Simple child - explain Passover slowly.
Silent child - explain Passover loudly.
Wicked child - browbeat in front of the relatives.

Speaking of children:
We hid some matzoh. Whoever finds it gets five bucks.

The story of Passover:
It's a long time ago. We're slaves in Egypt. Pharaoh is a nightmare. We cry out for help. God brings plagues upon the Egyptians. We escape, bake some matzoh. God parts the Red Sea. We make it through; the Egyptians aren't so lucky. We wander 40 years in the desert, eat manna, get the Torah, wind up in Israel, get a new temple, enjoy several years without being persecuted again. (Let brisket cool now.)

The 10 Plagues:
Blood, Frogs, Lice - you name it.

The singing of "Dayenu":
If God had gotten us out of Egypt and not punished our enemies, it would've been enough. If he'd punished our enemies and not parted the Red Sea, if would've been enough.
If he'd parted the Red Sea... (Remove gefilte fish from refrigerator now.)

Eat matzoh. Drink more wine. Slouch.

Thanks again, God, for everything.



Yael K said...

Thanks for sharing this! And I think I like your father --was giggling all the way through his very quick version suggestion. Isn't it nice that we only have to do the seder once here?! I don't think I could handle having to be rolled home two days in a row any longer, heh.

Savtadotty said...

I think I could convince my Sarasota family to attend your father's seder next year. Or even make one at their house for him to conduct.

Cathy said...

An even quicker seder (or more accurately, the essence of most Jewish holidays: They tried to kill us; they failed; we're free. Let's eat!

miki said...

SO funny! Thank you!

RP said...

That was a very funny stripped down Seder.

Liza said...

Thanks for all the compliments. I'm sure my father would love to take credit for the seder, but he can only take credit for forwarding it to me, as someone forwarded it to him. Sounds like a good seder though, no?

And Yael, yes, you'd like my father. Everyone does! He's one of those people who everyone remembers, and people who know me, when they meet him, suddenly realize where I got my sense of humor from.

NiHao said...

Isn't it always hard to attend celebrations and ceremonies with a new family? No matter how lovely they are, they are never quite "home". Good on you for settling in!

Anonymous said...

I do like the way this shows where to get up to heat up the soup etc... obviously aimed at the family cook, not the kids or other non-helpers!