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Ma Nishtana?

Mmmmm... Matzah!Ma nishtanah halaila hazeh? “How is this night different from all other nights?”

It’s a song and a series of Four Questions that the youngest at the seder table asks as part of the Passover service. When you are a kid, reciting the Ma Nishtana and searching for the afikomen (a piece of matzah) is your designated role, your high-profile cameo in an otherwise adult production.

My family went a long, long time between generations, leaving me as the star of Ma Nishtana for about 24 years. I eagerly took over the song from my older brothers when I was about eight–in 1978. It’s a role I didn’t relinquish until my nephew Nathan was about eight–in 2002. Even the years I didn’t come home for Passover, I somehow always ended up the youngest at the table. I’m sure I could recite Ma Nishtana in my sleep. In fact, I’m sure I have recited Ma Nishtana in my sleep.

My tenure is even greater than my cousin Sheryl’s, who, according to family legend, asked the Four Questions from when she was a child of eight in around 1957 until “she was a grown woman” and my brother Steve took over. But that would have been in around 1971. By my reckoning, I’ve got her beat by a decade!

But I digress. About the same time Nathan took over Ma Nishtana, I took over leading the seder itself. The role came to me because I am the most opinionated about the seder service and also because I have the best Hebrew in the family. I missed a few years when I was living in San Francisco, but for the most part Passovers have born my imprimatur for the better part of 15 years.

Until this year, when an unadvertised fifth question changed my entire seder experience:

Ma nishtana haPesach hazeh? “How is this Passover different from all other Passovers?”

The answer is obvious:

HaPesach hazeh yesh li Shimon. “This year, I have Simon.”

This year I had to cede my master of ceremonies role. Like an injured ball player, I was suited up and sitting on the sidelines, cheering on the rest of my family as they carried on without me. My job was to keep Simon at the table and uncranky as much as possible. He had a good night, and the seder was a success without me.

I also realize that Simon is likely to be his mother’s son in at least two Passover-related ways. First, he seems unimpressed with matzah. I gave him a piece at the seder, and he treated it like a toy: he held it, licked it, and then threw it down. That’s my boy! I don’t consider matzah real food either.

And secondly, he’s going to have a monster tenure at Ma Nishtana himself. This year Olivia took over from Nathan after Nathan’s four-year run. Next year Olivia will likely co-star with her sister Madeline. In about 4 years, young Ben will take over from his sisters. Four years after that–in 2014–it will be Simon’s turn. And after that?

Barring the appearance of a sibling, the show will belong to Simon until he’s a parent or one of his first cousins is. I know how you feel, kiddo!

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