Feed on

A Different Night

View from the head of the table

Last night, with a ton of help from my mother, I hosted my very first Passover seder. A hybrid preschool/family affair for 14, I went into it with a few clear-cut goals:

  1. Create a seder that was short and sweet enough for 3- and 4-year-olds to sit through;
  2. Cook a vegetarian Passover dinner;
  3. Invite new friends;
  4. Include family I don’t usually celebrate Passover with;
  5. Innovate enough to make it fitting for the time, place, and crowd;
  6. Maintain enough traditional elements—preferably in Hebrew—that I could be reminded of seders back at my Bubbie and Zadie’s house in Woodbourne Ave.

It was a tall order, but today I’m feeling Passover triumphant (and tired, but that’s another subject). The guest list included my cousin Dana, her mother Toby, and her husband Michael. I’ve never had a seder with Michael before, but Dana’s parents used to drive from St. Louis to Louisville for seders back in the ‘70s. Dana and her sister Cindy were teens and would show up wearing long dresses that to my pre-school eye were the very epitome of glamour.

The guest list also included new friends Sharon and George. This was a savvy move on my end, as Sharon is a cantor who co-officiated the service and graced the table with her beautiful voice. Sharon and George were joined by their lively not-quite-four-year-old daughter, Leah. Rounding out the group was Leah’s best friend from KIP, Lauren, accompanied by her brother and her parents, one of whom grew up in Louisville and suffered through Sunday and Hebrew school with my brother Perry. In between our first knowing each other and our re-acquaintance last fall, a mere thirty years has passed.

Seder innovations arrived in the form of a seder-plate scavenger hunt, careful use of props and hand gestures, and telling the story of the Exodus via kid-friendly songs. (Well, part of it anyway. We skipped the whole slaying of the first born bit and stuck with baby Moses, frogs, and freedom.) Food innovation arrived via some Sephardic recipes, creating vegetarian versions of old classics, loosening some dietary restrictions, creating an appetizer course out of the pre-dinner service, and finding kosher wine that was actually potable.

Bowing to tradition, we asked the Four Questions, spilled wine drops for the plagues, recited the full Kiddush, and sang a lot of great songs in Hebrew or Aramaic. I also hauled out a recipe for potato petselech (or bilkas) that that my great-grandmother used to make before I was ever born.  Nearly three hours after our gathering began, with bellies full and cheeks pink after a rousing rendition of Echad Mi Yodeah and Chad Gadya, we all sat back awash in satisfaction and nostalgia. It was time to put the little kids to bed, but Sharon and I both felt that somehow we had been transported to seders of our youth and stopped to savor the moment.

For her, it was all about her grandfather, who crooned through the closing of the seder Sinatra style. For me it was about my Bubbie and Uncle Dave, and also about my siblings and cousins. When I watched Simon take off with Lauren and Leah to play, racing upstairs to get away from the boring adult dinner, it didn’t take much to recall my own young self running off  to the basement with my brothers and cousins, escaping dinners I thought were equally boring thirty years ago.

I half-way wondered if, instead of Elijah dropping by to drink the fifth cup of wine, my Uncle Dave would arrive—vacuum in hand—to sweep up my dining room just as he did at the close of my Bubbie and Zadie’s seders those many years ago. Perhaps next year I’ll put the vacuum in the living room, open the door, and see what happens. Thanks but no thanks Elijah, I can drink an extra glass of wine myself!

Things were just on the cusp of getting seriously sappy—so many memories, so many dear people gone—when Sharon broke the seriousness with a well placed crack. We had just observed how familiar much of the seder would have been to the last generation and how much they would have enjoyed it, when our attention wandered to the leftover vegetarian food in front of us. Our grandparents wouldn’t have recognized that, I mused, not in a million years.

“Maybe that’s the fifth question,” Sharon quipped. “Our grandparents are up in heaven saying [insert Yiddish accent here], What the hell are they eating?”

Happy Passover, everyone.

Coda: Today Simon asked to sing Dayeinu. We clearly did something right!

2 Responses to “A Different Night”

  1. Amanda says:

    Sounds absolutely lovely! Mazel tov on a job well done, and shalom pesach.

  2. blg says:

    One of the reasons I like you is how carefully you consider how and why you do things. This dinner sounds like the successful culmination of carefully laid plans. this may be the first Seder that Simon really remembers and you made it a meal, a celebration, an occasion to cherish.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.