So, tomorrow is a first for El Yenta Me and me: Hosting the Passover seder.
Actually now that I think about it, many years ago while were dating, the two of us did host a weird gathering of friends on the first night of Passover at a sushi restaurant. EYM’s impressive interpretation of the wasabi as the bitter herbs and the salty soy sauce as slaves’ tears swept me off my feet, but that doesn’t count as the real deal.
In a few hours, my parents, my Brother the Doctor and his Parisian wife-to-be will arrive in Savannah, turning the tables on our traditional Scottsdale sojourn, which was a Miami sojourn for a few years before that. Instead of being wandering Jews this time, we’ll get to stay right here at home.
Well, technically, the seder will be held two blocks away at my in-laws’ house, but we’re in charge of the menu and the service.
To say I’m famisht is to severely understate the level of spaz at which I’m operating: This week’s Civil Society Column is overdue, there is still pasta in the pantry and I lost the grocery list somewhere in the recesses of my filthy minivan (does the banishing of chametz apply to the cars, too? If so, I’m screwed.)
I know I’m not alone in the stress. As I was wandering around Publix last night, list-less and listless, I ran into three other Jewish mothers, all of us with the same dark circles under our eyes and boxes of matzah and jars of gefilte fish piled high in our carts. We all agreed that starting on the first cup of wine early sounded like a fantastic idea.
But of course, the whole point of all this whack preparation is so that we may relax and recline as we tell the story of Exodus tomorrow evening, reminding ourselves that our ancestors’ haste is not necessary for us because we’re free. We can lollygag around the seder table as long as we like, though it seems like most not-so-observant folks prefer to keep it short, maybe because of tortuous childhood memories.
My dad always led a nicely-timed, basic Maxwell House Haggadah seder, skipping chunks if people got cranky and wrapping it up with “Chad Gadya” before anyone passed out from too much wine. Personally, I always wanted it to be longer and perhaps a little more tortuous, figuring even it took all night and the afikomen got stale, it would still suck less than moping around the desert for 40 years. Things have been even more truncated and less structured since the arrival of my own kids, and though I do enjoy a Ten Plagues puppet show as much as the next gal, I’ve always insisted that they stay at the table ’til the bitter end.
I may get my wish for length this year with The New American Haggadah, which is big and beautiful and has enough text to keep us busy ’til dawn.
It’s a fairly intimidating piece of work, put together by hipster Judaism’s mental giants: Edited by Jonathan Safran Foer (whom I’ve read religiously) and translated from Hebrew by author Nathan Englander (whose heralded What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank I’ve yet to crack), this ain’t yo papa’s flimsy, wine-stained haggadah.
Thoughtful, interpretative and intellectual commentary comes from Judaica expert Nathaniel Deutsch, the Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg and philosophic author Rebecca Newberger along with playful snark from Lemony Snicket, and the four kibbitz through the pages like a table full of beard-stroking rabbis. A timeline of Judaism runs along the margins, reminding of what-all’s happened since that epic circling in the Sinai.
Truth is, I might not be cool enough or deep enough for the New American Haggadah, with its smart language and clean, classic layout. Israeli calligrapher Oded Ezer evokes a distinct mood to go along with this new take on a 3000 year-old story with inky Hebrew and stone-washed tones. One writer likened it to “a new pair of ‘distressed’ jeans” that you’d pay through the nose for at the mall; there is an element of fashionable wearedness that comes through, though unlike a pair of denim drawers made in China, this book seems built to last.
It’s going to go great with the finger puppets.
A cheerful seder to my tribe and a blessed Easter to my Christian friends. Chag sameach to all y’all!