I celebrated Pesach this year with friends. It was a nice gathering, but it precipitated some misgivings on my part. This is no way had to do with them, but more with my past experiences with Seders and the traditions I’m used to following year after year. I missed those traditions dearly this year and I mourned them in a sentimental, waxing nostalgic way that even had me wondering where all this shmaltz materialized from.
I’m used to spending the holiday with my sister and her extended family, many of whom are Modern Orthodox. I’m certain of a few things when I go to my family:
- I’ll undoubtedly be drunk happy or numb to how much everyone around me is annoying me by the fourth glass of wine.
- I’ll always savor that first bite of matzah with a mixed feeling of deja vu and dread at the prospect of being relegated to constipation for the next ten days.
- There will be too many Dayeinus sung, but we will all be laughing and singing the verses faster and faster as we race toward the end of the song until only one person is left singing.
- I’ll await Elijah and the breeze that accompanies him with anticipation and this enthusiasm will lend itself to me convincing myself he was actually there.
- I’ll pass out before the end of the Seder, but the drool that’s caked to the side of my cheek will inevitably start to itch and wake me up by the time everyone starts with Had Gadya.
Bottom line: I missed my Ashkenazi Seder this year. I missed my chicken soup with kneidel, charoset, kugels made out of matzo meal, and gefilte fish that tastes like foot. I missed my token wine-stained Family Haggadah, the popular Haggadahs edited by Rabbi Nathan Goldberg that replaced the former eventually, and all those memories and warm and fuzzy feelings that stain brings to me.
As a side note, I agree with Slate’s Mark Oppenheimer’s general thesis re: Jonathan Safran-Foer’s new revision of the Haggadah. Artistically and theologically, it can be alluring to shake up the status quo and expand meaning by diversifying a text, but in doing so do we lose that which is most spiritual to us?
When we say, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” it’s to evoke a feeling more than a place. A Haggadah can transport you there, but in the end it’s your family and everything that binds you to them that can make you feel as if you’ve arrived.
That’s enough philosophical farting for one night. I promise to go a little lighter going forward…
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