Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Passover during wartime

     Being Jews, of course Monday night's Passover Seder veered onto tangents. Non-standard digressions based on the concerns of those present: salaams toward mysticism and solemn recognition of Oct. 7 and the ongoing war in Gaza. So much that the usual tug-of-war over gender equity mostly fell by the wayside.
     I was not involved with any of these flourishes, my lone suggestion — place an olive on the Seder plate as mute representation of Palestinian suffering — steamed away in a glare of reproach. No olives, no oranges — keep it simple. It was as if I suggested the egg on the plate be replaced by a sheep's eye, to represent social media. I get that. Each group cherishes its own injuries while diminishing those of everybody else; that's why the world is the way it is.
     Instead there was an empty chair affixed with a picture of a hostage, Naama Levy, 19, and a reading describing her many fine qualities. A poem explaining that Elijah will not be coming today. He usually shows up, notionally. We always open the door to greet him. The kiddies love that, and in years past would sneak out beforehand and present themselves as Elijah, disguised. Not this year; we didn't open the door to greet the tardy prophet because he's too busy tending to the truly bereft, supposedly.
     "We're never eating," I muttered to my wife, about 8:30 p.m., with the show barely begun.
     Mostly, I'm a go-along-to-get-along type of host, so I smiled and nodded at almost anything anybody brought to the table. Though the smile grew tight as the Seder progressed. At one point I felt compelled to point out that this is not our first rodeo, suffering-wise, that Jews held Seders in concentration camps, and that while I'm all for recognizing the crisis, I would hate for Passover, at heart a celebration of freedom, to lose its sense of joy, obscured by current events. We should still appreciate the bounty before us and the company of each other, loved ones whom history has, through some uncharacteristic oversight, failed to murder, so far.
     "We're still singing 'Chad Gadya,'" at the end," I observed, referring to a strange song about "one little goat my father bought for two zuzim." That's my favorite part.
     Much went as it always does. My wife's matzo balls were the ideal cannonball density. The chicken was excellent, despite having to linger in the oven for longer than was strictly necessary as the various sharp edges of the present were flashed. The children still played under the table as if the world were a wonderful place to explore, ready to welcome all with open arms.
     My life can be broken into three 20-year Seder blocks. From 1960 to 1980, there were Seders at my grandparents in Cleveland, with my grandpa's machine-gun, Polish shtetl Hebrew, that always sounded like "hamma-humma-wumma-chumma."
     Then 20 years at my in-laws in Skokie, with Irv whooping over the hotness of the horseradish and Dorothy fussing over everybody and the repurposed cleaning lady in the kitchen, doing dishes. I sometimes wondered about her: What did she make of our singing "Dayenu?" The chorus sounds like "Die! Die! Anu!" Did she think the Jews were chanting for death? Because that's how we're viewed in some quarters. I used to sometimes wish we actually were the hard, unified, bloodthirsty people we are made out to be — though looking at current events, I'm reminded that you should be careful what you wish for. Because sometimes you get it.

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  1. Great column, Mr. S. Haven't been to a Seder in about thirty years, for many reasons. Family long gone, scattered, estranged. Married into a gentile family (not my first rodeo, either). Non-observant. But the mention of the traditional Passover songs brought a smile to my face--and a twinge of nostalgia. One of my grandmother's husbands, the Socialist union organizer-turned-hardware store owner, used to conduct raucous, alcohol-fueled Seders when I was a youngster, and still in Hebrew school.

    Always loved the song about the "kid" (the goat, not the child) bought for two "zooo-ZEEM", as we said it. The pronunciation of which always cracked me up. And my cousins and I always belted out the song that literally means "Enough!" (Dayenu) the same way..."Die!" "DIE!" "AY-noo!" And we would sneak-drink wine and get a buzz on. We had us a time! Hard to believe that was 60 and 65 years ago. Izzy's been gone a LONG time.

    As for what to put on the plate, I've told this story before, but it feels more appropriate than ever at the moment. The spring following the Yom Kippur War (1974), I attended the Seder given by a relative who was (and still is) a big drinker. So we had a few libations. Actually, more than a few. As he led us to the table, our host proposed a toast to the recent Israeli victory, and the victorious Israeli forces.

    As I reached my chair, I was jolted into sobriety (well, almost) when I saw that the place setting for each male guest included an unloaded handgun. The weapons symbolized, the host drunk-splained, the way that "We Jews must always be ready when our enemies assault us. Even on a Seder Day Night."

    Most of the guys in the room thought it was a nice touch. The host's wife...not so much. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of this tale for fifty years now. A few listeners are amused. Most are not.

    1. The guns make a powerful symbol; the UNLOADED guns make another.


    2. It was symbolism, plain and simple. Nobody's crazy enough to place loaded weapons on a Seder table. Not even my drunken cousin. Actually, he wasn't really serious about being "ready"...he was merely trying to be funny. At the time, I thought it was hilarious. A great gag. A half-century and several wars later, not so much.

    3. And if UNLOADED guns mean that Israel was asleep, just like Pearl Harbor, well, hey...okay, whatever. My views on Israel? Been there, done that, and I won't go down that mined road again.

      Mr. S probably doesn't wanna hear it, anyway. His house, his rules, and I respect that.. And as One of the Tribe, I know that Passover is not the appropriate time for all that, either.

  2. Makes sense save the part about the olive.

    Houseguests don't dictate my behavior in my home when I pay the lion's share. It's not for discussion.

    Couth and class have gone out the door with these know-it-alls. Honoring mother and father is a Commandent also imaginary to these children.

  3. "That’s what prayer is for, right? Begging the imaginary to achieve the impossible. It’s worth a try. Because nothing else seems to be working." Amen brother.

  4. Replies
    1. Damn's my house, my rules. Don't like what I eat or watch or listen to, hit the bricks. I've only tossed out one guy, and that was because he stunk. Literally. Or maybe litter-ally. I thought it was the kitty box.


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