24 4 / 2012
As almost any spiritually-bankrupt American Jew will tell you, Passover seders can be pretty long and boring. It’s supposed to make you feel like you’re reliving the exodus from Egypt, but most of the time you’re just trying to look alive in case your Uncle from Secaucus calls on you to read about the four sons or your cousin from Great Neck throws matzo farfel at you. Many American Jews rely on the Maxwell House haggadahs (Passover booklets) because it was determined many moons ago that a company that manufactures mediocre coffee should also be responsible for our spiritual guidance. These haggadahs make a lot of references to someone named Rabbi Gamliel who we don’t really speak of ever again and rely on retelling the story of Passover in grammatically incorrect old English, all of which is why seders are pretty painstakingly dull.
However, as you could probably guess from my previous posts, nothing done in the Shire house is ever dull; quite the opposite, it’s usually abrupt and filled with so much agitation you could vomit. In theory, my family’s seders should be very relaxing because it is a relatively small crowd of my grandparents and my mom’s sister’s family. We’re so close that everyone can be themselves, which, actually, is the negative version of a blessing in disguise. Without some outsider to force us to pretend to be normal, any principle of civility has lost hold and all hell has the potential to break loose.
Before the people can break loose, though, the furniture usually does. My family doesn’t really throw away anything. My mother and I share a belief that you never know when something might come in handy in the future, which is why I can’t force myself to throw away a pair of heels with a broken arch that I bought the summer before my bat mitzvah because they could possibly be of use if I … decide I want an easy way to purposefully sprain my ankle.
The day of the first seder, I helped my mother set up a folding table that was admittedly “iffy,” having caved in one Rosh Hashanah. As I struggled to figure out how to kick out the legs, I realized the woman in the directions looked ridiculously akin to June Cleaver and that there was a strong possibility this folding table was older than my mother. In the spirit of Passover, we decided to throw caution to the wind and put our faith in the Almighty. We also decided to willfully ignore the fact that my brothers and I are about as delicate as elephants that have done a few too many Jager bombs (BTW, would you not love to see an elephant do Jager bombs? PLEASE email me if this YouTube vodeo exists). Thus, it was really of no great surprise when the table collapsed as my brother Matt reached for a pre-Four Questions bottle of seltzer. I’m going to assume it was Elijah the Prophet’s way of telling the Shires it was time to go to Costco and spring for a new folding table.
There’s nothing like a table caving in on the grandchildren to break the mood of reverence at a seder, but a close second is my dad reading jokes that his Jewish middle-age co-workers emailed him. The adults seemed to get a kick out of the Shecky Green-style of humor about how hard it is to digest matzah, but that kind of subtle comedy is wasted on the under 18 crowd, especially when they’re both starving and embarrassed by their parents, a toxic combination if there ever were one.
And that’s not to say there weren’t plenty of times when the children acted like embarrassments, too. I don’t think it was my parents’ proudest moment watching their son elbow an 11 year old girl to snatch the afikomen. (BTW, don’t know what the afikomen is? The quick explanation is that we hide a piece of matzo in our homes because the Almighty commanded us to suffer rodent problems in exchange for our freedom.) In all seriousness, the real significance of the afikomen is that the child who finds it gets $10. The Klan would have a field deal watching the children in my family search for the afikomen; they’re swearing, tripping, and shoving all in the name of the Almighty dollar. By the end, the grandkids are foaming at the mouth and resembling a WWF match with at least two people in a headlock and the finder dancing on the others’ backs. Like the Thanksgiving touch football game, I’ve abstained from participation the last few years due to health concerns.
However, I endured a new and far more humiliating Passover tradition this year thanks to my grandma. A fun fact about my grandmother: she can find a ritual that will remind everyone that “Emily is STILL single” for almost every Jewish holiday. Near the end of the seder, there’s a part where you open the door for Elijah, the prophet who walked the earth thousands of years ago (yeah, religion is weird; get of our backs, atheists, you already know you’re cooler than we are). Although I was struggling to move in the cheap-ass peep toe heels I bought at Payless three years ago, my grandma insisted that I be the one to walk unassisted to open the door. She never explained why this tradition is supposed lead to marriage, but I assume it involves my wedding to a ghost prophet, which would be totally fun, but we’d never have any good photos to submit to the Sunday Styles.
My family made it through the rest of Passover like the old pros that we are, eating Manishewitz-mix chocolate cake every night along with copious amounts of fried matzo (yup, that tastes about as good as it sounds). As I discussed before, we spend the eights days of not being able to eat bread by eating everything else in our freakin’ site; marshmallows, macaroons, matzo kugel are all fair game, and if it isn’t nailed down, it goes down the hatch. Of course, this kind of reckless abandon has its cost, but I am going to brush off the extra pounds and the inability to button my jeans as the price for freedom.