Seder Comes Only Once (Well, Twice) a Year
How the staff of Tablet Magazine is celebrating Passover
Stephanie Butnick: My family does a virtual washing of the hands, where we all make hand-washing gestures at the table instead of getting up to actually do it. It’s become its own fun little tradition, solidified the year someone brought a bottle of Purell and passed it around. Our pantomimed ritual has gotten so enthusiastically performed over the years, I’m surprised someone hasn’t knocked over a wine glass. Though considering I somehow ended up having to do the Four Questions both nights last year (and can now say with certainty that it doesn’t get less awkward with age), the most likely candidate for flail fall-out would probably be me.
Matthew Fishbane: My family’s Passover will be celebrating its 107th American edition this year, a gathering of over 60 relatives of my maternal grandmother, all descended from Yael and Temma Tepman. On the hundredth Seder, we had a visit from the local New Jersey NBC affiliate, which did a 30-second piece on how awesome it was to have a living 100-year tradition. I wrote about the many bizarriana and general weirdness of our Passover some years ago, including Linda’s famous carrot ring and a vacation home called “Maldeb,” which is Bedlam backwards.
Wayne Hoffman: Our Seder is traditional in many ways, from Mom’s brisket to the Maxwell House Haggadah to our rousing rendition of “Chad Gadya.” But as my extended family has gotten older, one thing has become noticeable: Everyone (gay or straight) around the table who’s a member of my generation—once referred to as “the kids,” now as the 40-somethings—is in an interfaith relationship. All of those couples who have children are raising them Jewish, and our Seder, which I’ve led for the past two decades, is a key piece of the children’s Jewish identity. So I try to make sure they get a sense of tradition, a flavor of the Seder my Orthodox grandfather used to lead around that same table when I was a child—but I also try to make sure there’s something new. Passover at my parents’ house is full of the comfort of the expected, but there’s always at least one surprise. Last year, my husband and I announced that we’d eloped (just a few hours before the Seder) after 22 years together. This year … I won’t spoil it. But there’ll be another big announcement.
Sara Ivry: My Passovers are fairly straightforward. It’s a holiday I like to observe (though by the end I’m sort of sick of it), but starting out, I quite like the limits on food; on the exclusion of some of what you normally eat, the differentiation that exclusion provides from the rest of the year. And though I’m not a regular shul-goer or particularly strict in my Jewish observance day-to-day, I value Seders that go the distance—that don’t skip sections of the Haggadah, that don’t jump too quickly to the dinner portion, that don’t curtail the after-meal singing because it’s getting late. So what if it’s late … Seders happen once a year. Why not take the opportunity to really enjoy them and engage with the text? To ask questions about Jewish identity, about the texts in the Haggadah, to question things like what subtle differences distinguish the Wicked from the Wise Son?
Morton Landowne: For the last 20 years, my wife and I have crammed ourselves into the flying shtetl that is El Al Airlines and journeyed to Jerusalem to visit our children and grandchildren, who live there. We share the Seder (please happily note that I expressed the word in the singular) with them. I’ve established a number of pre-Passover rituals: with my long-time friend, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, I assist in his sale of chametz to Daoud, a Palestinian neighbor, and then we visit another friend who sets up a small oven in his basement and enables us to bake our own matzah. Around that time, on the morning before the Seder, the air is pungent with the smell of bonfires burning chametz on every street corner. The Seder itself is a time when one opens the door for Elijah and finds all of your neighbors doing the same thing, and the sound of the singing at nearby Seders is always an accompaniment to your own. It’s a very special time to have the privilege of being in Israel.
Alana Newhouse: I’ll be spending Seder with my crazy family members obsessing over how to time the readings so Laurie gets the line that includes “naked and bare.”
Jesse Oxfeld: At some point roughly a decade ago I received an email forward from a friend containing a selection of well-known songs with lyrics reworked for Passover. I forwarded it to my parents, who printed out a number of copies, which now come out of the box in the basement each year along with the collection of torn, aged, yellow-covered Silverman Hagaddahs. “There’s No Seder Like Our Seder” remains a popular selection (my father’s collection of horrible Borscht Belt Passover jokes, printed on cardboard and distributed at some point by Streit’s Matzos, less so).
Marc Tracy: After Seder with my family, which will include some shmurah matzoh courtesy my friends at Chabad, I will spend several days in New Orleans, which will only serve to further highlight the fact that I am what I am told is called “New Orleans kosher” (which in my case is “Maryland kosher”). That is: I eat shellfish, but no pork, never pork (I have had turkey bacon, beef bacon, and even duck bacon, but never bacon). With that caveat, I will endeavor to keep Pesach, with the usual conditions: I will consider myself both Ashkenazic and Sephardic, and therefore permitted to eat both rice and potatoes; and I will go out of my way to eat cookie dough, which is, after all, the epitome of unleavened bread.