The various editions of the traditional Passover Haggadah are worthy guides for any family seder ritual. Growing up, I was lucky enough to be in a family with a rich witness to history. My dad’s side of the family grew up in the neighborhood portrayed in Saul Bellow’s classic The Adventures of Augie March. Alongside the old standards, from the Four Questions to “Dayenu,” many of the seders I grew up with featured my dad, my uncle, my aunt, my cousins and some of their old friends discussing and arguing about which character in Bellow’s novel was who from the old neighborhood.
Once my wife and I bought our own house, we would host the occasional alternative seder on a convenient weekend evening somewhere from the third to the eighth and final night. Since we had settled a fair distance from my own old neighborhood, our seder dinners were more for our friends and anyone in the family who was willing to tolerate the hour and a half drive to our remote outpost. Navigating my idiomatic interpretations of rabbinic dietary restrictions, my wife has made some deliciously vegetarian kosher for Passover matzah-based lasagna, a blintz-inspired casserole and an array of dynamite Sephardic recipes for charoset.
The word “seder” translates literally as “order.” A seder is a ritual dinner designed to flow in a particular sequence, whereby each course in the meal serves as intimately metaphorical imagery to tell the story with opportunities for instruction, debate and/or conversation. For example, four glasses of wine are consumed along the way through the seder, the second of which is intentionally depleted of a small drop as the diners recite each of the ten plagues. The idea being that the beneficiaries of the Lord’s wrath deprive themselves of a necessary amount of joy with each plague the Almighty threw at the Egyptians.
While we found certain elements of the seder worth keeping, like removing the ten drops of wine for each of the ten instances of collateral damage for the sake of our national and religious liberation, other portions were worthy of trimming or otherwise modifying for amusement and novelty. And in our own tribal seder the four sons became the Marx Brothers, the vernal and sexy “Song of Songs” was swapped for the mock draft of an all-time, all-Jewish fantasy baseball team and the answer to the Four Questions included Lenny Bruce’s Jewish and Goyish routine.
“If you live in New York or any other big city, you are Jewish,” wrote Lenny Bruce in his autobiography How to Talk Dirty and Influence People (and also performed on the album Live at the Curran Theater). “It doesn’t matter even if you’re Catholic; if you live in New York, you’re Jewish. If you live in Butte, Montana, you’re going to be goyish even if you’re Jewish. Kool-Aid is goyish. Evaporated milk is goyish even if the Jews invented it. Chocolate is Jewish and fudge is goyish. Fruit salad is Jewish. Lime jello is goyish. Lime soda is very goyish.”
Passover is cool. According to surveys, it is the most widely observed Jewish holiday by American Jews. The annual gatherings create lifetime memories and bind generations together one household at a time, year after year. But there are right ways and wrong ways.
“Celebrate is definitely a goyish word,” Lenny Bruce continued. “Observe is a Jewish word. Mr. and Mrs. Walsh are celebrating Christmas with Major Thomas Moreland, USAF (ret.), while Mr. and Mrs. Bromberg observed Hanukkah with Goldie and Arthur Schindler from Kiamesha, New York.”
Why is this year different from all others? Because it is a Passover without seders. A virtual seder here and there on Zoom or whatever, at best. But even that will do much more to only remind us of how much we miss the real thing.
And speaking of the real thing, while the Last Supper was likely a Passover seder, Passover is not the Jewish Easter. Augie March, Groucho Marx, Hank Greenberg and Lenny Bruce belong in a Haggadah. Jesus most definitely does not. Observation of Passover is cited in the Torah as one of four new year traditions in the Jewish calendar: Rosh HaShaha, Tu B’Shevat, Pesach and Simchas Torah. Christian faith requires a recognition of supersessionism, whereby Jewish rejection of Jesus as the messiah necessitates the abrogation of the Torah and the replacement of the Jews by the Church as the new Israel. So, if you cannot be bothered with even knowing the 613 commandments required in the Torah of the Jewish people, then please leave the rest of our traditions, such as they are, to us, to honor or reject as we see fit. In our house we took it even further by removing all the messianic mishigoss. No rebuilding the Temple “speedily in our days,” no “Next Year in Jerusalem.” We even kept the door shut and cut off Elijah’s wine.