Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Passover Seders 2016 - After Action Report

We had two amazing Seders this year, both hosted by my courageous Brother and Sister-in-Law. Here's a few links to resources and insights that went into, and came out of the Seder:

  • I found this collection of videos, published by JTS, to be both insightful and inspiring. It's worth watching them all.
  • This video (found in the collection above) suggested a novel idea: have a maror (or bitter herb) tasting. The idea being that different flavors of the various herbs correspond to different features of the holiday. My Dad and I hit Whole Foods (where else does one by humble bitter herbs, but at the fancy grocery store?) and purchased: baby arugula, water cress, a random pepper, endives, kale, mustard greens, horseradish, rainbow chard and romaine lettuce. From my own lawn I collected dandelion and garlic mustard. The winner for best bitter herb? Mustard greens, followed by water cress. Man, those harmless looking leaves pack a punch. I was also partial to the garlic mustard, which is both bitter and has some unique symbolism, but most of the guests, for some reason, weren't excited about eating weeds from our lawn. I wonder why?
  • It was interesting to read the variations of the text for the four sons and wonder how these important changes came to be. That is, why was the Ignorant Son changed to the Simple Son and what's the implication of swapping the answers of Simple Son and Wise Son in the Yerushalmi Talmud.
  • This site has a PDF version of the first English Translated Haggadah, produced around 1770, which I printed out. It's remarkable how consistent this Haggadah is with the one we use today, and also the slight variations it offers. Perhaps one of the most elegant points it makes in its title. It reads: Ceremonies and Thanksgiving By all Families, in every house, of the Israelites, on the Two First Nights of Passover. I'd always considered them the "first two nights," but in fact, the phrase "two first nights" is far more accurate.
  • Taking a cue from this post: Passover Around the World, we sang Dayenu while thwapping each other with scallions, like our Afghani brethren do. While this was a new tradition for me, but my parents and other guests had played this game before.
  • I've always found this verse in the Haggadah to be quite a mystery: Midian was destroyed with a portion of the omer-barley on Pesach. How exactly does one destroy a city using a loaf of bread? Turns out, it's referring to the story of Gideon which is a remarkable tale and is a sort of mini-Exodus, containing much of the same themes as Passover. A summary of the story can be found here.
  • You did add a fish to your seder plate this year, right? I saw the original suggestion here. Rather than bring my hosts a whole fish from the market, I decided to bring this stuffed animal from Amazon, which did the job quite nicely and smelled a whole lot less.
  • You can see all the researched I did here.
  • My 4 year old cousin, completely unprompted, asked: why is there an egg on the table? at which point, all of us adults found ourselves completely baffled. Why is there an egg on the Seder late? The Talumud's answer isn't particularly satisfying:
    According to the Jerusalem Talmud it is customary to use both a Zero'a [literaly arm, or shoulder bone] and an egg - which in Aramaic is called beya [a word which also means "to pray"; "please" ] suggesting "May it please the Merciful God to redeem us with an uplifted arm."
    In other words, it's word-play. This opens the door for us to interpret the egg pretty much however we wish. Chabad suggests the egg represents the possibility where we can take our freedom and life. Other common explanations are that it represents spring time and rebirth, or simply that it's a stand in for the roasted lamb we used to eat. I like the explanation on this Passover cheat-sheet:
    On a deeper level, eggs represent the ideal way to endure suffering: Most foods soften when cooked, but eggs harden when boiled. Similarly, when we are faced with challenges, we strive to become harder and stronger. Our suffering in Egypt resulted in the formation of a strong unified Jewish nation; so too, when we overcome personal struggles, it awakens our latent talents and we become aware of strengths and skills we never knew we had.
    So what's the ideal answer for a 4 year old? I'll have to think on that. To my surprise, Chabad suggests that at the start of the meal, we *eat* the egg, something I'd never considered.
  • Another question asked during the seders: why do we lift up the cup of wine during the story a number of times, but don't drink? Something we'll have to tease out for next year.
  • Conservative Jews can officially eat kitniyot! We had many lengthy discussions on this, and I found this article to summarizes the issues behind kitniyot well. Shira's already made rice pudding for me, and she's planning to make General Tzo's chicken with brown rice for my birthday (in two days)! So yeah, we're totally down with kitniyot. Given how scrupulous you need to be about the kitniyot you buy, it's hardly any sort of free pass to eat whatever you want. For example, brown rice is in, but apparently there are forms of white rice that are enriched with wheat starch, so you've got to be careful to avoid them. So yes, it definitely opens the doors to some new foods, but it ultimately doesn't change Passover in a signficiant way (or hasn't, for us).

Thanks to my Brother and Sister-in-Law for hosting this year, for my parents being there and for all the guests who made our Seders quite amazing. L'chaim!

Update: Ooh, I forgot to mention. This year, I brought sugar cubes and marshmallows and toothpics for the kids to build "pyramids" at the table. I think I was more entertained than the children, but it was a fun little activity none the less. I think I'll try that again next year.

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