Last year, our Passover Seder was meh at best. Lock down, Zoom-dayenu-ing, a narcissistic psychopath in the White House — we did the best we could. This year, with most members of my family either partially or fully vaccinated, we did better, with eight around the table and the windows open to keep the (cold) air circulating, as my great-great-grandparents gazed upon us from inside their gilded frames.
But this year, unlike all other years, I had not one but three mighty and profound Passover revelations. They had nothing to do with freedom, liberty, or the meaning of Judaism. Nor did they so much as tickle towards Sinai, Torah, or holy writ. Indeed, my first flash of blazing insight had to do with:
I don’t know when shawarma matzoh (“concrete for the colon!” or “spiritual food” depending on who’s talking) became a thing, just that it is. Now I can’t get away from it. Even if I didn’t voluntarily buy a box of the expensive dreadful dry-as-dust stuff for my religious sons, it finds a way of coming into the house via the local Chabad rabbi. There he is, knocking on the door with a goody bag, inside of which is the aforementioned shawarma matzoh along with all kinds of glossy Chabad brochures, Hebrew cheat-sheets, and other such softcore agitprop. Leading me to the profound insight that Chabad rabbis are the squeegee men of our time: they give you something you don’t want so you can pay them money to ease your conscience, which is what we did.
Conclusion: Next year I’m not opening the front door until Passover is over, except for Elijah.
Moving on: My grandmothers and for that matter my mother did not have to cater to dietary preferences. At Grandma and Pop’s in Baltimore, we had a choice. Eat it or don’t. We ate it. Who wouldn’t? The brisket-based soup, the big shiny meat-flecked matzoh balls, the chicken heaped in yummy sauce. And then the piece de le resistance, by which I mean Grandma’s famous nut-based chocolate cake, which consisted of: sugar, nuts, and chocolate, none of it fair trade, and all of it, by today’s standards, potentially life-threatening.
Now I’m in the Grandma seat (not literally of course, and not only because our kids are taking their sweet time regarding my future grandchildren) but unlike Grandma, in my immediate nuclear family alone, we have one vegan, one serious keeper-of-kosher, one less serious but still pretty serious kosher, one who only eats meat and vegetables, one whose health issues preclude half the items in the grocery store, plus my husband and me who keep flexible kosher when we can-ish. And that’s not counting the usual kosher restrictions imposed by the holiday itself. Which all adds up to wacko.
Conclusion: Next year, in Jerusalem or elsewhere, I’m catering.
Final enormous Passover-related spiritual revelation: My late mother loved having a dining room so stuffed with Passover revelers that the table had to be extended into the living room. Ditto to this day for my elderly father. I’ve already referenced Grandma, but what I didn’t mention is that she and my grandfather had 11 grandchildren along with their three sets of parents, numerous distant cousins with weird accents (who were they again?) and various annual other guests around their Seder table, at which Grandma presided, with a small, sterling silver bell which she tinkled to summons the help from the kitchen to serve or clear, depending. My own help consists of: Sam. Sam is our eldest. Sometimes the staff consists of our twins Rose and Jonathan too, but usually Rose finds a way to weasel out of actually helping. (“I have to go home, Mom, no, really, the taxi is like literally out-front waiting for me.”) And also, where did I get the idea that I had to have 20 or so around my own Seder table? You know what I can handle without feeling like I’m about to get an aneurysm? Eight. I can handle eight — which would be me, my husband, our three kids and their three life partners once all three of them get themselves life partners. That I can handle.
This I learned because this year, with the pandemic still ravaging the land, the other more-distant relatives and distant cousins with weird accents (who are they again?) and various annual guests who normally come to our Seder didn’t come.
Conclusion: Next year, if my husband, who loves the big Seder, insists on having our usual, non-Pandemic-year big Seder, I will go on vacation with a girlfriend, perhaps to Hawaii.
Final conclusion/summary/main point: Eventually the younger generation, being smarter and more Jewishly-and-otherwise knowledgeable than their parents, will vie to take over the holiday, starting with which brand of shawarma matzoh is best. This is already happening in our house, where both Sam and Jonathan have distinct if opposite ideas about how the Seder really should be conducted. At a certain point, all this tsuris and struggle over who gets to run things the right way will naturally evolve into the entire Seder being conducted at someone else’s house. I nominate any one of my children. Next year, I’ll bring the charoset, which may or may not be from the local kosher supermarket.
*Ed. note: Sh’murah matzah.
Jennifer Anne Moses is the author of seven books of fiction and non fiction, including The Man Who Loved His Wife, short stories in the Yiddish tradition, to be published on March 1. Her journalistic and opinion pieces have been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Newark Star Ledger, USA Today, Salon, The Jerusalem Report, Commentary, Moment, and many other publications. She is also a painter.