Monday, April 17, 2006

My Reform Seder

This year I was unable to get home to my family's seder as is my tradition even as an atheist. Instead, though, I was able to attend a Reform seder, which was a new experience for me.

Other than the live piano music immediately preceding the seder, I was struck by how similar the service was to the Orthodox ones I grew up with. Yes, there was much more English and no obsessive-compulsive uncle trying to cram an entire shemurah matzo into his mouth in under 3 minutes several times as well as eating enough maror and drinking enough sickly-sweet kosher wine to make himself sick, but in general, both the feeling and the service were more-or-less the same. We went around the table reading from the maggid (basically, the Exodus story) portion, albeit skipping some parts and reading from other parts which aren't in the Orthodox haggadah. There was discussion and analysis of parts of the story just as in the sedarim I remember, with the kids telling the adults what they'd learned. Also, people were much more willing to flat-out say, "I don't agree with that" about certain parts as I always wanted to but didn't have the nerve. Oh, and did I mention the service was led by a woman?

There were also a couple of additions. There were mentions of the Holocaust (the leader dedicated a fifth cup to it over objections from her mother) and the Sudan and also of other peoples still in slavery today. And when we got to Elijah's cup and the kids were sent to open the door, I was surprised to see the leader of the seder siphon off some of Elijah's wine with a straw in order to trick the kids into thinking he'd come! When I was a kid, they would have maybe shaken the table and tried to convince this young skeptic that Elijah was sipping, but not the outright deception I found here. I guess it's no worse than Santa or the Tooth Fairy, but at least there you get a present or money with your lies. I was happy to see that the 7-year old wasn't buying it.

The night ended, as usual, with singing, although due to the lack of obsessing over drinking so many fluid oz for each cup, people were sadly less intoxicated than my family usually are at that point. And, the night was over well before midnight instead of at 1 or 2 in the morning, although a lot of that was being able to start before it was pitch black outside.


asher said...

This seder was not creative enough. I seem to remember the Feminist Seders where the women recounted the plauges set upon them by male society (bad body image etc) the Environmental Seder where the plauges were the evils done to earth by we wicked humans and of course the Civil Rights Seder where the slavery of jews in egypt was ignored and only the slavery of blacks in america was at issue.

You can transform anything into anything. However, regardless of how assimilated or secular jews become, for some reason the only thing they seem to latch onto is the passover seder. It seems to be the only vestige left of their judaism...for reasons I can't explain.

I also remember a scene in "The Garden of the Finzi Contini" where an Italian Jewish family is performing a seder and they are singing the familiar songs with a Sephardic melody. How I can remember that is a mystery to me.

Esther said...

JA - Your description sounds like my family seders. This year my mom added in some readings about the victims of Katrina and the genocide in Darfur.

We always sing "Let My People Go" which, of course, is an African American spiritual - something I didn't realize until I was an adult. I always assumed it was a traditional seder song like Dayanu and Chad Gad Yaw.

Esther said...

One more thing - Even though I've largely rejected the rituals of Judaism, I still find the Passover seder incredibly meaningful and relevant. For my familt, it's an opportunity to reaffirm our collective committment to human rights for all people.

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