Tonight is the first night of Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Around the world, Jews everywhere sit down together around the table for the seder, a special dinner with very special foods, prayers, and rituals that go back centuries.
Over the years, I’ve been to all kinds of seders: at my home, at someone else’s. I’ve done Seder with a hundred people at synagogue, and six people around my table. I’ve done seder with my family, my children, siblings, friends, and every combination thereof. I’ve had a former nun, and a priest at my seder.
This year, first seder falls on a Monday. (Outside the State of Israel, many people have a full seder on each of the first two nights of the eight-day Passover holiday, the thinking being that outside Eretz Yisrael we can never be absolutely certain exactly when it begins. This way, we’re covered. It also comes in handy for families of divorce, allowing kids to have seder with both parents each year.) DDS had been asking me for weeks what I wanted to do for Passover. Options included making a seder in our home, traveling to family in another city, or soliciting an invitation from friends.
I didn’t feel like doing anything. Not this year. I’m not sure why. I’ve been a little down lately, and the work involved in pulling together what is basically an elaborate dinner party was just too daunting. I don’t want to do anything this year, I said. Fine, he replied. He made chicken soup over the weekend, and we planned for nothing.
But then the day arrived. And the thought of sitting around watching NCIS while chowing down on a nondescript dinner knowing that virtually every other Jew in the world was sitting around a table with loved ones breaking matzah, blessing wine, making horseradish and chopped-apple-and-nut-relish sandwiches (maror and charoset, known as a Hillel sandwich)…I couldn’t bear it.
So I threw together some matzah balls, made the smallest batch of charoset ever (just one apple and a small handful of pecans, as it turned out I was out of walnuts), and laid it out with some parsley, lettuce, horseradish, and a hard boiled egg on a simple plate. I stirred some salt into water, folded a napkin around three matzahs, got out candles and wine, and just two copies of the Maxwell House Haggadah, and sat down with just DDS. We sang the blessings, lit the candles, drank the wine, told each other the short version of the story of every Jewish holiday (“They tried to kill us; we survived; let’s eat”), and had a delicious dinner together, just the two of us. The matzah balls were exquisite (natch!); DDS made a wonderful farfel stuffing to go with our feast of roasted chicken.
It was different from every other seder I’ve ever been to. Yet in every way that matters, it was pretty much the same. The dry, sandy texture of matzah on my tongue; the crunch of the nuts in the charoset; the wonderful sweet alcoholic grape juice that is Manishevitz Concord Grape. This is Passover. This is freedom. It is sweet, which is good to remember; this night, just like every other night.