April 14, 2017

5777: My First Hosted Passover Seder!

Posted in Judaism at 10:03 pm by chavalah

My Seder set up!

I’ve had it in my head for a couple of years that I wanted to host my own Passover Seder. But plans always came up to divert me. Instead I’d spend the holiday with my interfaith and assimilated family, and any attempt at a Seder pretty much fell apart immediately. Last year I found a one-page “Haggadah” online, and even that we couldn’t seem to get through.

As I’ve assumed some Jewish practice as an adult, Passover remained my sore spot. It’s a family holiday, and my memories of robust family Seders ended in childhood. And I was mostly bored by religious ritual then, so I mostly remember leaving the table and heading off to play.

So this was my year to reclaim the holiday! This was my year of coming home. I sent my parents an evite, knowing that I could coerce them to at least follow some of the rituals, and we had our Seder Sunday evening, the day before Passover 5777 began. I’m not pretending to be traditional here. 😛

Even though I didn’t chase after hametz with a feather, my condo is about 75% comprised of cat fur, so I did have to embrace some serious cleaning. Opening my home, even to my parents, was an apprehensive task for me. I live alone, and can’t say that I’ve ever “entertained” guests in the formal way. Here again I differ from my family, who clean house and cook meals for people during at least one festive holiday per year. I decided that if Passover was important to me, and Passover is very much about community, this would be the time for me to join their ranks.

Like with most holiday preparations, it was a stressful experience. My parents ended up arriving an hour and a half late and I had barely started cooking. I had to run to CVS for some chicken broth while my mom rolled my matzah balls into boiling water; the soup ended up rather tasteless (though the matzah balls were great! :P) And my dad graciously tipped my Ikea table onto its side to tighten some seriously loose screws, and then he got out the big vacuum for some final de-furring. My cat stayed in the bedroom, having exhausted her curiosity about why I’d pulled said table away from the wall in the first place.

My biggest accomplishment of the day was obtaining a free shank bone from Whole Foods, after I asked customer service about an obscure 2012 blog post I’d read half an hour earlier. I also printed out some supplemental reading from HIAS, the American Jewish World Service and a page from The Five Books of Miriam edited by Ellen Frankel.

My mom brought the Seder plate, some homemade charoset, and our Reconstructionist Haggadah. We skipped through the book, playing a little hodge podge with the ceremonial rituals, and focusing on responsive readings that spoke to us about the holiday. My mom and I sang the four questions in Hebrew, and my dad read in English. We told the story of the Exodus in our own words as the natural light shifted and my cat came out to meow for food. Then we sang a few songs, cleared the table and washed dishes, talked about other things, and my folks headed home.

Despite the preparation anxieties of the weekend, which honestly feel as much part of the experience as the Seder itself, I’d call this a success. The food was (mostly) good, and our religious content was casual but meaningful. I felt connected to my family, to my heritage, and even to myself in the ways that I hoped I would. Taking on the mantle of Passover meant that I had to take responsibility for my religious identity in a new way. This wasn’t about sitting in a pew in synagogue, but about leading the festivities, like Miriam with her tambourine by the Red Sea. OK, maybe not that significant, but you get the idea. 😛

Best of all, my parents said that they enjoyed themselves, too. It’s all well and good that I wanted to do this for myself, but to be a noteworthy host, I also had to bring something to the guests. I feel like something changed in me by opening my home to others, even if it was just my own parents. To practice Judaism fully, you have to share your life with your family, your community. Sometimes, you have to be the leader in things that matter to you. And I don’t need to be afraid of those steps anymore.

Chag sameach, everyone. Next year in my condo. 😛

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