In the Suburbs / "Welcoming all faiths, cultures to the Seder"
Published 1:02 am, Friday, April 2, 2010
It's Good Friday and still the Passover holiday, and I couldn't think of a more ecumenical reflection than the wonderful Seder we shared earlier this week with our dear friend Pam's daughter Melissa's in-laws, her other daughter Hollis and our friend Liz. That kind of sharing is among the really beautiful parts of this Passover holiday and over the years we've made a point of inviting friends from all religions and cultures.
And after some 35 years of hosting Seders, it was nice to be invited out, even though I was still tapped to lead the Seder. Pam said she liked my abbreviated but meaningful Seders, and thought her daughter's new family would enjoy the evening. We had done the same thing last year and it was also a lovely get-together. I try not to go overboard on the education, but there are so many rich traditions.
Pam had put out of beautiful spread of appetizers, including charoset (a sweet mixture of apples, honey, cinnamon and nuts), chopped liver, dates and nuts and some traditional Tam crackers. Tams are an old standby and are great for spreading. We were all seated comfortably around a large, low-slung coffee table and I decided everyone looked like they were in the perfect Passover position -- relaxing and reclining.
The four questions asked on this holiday revolve around why this night is different from all others and one of the answers is that our freedom from slavery has earned us the right to sit in a reclining position. So I made an executive Seder leader's decision and brought the elements from the Seder table to the coffee table and conducted a very "unseder-like-Seder." It turned out to be great fun.
We opened our Haggadahs, the traditional prayer book for the holiday, and I briefly explained the items on the Seder plate. There is charoset, which symbolizes the bricks and mortar our ancestors used to build pyramids and temples in Egypt during 400 years of slavery. The horseradish (bitter herbs) represent the bitter tears our ancestors cried; a lamb bone illustrates the blood smeared across the door-posts of Hebrew homes so that the angel of death, who slaughtered the first born children of all Egyptians as the last of 10 plagues, would pass over those homes. The Seder plate also has a hardboiled egg (Zeroa), which symbolizes fertility and the cycle of life; and fresh parsley represents the spring and the rebirth of our freedom from slavery.
I had our guests turn next to the Kiddush and the prayer for the first of four cups of wine. I love the Kiddush and really like to sing it. No one complained much about my aging voice and they appreciated hearing the prayer chanted in Hebrew. Melissa's mother-in-law, Kathy, really loved the Seder and the prayers. She mentioned a few times how much she was enjoying herself.
For the next 25 minutes or so, I flipped to more meaningful pages in a service that could easily go on for well over an hour or more, explaining as much as I could while everyone followed along patiently along. One of the best parts of the Seder, which means order, by the way, and is divided into very organized parts in the Haggadah, is the blessing for and explanation behind the Pesach (paschal lamb), the matzah (the unleavened bread that our ancestors took in their rush to leave Egypt; the bitter herbs and my favorite -- the Hillel sandwich a wonderful concoction of charoset and bitter herbs smushed between two small pieces of matzah).
These little appetizers, except for the lamb bone, which we bless and then eat, are a great segue to the always amazing dinner that follows. Everyone always steals a little extra charoset and even some extra horseradish -- the white stuff totally cleans out the sinuses and the beet red horseradish runs the white a close second -- after the Hillel sandwich.
Our special guests thanked us for the great Seder and we were then ready to turn to dinner. Of course, that meant that our now very comfortable crew had to get up from their spots around the coffee table and come to the Seder table for dinner. But that dinner was well worth the aches and pains of getting up.
As I've written so many times before, the dinner is the other truly beautiful part of any Seder. Most Seder meals begin with home made chicken soup and special Passover matzah balls. Pam's were solid but fluffy and delicious. And each of us had the opportunity to take a hard-boiled egg and dip it in salt water, another symbol of the tears our ancestors shed.
Pam outdid herself on the main course, which consisted of chicken in a wonderful sauce, two different kinds of brisket (definitely my favorite); mashed potatoes, asparagus and roasted potatoes and sweetened carrots.
My wife contributed one of the desserts -- a home made flourless chocolate torte -- and then the goodies kept on coming. Soon the table was laden with chocolate-covered matzah, a huge fruit bowl (largely ignored on this one night which is different than all others); chocolate meringue cookies and one other dish I can't remember. This is one of those holidays when flour isn't used, but eggs and sugar and what's called matzah meal and potato starch to replace the staples, are in abundance.
After dinner, as is traditional at all Seders, we just sat back, our stomachs feeling like lead, and relaxed over great conversation. There was lots of good will, lots of laughter and feelings of warmth and love around the whole table.
This Seder was one of my definite favorites and I'm so appreciative that Pam wanted us to share it with her newly blended family and, of course, her other daughter Hollis and friend Liz, as well as Marty's aunt Kathleen. There is something so special about this holiday and it should always include lots of people with many rich cultures and heritages. We had a wonderful evening and look forward to many more like this.
Steven Gaynes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.