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Monday, April 17, 2006

Stories from the Seder Table

We went to the Zigelmans for the seder. They were also having the Pollevoy family and Ilana Zigelman's parents. It was a crowded noisy room. Ari Zigelman read most of the hagaddah himself. This is different from our approach. We didn't comment much. It was a boring crowded noisy room.
I sat and waited for it to end for much time. You might say that it was an uneventful seder. But every event is unique in some way. What made this seder night different from all the others?

Why is it that there are no simple, plain, nice hardcover haggadahs sold? Without commentary (which won't be read as the Seder moves along) taking up three quarters of the page, or an English translation taking up half the page, or irrelevant photos taking up a quarter of the page. Not some free little "Maxwell House" haggadah which looks like it may fall apart any moment, but a good, sturdy, nicely produced haggadah. I asked this question many times before we left. We have no such copy. I used the Temple Haggadah, whose commentary was written by my old Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yisrael Ariel. It looked like the closest thing to what I was looking for.

The Temple Haggadah is a big, sturdy, hardcover book. It is also fairly heavy. The two tables were stuffed with dishes, so I had to hold it in my lap. Being uncomfortable is a Pesach tradition, including the time-honored sub-tradition of reclining on the left side. I think discomfort is supposed to be a symbol of freedom. Another symbol of freedom is having someone pour you four glasses of wine. Now, picture a guy like me, who hates both the flavor of alcohol and the flavor of grapes. Does having someone else force this stuff down my throat sound like freedom?
Pondering this question, I stood with everyone else to bless the wine. (I could have used some blessing myself- something like "Please, God, in your great mercy could you possibly make my taste buds stop working for a minute?".) Anyway, while blessing the wine (or grape juice in my case, which isn't quite as dreadful), you're supposed to raise the cup. And so I did with my right hand, while also trying to hold up my hagaddah in my left hand. When my hand starting hurting, I tried shifting the book onto the plate, and spilled half the grape juice on the book and the floor. I cleaned it all up; my father looked at the book and said: "I'm very disappointed in you." I drank the juice in one gulp, to get it over with. It was vile. I tell you, I know what freedom tastes like, and that ain't it.

Every year, my father hides the Afikoman matza. And we try to find it. He finds all the best places in our house. I can never find it, so I give up early on and one of the girls gets it. Then they're given some reward for finding it, like money or a CD or something like that. There's a counter-tradition in our family, where all of us try to watch my father at every moment of the seder, to make sure he's not sneaking off with the Afikoman. But every year, he finds some moment where we're not alert enough, and before we know it it's hidden. Well, this time, I watched. As we got up to watch in the middle of the seder, I sat behind, looking innocently at my father. And he remained seated, the Afikoman on the table next to him. And I remained seated. "Well, go wash.", he said with a smile. "After you.", I replied. He got up. But I was afraid he'd wash before me, and get back with time to hide it while I was busy washing, so I tried to outsmart him. I rushed ahead to wash first, all the while looking backwards to make sure he wasn't getting too close to the Afikoman. I had him this time. I washed, came back to the table, and the Afikoman had disappeared. Apparently, he'd told my mother to hide it for him (in a specific place he'd picked out), since no one was watching her. The cheat. "Next year," I told myself, "I'll just have to change the rules. I'll make sure that someone, be it myself or one of the girls, is watching the Afikoman at all times. We'd cover for each other. Then he'd lose. Ha!"
But this year, I'd lost. But maybe... Well, if my mother had hidden it it couldn't be too hard a hiding place. And they don't know this house too well - that'll certainly work against them. Hmmm.... I noticed a little slit in the top of a box of soda bottles next to the door to the kitchen... Nah, too easy. And that was that. I had to wait before looking for it, of course. So I waited. Right before the meal, after my father had gone back home to get something-or-other, it looked like my cue. I reached into the box, and sure enough there it was! I was so excited that I (foolishly) announced that I'd found it. The girls started shrieking: "Too soon! You weren't supposed to look yet! This doesn't count!". And so the argument started. The little Zigelman girl saw an opportunity for mischief and tried to grab it. "No, it's mine! Mine!", I cried. And I jumped out of the way 'til she gave up. I sat down on the couch, considering that I should have hidden it again as soon as I found it- that way, they'd look in the place my parents had put it and be so surprised! Heh, that would be cool. But whatever- I'd won. I knew I wouldn't get any presents -why would I, when my parents wouldn't even give me a present for my birthday?- but it was the principle of the thing. For once, I'd won.
Everyone else soon lost interest. "You should hide it.", Mickey Pollevoy said quietly. And why not?, I thought. They weren't paying attention anymore. "Just put it under the couch!", he advised. It was an obvious hiding place, sure. But it seemed like a good enough idea. And so I did. I went back to my seat, and told the girls I'd hidden it. Our parents should have to find it, yes, that seems best. And I told them, "It's under that chair.", because they wouldn't be the ones looking for it. "Hey!- Now we can't look for it!" True. It did seem like a good idea a few moments before.
My father came back, and agreed that I had cheated by finding it earlier than they'd expected. Nonetheless, I said, he and my mother would have to find it. My mother wasn't interested, but my father started looking. He looked in all the drawers. He looked under the tablecloth. He took apart the couch to look under the cushions. Everywhere but on the floor under the couch seat I'd been sitting at.
During this time, I'd gotten bored of the whole thing, and started wondering whether there was any point to it to begin with. So I started playing Egyptian War with some young girls. Meanwhile, the hunt continued, and by this point my sisters joined in. This made no sense to me, since I had told them exactly where it was, but there they were searching anyway. And they couldn't find it. I was sick of all of the commotion, so when Ari Zigelman asked, "Where is it?", I said, "It's under that chair!". And so my father and sisters started looking under every chair in the house except for the one I had sat on. I didn't get it. I don't remember how it ended. I don't think it matters too much.

Then there was the meal. There were salads, and other salads, and vegetables. Being a strong antivegitarian, I had nothing to eat there. Then there was turkey. I hate turkey, but what else was there to eat?- I ate some turkey. Instantly I recalled why I'd made a mental note before to never eat turkey- it tasted awful. As I looked distastefully at what was still on my plate, some guest said to my mother, "Wow, this turkey is delicious!". Which only goes to show that some people have no sense of taste. One such person, as I discovered, is Mickey Pollevoy. He started talking about rock music. I said I liked classical musics, and he laughed. He asked if I liked Mozart. "No, the truth is I've never liked Mozart's music much." He laughed. "I don't get it- If I had said I liked Mozart's music you would have laughed. When I say I don't like Mozart, you laugh. Why am I even talking to you?" But what else was there to do?- I kept talking. And it got to the point where Miriam burst in, insisting that no one should ever remember the name of any type of artist, because all art exists only to entertain and who cares who wrote it as long as it entertains? Except she didn't sound as intelligent as that sentence makes her seem. And the two of them laughed at the fact that I don't like rock, and laughed at my opinion that I think there might be something worth listening to in modern music which doesn't make the bestseller lists, and they laughed at my mention of Howard Shore's music as an example of popular modern classical music: "You actually care about the name of the guy who wrote the music for Lord of the Rings?" "Yeah, was there even any music in Lord of the Rings? If there was, it must not have been very good!" By the end of the meal, I was quite certain I was in the wrong place.

I walked home in a bitter mood. But there was one thing I was grateful for: I wouldn't have to drink grape juice for another year! Hooray!



At least its over, no?

And The Lord of the Rings soundtracks are amazing for anyone who is curious...

I fail to understand how someone could have watched the Lord of the Rings movies and not have enjoyed, or at least noticed, the music. I suppose I should feel bad for them - they're missing out.

I'm sorry you didn't have a good Seder. Better luck next year!

In his defense, he did seem to be completely tone-deaf.


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