I've reached that point where I've got so many tasks overdue that even the sense of urgency goes away. So, with the emails still dinging, and a chicken roasting, I've decided to blog.
Tonight is the first night of Passover. My family didn't celebrate Passover while I was growing up, but after my parents retired to Florida and became involved with the local temple, I got to attend seders at the home of their friends Janet and Lou. Lou had grown up in Boston in a household where Yiddish was spoken (he didn't learn English until he entered school) and at a time when nearly all Jews were Orthodox Jews. Janet and Lou hosted large Passover dinners, inviting friends from all over Florida and up North. The crowd for a typical Passover meal at their place included Holocaust survivors, professional gamblers, black sheep 30-somethings still looking for a real job, and everybody's spoiled grandchildren. By the time we arrived at 6 p.m., Lou and the men would be well into the Slivovitz and Janet was racing back and forth from the kitchen to the Florida room (where tables were set end-to-end for 20 people, plus Elijah). A hired maid, a Florida local who probably never heard of Passover before, was trying to help.
The Passover ritual, carried out before the meal, can last for a couple hours. The adults review the Jews' exodus from slavery in Egypt, give thanks for the protection of G-d, and involve the children in the story using songs and games. Since all you get to eat during the ritual is a little bit of matzoh cracker with various dips, and you consume a few glasses of wine, things can get a bit exuberant by the time the (well-cooked) dinner makes it to the table.
Concerns about the done-ness of the brisket fly through the air along with thanks to G-d; it's the quintessence of Jewish community life. One of my favorite episodes at Lou and Janets involved a tiny lizard that plummeted from the chandelier and, as guests shrieked, skittered down the table through various ceremonial foods until I was able to capture it in a napkin and usher it out the sliding glass doors into the humid night.
Since my first Passover seder at Janet and Lou's some 15 or so years ago, I've been to seders for big crowds; to a feminist seder at which the one male guest was a Christian from North Carolina; and to a couple of seders with just the two of us. Tonight it was just us and my mom. After experiencing Passover with Lou and Janet, it would be unthinkable for me to fail to celebrate Passover. And, in essence, that means that their seders accomplished their purpose--ensuring that the tradition would continue to be passed along.