Dispatches from the Not Particularly God-Y Passover Seder

Passover blindsided me this year. One minute I’m in New Orleans, whooping it up over praline bacon, the next I’m home thinking oh shoot…Seder.

Not that I feel it’s necessary to have a Seder. I’m of a member of the Not Particularly God-y sect of Jewishness, which is definitely a giant step below Reform on the pious ladder. But I have always loved the culture and the traditions and the wonderful celebrations. Of any religion, really. Greek Easter? Christmas Caroling? Buddhist wedding? Sign me up. If there’s some Zoroastrian holiday that requires good food and wine and off-key singing, let me know so I can pencil it in. Especially if there are costumes involved.

Despite my own ill-preparedness, the the kids have been begging to “do the thing where you put your finger in the grape juice” for weeks; I felt obliged to somehow cobble together a Passover dinner. So I assembled the most last-minute, improptu, pathetically abridged, nutritionally deficient, Seder in history. My more devout ancestors would be horrified.

And let me tell you, it was awesome.

Guided by the wonderful new My Haggadah Made it Myself which is like a Taro Gomi coloring book-Haggadah mashup, the three of sat down to matzoh, deli-made matzoh ball soup, and sticky sweet grape juice. I figure they won’t eat the lamb or the egg or the parlsey anyway so…eh. I’m not making any.

We skipped the boring parts of the story, and we glazed over any God stuff. (It’s easier than you think to simply describe a “magic burning bush” or a “magic power that made frogs fall from the sky.”) We lit the candles and we sang Dayenu. We colored pictures of wine and eggs. We hid the matzoh and ate it with lots of butter. And the kids guzzled the juice out of wine glasses, a privilege that requires sitting up very very straight and drinking very very carefully. Like a princess, Thalia said. She thought that was more interesting than reclining.

At the end, I asked the girls what they felt lucky for in their lives. Thalia said for friends and family. Sage said for the cats. And farts. Then I asked them what they want to do better in the coming year. Thalia said coloring in the lines. Sage said fart.

It’s strange when we start to break away from family and create our own traditions. It’s this blank slate I almost didn’t realize I had available to me. But it’s this kind of awesome, grown-up moment to recognize that we are–I am–responsible for the next generation. For their memories, their values, their silly holiday dinners. And that we can keep what works, toss what doesn’t, improvise the rest, and in the end, create something that’s all new and all ours.

I’d imagine we’ll do it again next year. But tomorrow? Peaster. Where, in another example of weird family tradition, Nate will turn Easter Eggs into bloody eyeballs.


20 thoughts on “Dispatches from the Not Particularly God-Y Passover Seder”

  1. Love it! I married into a not-at-all-God-y NY-NJ big fat Jewish family (I'm yer basic Southwestern white pagan atheist) and we usually do a big, raucous seder with them, which involves much skipping of haggedah pages and saying “when do we get to eat?” You inspire me to do our own little seder next time as well.

  2. My daughter has been going to my best friend's seder since she was born. It's one of her favorite holidays. She loves the 4 questions, looking for the afikomen, and chowing down on some quality brisket.

    Being pretty agnostic, I don't have the heart to tell her she's not Jewish.

    The only thing she knows about Christianity is Easter. She's very curious about it…especially after I told her the Easter Bunny poops jellybeans.

  3. That settles it Julie. You, Pierre, and us are having a blogger Seder next year. Put it in ink!

  4. I want to Seder too! Wait, can Seder be a verb?

    I love the traditions we create as a family. At Christmas, I even bring out a Nativity scene that is soon overrun by Polly Pocket and big-eyed My Little Pet Shop characters but it all works.

  5. Passover is one of my favorite holidays. The food, the traditions and the opportunities that surround it always make me happy.

    My kids go to a Jewish day school so we usually cover two different angles. One is obviously the religious one but we also talk about how it applies today.

    That is not a religious talk but a simple conversation about how to give back.

    On a related note because they go to day school they are in the middle of a two week long spring break.

    Do you know how challenging it can be to not only entertain them but find appropriate food for now.

    Love them dearly, but I am ready for school to start again.

  6. I'm still not convinced I'm old enough to be responsible for the three children I somehow managed to have, but I too love the idea of creating family traditions alongside the old ones we already have.

    Well done!

  7. Enjoyable post! I attended a Reformed Jewish Synagogue for about a year, at one time. (I had recently renounced Christianity in my life, and was considering converting.) I've also attended Buddhist and Muslim gatherings–I've known quite a few people of different faiths, and religion itself fascinates me. I finally ended up believing as I do now–that it's not meant that I belong to any organized religion. I have a simple faith, in which I worship the Creator (the being that created everyone and everything there is, and continues to create).
    So I have no holidays for my faith.

    Still, I enjoy the holidays of my devoutly Christian family–and I have no problem, though I do not take communion, or sing hymns to “Christ”. And as long as they don't really push it on me, everything's okay. But they do tend to push–they still consider me unsaved, even “atheist” (which is a false term to me in itself, since everyone knows something created us, and continues to create–something far beyond our comprehension, in short, there is no one who doesn't believe in “God”, everyone in the world believes in the same Creator, just has a different idea what the Creator is). So during the Christmas holidays, when I see my family in Mobile, I stay at a motel overnight, to avoid any confrontations.

    Anyway, pardon my rambling–I think it's good that your kids are able to experience the traditions of your faith, and enjoy them. I must admit that even though I do not believe in the “Trinity” or even just “Christ”, but in a being far beyond that described in the Bible (or any other religious text), my life would feel less complete had I not experienced the traditions of my family's religion.

  8. Big or small gathering, traditional or non, it's all about attitude. My husband and I are probably about the same level of jew that you are and we finally decided a couple years ago that if we're going to call ourselves jewish, we needed to put the matzah where our mouths were and do something. This was hard, being that we lived across the country from both our families and in a non-jewy neighborhood. So we totally winged it for our first seder, and it was totally forgettable. The following year, we put a little more thought into it, did some totally non-traditional goofy things that I can't even remember (and that some more religious jews would probably find blasphemous — but hey, that's their problem, and don't even get me started on judgmental jews!), but at least it created a good enough feeling in our two young kids (5 and 8) that they didn't dread it for the following year.

    So this year, we had just moved across the country to where we could actually drive (a long drive, but whatever, still a drive vs a totally unaffordable flight which my husband would never want to pay for just to go to a seder!). My husband had zero interest in attending the large family seder my family has been having for decades and which i've missed out on since leaving the east coast fold almost 20 years ago. He comes from a small, dysfunctional, utterly unreligious family, and holidays were synonymous with tension and misery. But I convinced him that being this was our first year living “close by” (tell that to my kids who had to endure a 7 hour car ride while fighting over which DVDs to watch), we had to go back for my family's seders.

    The interesting twist is that one of my first cousins became a super jew. Or at least she married one. (A doctor… of course). And now they're orthodox. So here's this group of orthodox jews stuck with the rest of us heathens. And somehow… we had to find a way to make it work. We started late — after sunset, down to the letter of the law, which, like at 8:30 is when our six year old kinda starts going into meltdown mode, and now we're asking him to sit through a seder, which seemed to him akin to asking him to be a slave in egypt and build the pharoah a pyramid — and the chaos ensued.

    In our “concession” to the orthodox contigent — ie starting late, eating completely kosher food, etc, — they put up with our irreverent jokes, our totally inappropriate mockery and questioning of the traditions… and in doing so, this has become the new tradition. A weird blend of new and old, religious and sacrilege, allowing our “serious” cousins to do their thang, while they try not to eye-roll at we adults behaving like naughty children, snickering and wearing the ten-plague finger puppets and cracking jokes.

    There was much raising of voices, and arguing. And let's face it, arguing is not only one of the great jewish traditions, but one of our favorite past-times. Soup was spilled, wine was drunk (my husband and I actually found something better than Manischewitz) the noise at times was almost unbearable. And of course… by the time it was all over, the kids were having full nuclear melt-downs.

    In the privacy of our guestroom at my mom's house, my husband begrudgingly admitted — it was actually a lot of fun. Our kids had a blast, and I know they can't wait for next year. So this passover, my prayers were finally answered — after a long exile living out in California, my people finally came back to the east coast and were able to see that they are part of a much larger family — not just my cousins, but jews everywhere. Religious, and the not so much. And we share more than a seder table. We share a heritage, even if we respect that heritage differently. And best of all…? It didn't suck. (And now we will drive back to the midwest… and tomorrow… we will still color easter eggs, because it's fun, and because my mother won't know we're doing it!)

  9. My dad printed out the 2 Minute Haggadah from the NY Times and that's what we used this year. It was funny, but also kind of a bummer. I loathe the long-drawn out services, but definitely look forward to dipping my finger in my wine glass 10 times. That part was NOT included in our 2 minutes.

  10. Really funny. I am actually married to a Zorastrian. Seriously. Swear to god he had the Zoroastrian equivalent of a bar mitzvah, called a nav jut, when he was whatever age that is – puberty-ish. As for feasts and off-key singing? I know they must have these things, but Husband is useless in this regard; he insists he's a “lapsed Zoroastrian,” which just cracks me up. Basically, we're godless heathens, although tomorrow there will be jellybeans.

  11. Yes, creating tradition as we go.

    I went to a lot of seders as a child – and I remember leaving the door open for Elijah, but I don't remember dipping fingers in the wine glasses. Selective memory?

  12. Your dinner sounds like it was fabulous!

    My husband and I are atheist, but culturally X-tian, and I'm looking forward to re-interpreting our favorite holidays in our own ways, and maybe inventing a few, once the boy-o comes along. I think it's important to stop and celebrate life at regular intervals, and finding new ways to do that seems like it could be a lot of fun!

  13. Just seeing this, but love it. As a non- G-d believing mother of a son who goes to Jewish Day School, I so get it. It's all about the tradition you set as a family anyway. Also, I want in on that blogger seder!

  14. It's a bit embarrassing but I actually said this to a friend yesterday: “We were too busy this month to be religious.” I'm so behind on everything (and yours is the first not-for-my-work blog I've read in weeks) but everything seemed to coincide at once and we barely did Easter let alone Passover. But you inspire me. I might buy some matzoh today just to feel at least a bit in the spirit. (sigh)

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