Saturday, March 30, 2013

Seder of Opportunity

I'm visiting my daughter (Jo) and son-in-law (Peter) for 10 days, sandwiched between 10 days in northern California and the FIC's spring organizational meetings in Prescott AZ, April 5-7.

As it happens, my visit coincides with Easter (coming up this Sunday), which means there's a Seder lurking in there somewhere. Pesach (Passover) started Monday, March 25, and runs until Tuesday, April 2 (notice it takes a looong time for it to pass over—there are some Broadway shows that don't last that long). 

In any event, we decided to celebrate Thursday, about in the middle, by having a dozen of Jo & Peter's friends over for a Seder. It's not so much a religious holiday as a cultural one, marking the Jews' exodus from Egypt (you know, Let my people go), and what can be better than an all-skate dinner, eating and drinking to the theme of libation liberation? As my daughter and I enjoy celebration cooking about as much as anything, we got into it. 

Though I'm not Jewish, Jo's mother (Elke) is, so we had legitimacy (it's a matrilineal thing). While I left it to Jo to suss out a suitably liberal haggadah (yes, we had an orange on the Seder Plate), she and I collaborated on the menu:
o  Lotsa matzo
o  Two kinds of haroset
o  Prepared horseradish
o  Fresh parsley sprigs, paired with dipping bowls of salt water
o  Chicken soup with matzo balls
o  Stir-fried green beans 
o  Baked salmon encrusted with seasoned matzo meal
o  Flourless chocolate cake (think intense)
o  Lotsa wine  

Notice the bookend sacraments of unyeasted bread—served both neat and as a featured ingredient in multiple dishes—washed down with plenty of yeasted grapes. Think of it as the yin and yang of Passover.

We did the shopping Wednesday evening, and then jumped right into prep. Jo popped a whole chicken in a pot to stew with carrots and celery. I mixed up the matzo ball dough (it needed to condition in the fridge overnight) and shelled pistachios (for the Persian haroset). Jo whipped together the chocolate decadence & baked it.

The next afternoon, while Jo was at work, I set aside report writing to boil an egg for the Seder Plate, picked the chicken for the soup, boiled the matzo balls, ran both batches of haroset through a Cuisinart (a regular Ashkenazi version with walnuts, honey, apples, cinnamon, and red wine; and the aforementioned Persian offering, featuring pistachios, dates, fresh orange, and wine), French cut the string beans & blanched them, portioned the salmon into servings & rubbed them down with seasoned matzo flour.

One of the things I appreciate most about Seders is that everyone gets to play. It is expressly a time when Jews and non-Jews can sit together, making common cause at a common meal. While I didn't participate in my first Seder until college, I've now been to 20 or so—in a wide variety of settings—and as far as I can recall, there has always been at least one participant who was attending a Seder for the first time. I just love that—gradually widening the circle of people raising a glass to anti-oppression, expressly bridging across lines of ethnicity, creed, and sexual orientation, where the heavy lifting needs to be done.

While the ritual of Seders always draws attention to oppression—as it should—it is celebrating the movement away from oppression and is essentially a joyous holiday, replete with singing, responsive reading, and jocularity. For the children (and more frisky adults) there is the ritual hiding of the afikoman, a broken piece of matzo that is meant to be the last thing consumed at the meal. While that was not a big hit when offered as an alternative to chocolate cake, it kept the kids in the game. In an interesting juxtaposition of hoary ritual in a contemporary setting, it took quite a while for the someone to locate the afikoman, which had been sequestered by a clever child in the narrow slot under a computer keyboard.

All and all, it was a lovely way to spend a Thursday evening. In essence, we were celebrating collaboration and I couldn't help but reflect on how it stood in sharp contrast with the Sweet 16 games from the NCAA men's basketball tournament that were also taking place that evening, representing a ritual of competition.

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