It’s time for Seder, which is Zeder, in our modern-day-plague ravaged Passover

Last week I received a very long email with instructions for Zeder. This year millions of Jews around the world will log into Zoom, and try to continue a 2000-year tradition of not changing the tradition. We will recall plagues of past like infestation of locusts and raining frogs and we’ll silently scoff that Egypt didn’t even have to shut down the schools. Also, I expect that like teachers who can’t believe how quickly a full day of lesson plans zip by on Zoom, we will be shocked that a dinner that usually lasts 4 hours and 7 glasses of wine will be over in less than half that time on video.

Preparing for the Seder is a task that favors the sheepherder. For example, you need a lamb’s bone and raw horseradish. I waited thirty minutes to get into Whole Foods to find I was too late to beat the lamb-bone rush, but I got a bone-in brisket that will produce a lambish looking bone – it’s hard to tell the difference on video.

The main point of Seder is to tell Jewish kids to have empathy for the oppressed because we were slaves in Egypt. But I think that’s not how empathy works because you are supposed to be able to have empathy even if you are not a victim.  I think only people with autism require having a similar experience in order to have empathy. This confirms my unproven hunch that Jews are disproportionately represented among the autism cohort.

The email I received gives a lot of details about how Passover on video will work. I am mostly worried about how people will talk to each other when we are not supposed to. At Passover there is nonstop chatter that is sort of okay as long as we stick to the topic of freedom.  There are official, traditional questions (from a wise child, a foolish child, etc) And there are unofficial, often-insulting questions (from the adults who are a nudge, a schmuck, etc.) Is there text-based chat? Is there a way to interrupt each other? How will someone bring up the fact that Jews are free but Palestinians are not free if there is no way to interrupt the usual script?

As if the Seder is not long enough, my family always adds commentary about who is oppressed today and who is taking steps to stop oppression: A modern-day plea for direct action over civil discourse.  My kids used to play with windup matzoh balls when things got political. As the boys got older the toys were less fun, and I sort of hope that somehow the kids were listening.

Zehavi has the job of chanting the four questions in Hebrew. Traditionally a young child chants the questions, but he’s been the youngest for ten years. Yesterday he announced he’s on strike.  He said, “It’s someone else’s turn.”

I said, “That’s not how it works.”

This is how parenting a teenager works: You pretend to have the last word and your kid pretends to be deaf.

This afternoon I gathered everything to set the table and handed it over to Yefet. That’s his job. This year I don’t need to use the set of dishes that have thirty bowls for matzah ball soup. I could use fun dishes. Things could be new and different. But there is so little that can be the same, we have to hold on to it. I thank Yefet very much for setting the table and then I fix the dishes to be exactly how I like them. I get it that correcting what kids do is bad parenting. But Seder is the Hebrew word for order, which I accept as God’s call to Jews with OCD.

My job is to realize I’ve forgotten random ingredients when we have only an hour before the Seder begins. My brother once told me he will not come to my house for Seder if I keep starting it two hours late. So now I forget ingredients much earlier in the day. We are making charoset when I see I forgot cinnamon. I say I’ll go to the store, and Zehavi tells me we can use other spices. “It’s not worth risking anyone’s life to go get cinnamon,” he says.

I also forgot apples. I say, “For charoset, apples are essential.”

That magic word. A valid reason to go outside. I get ready to leave and Zehavi says, “Are you wearing a mask?”


“Do you know that people are dying?”

Yefet says, “Not just people. African Americans. Do you know they are dying at a much higher rate than everyone else? African Americans are oppressed by healthcare disparities. If we’re talking about oppression tonight let’s talk about that.”

“Okay,” I say, “Save it for the Seder.”

Zehavi blocks the door. “Mom. Put on a mask. You’re a terrorist when you walk out without a mask. Mom, you’re an actual bio-terrorist. Put on a mask.”

I put on a mask.

Yefet says, “Actually, I did save it for the Seder. I’m planning to read a whole article about African American death rates from coronavirus.”

My brother will be so annoyed. I tell Yefet he can’t read a whole article out loud. He has to read a very abridged version. I tell him Seder is not a time to force your political agenda. But actually, it sort of is, and the silver lining of Zeder is discovering that my kids have embraced this tradition as their own.

23 replies
  1. Patty
    Patty says:

    As a non-Jew, not sure how to give you good wishes for Passover (if that’s even appropriate; if so, I do). I have been following you since Brazen Careerist & have been alternately horrified and heartened by your circumstances, this post the latter. Your boys have grown into thinking and feeling near-adults-nice job, Penelope! You must be proud, and deserve to be.
    Be well, and, as always, I look forward to your next post.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks, Patty. The boys do make me really happy. And they surprise me. I am always happy to be able to share what it’s like to live with them. Thank you for reading.


  2. buchanan
    buchanan says:

    Hope you had a lovely Zeder. We’re having our’s tomorrow, a neighbor just left a bag of matzah at the door for us. We’re kind of relieved to have the option of muting some of the more annoying attendees.

  3. harris497
    harris497 says:

    Family can be messy, complex, imperfect, complicated, annoying and embarrassing, but it is so totally worth it. Thanks for the reminder.


  4. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    Very nice story.

    Where in the world did you find a bone-in brisket? I want one. Nobody sells them anymore. The bones in a bone-in brisket are ribs, which I also love. And they’re right next to the deckle. Which is not so good braised, but lovely on the grill. I guess you could split the brisket to braise the flat, and grill the deckle with the ribs. Here I am making plans for the brisket, and I still don’t know where to buy it.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      So great that you live right by me, because I got it at the Whole Foods by the Symphony T stop. Usually you can ask Whole Foods to order you the cut of brisket that you want. It takes a little longer to get a special order of brisket at Passover or Hanukkah. But most of the time there’s plenty of brisket because no one wants to buy such an awful part of the cow.


      • Bostonian
        Bostonian says:

        I don’t think the brisket is an awful part of the cow at all. My whole family loves my brisket, even my little girl. Because it’s so popular, I cook a brisket a couple times a month. Perhaps you cook it differently than I do. I smoke it in the summer and braise it in the winter.

        I’ll remember that Whole Foods can special-order a bone-in brisket. They must be huge. A packer brisket, with both flat and point, will run around 15 pounds. A bone-in must run over 20. I’ll order one.

  5. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Great post! I’m not even Jewish but am running a Zeder and sent out a long doc with zoom instructions. I’m taking advantage of the situation to break traditions knowing my mother-in-law can only disapprove from a distance. For instance I split the 4 questions up and preassigned them to 4 of the young kids and instead of haroset I’ll be using Ferrero Rochers. Should be fun.

  6. Louis
    Louis says:

    You should get the Passover Graphic Novel from Koren Publishers… It’s great for any kid or adult on any spectrum. חג שמח

  7. Elena
    Elena says:

    What are their solutions for the perceived social ill? It is not enough to complain or to lecture the rest of us as to a problem. What is your solution? It gives so much anxiety that people just want to talk about a problem without proposing a solution. Any solution even ones that are unrealistic. Will your boys grow up to provide service to others or will they just point these problems out?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      We’ll see, won’t we? I’m not sure there’s anything you can do to control how much empathy your kid expresses from within their career. And, to be honest, I have a lot to say about people who devote their life to service to others. My Ex — their dad — has always worked at non-profits. He has directly helped so many people, all over the country. But the jobs pay very, very little, and he can only do that because he doesn’t pay anything for the kids. I actually feel good about him being able to do so much for people who need help. And it’s nice the kids see that, but the kids also see that those jobs can’t support a family. So the whole thing, to me, is really messed up. When we lived in NYC together most non-profits (even really big ones) didn’t offer health insurance because they knew you’d need a partner to support you if you were doing the job in NYC so they figured the partner would have health insurance.


      • harris497
        harris497 says:


        I have added respect for you. It takes a person with a long view to allow a spouse to serve as a good example when there is a financial disincentive.
        Your boys are on a good footing … as they say on my island.

        Many blessings to you and yours.

  8. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Happy Passover, Penelope. Very nice photo of your passover plate being prepared. Your photography and videography skills are improving as evidenced by each post.

  9. Daisy Den
    Daisy Den says:

    Extremely decent story.

    Where on the planet did you locate a bone-in brisket? I need one. No one sells them any longer. The bones in a bone-in brisket are ribs, which I likewise love. Furthermore, they’re directly alongside the deckle. Which is slightly below average braised, yet exquisite on the barbecue. I surmise you could part the brisket to braise the level, and flame broil the deckle with the ribs. Here I am making arrangements for the brisket, I despite everything don’t have the foggiest idea where to get it.

  10. Tanya Sharma
    Tanya Sharma says:

    Cheerful Passover, Penelope. Nice photograph of your passover plate being readied. Your photography and videography abilities are improving as confirm by each post.

  11. Amit Gupta
    Amit Gupta says:

    As a non-Jew, not certain how to give you great wishes for Passover (if that is even fitting; assuming this is the case, I do). I have been tailing you since Brazen Careerist and have been on the other hand appalled and cheered by your conditions, this post the last mentioned. Your young men have developed so nicely, Penelope! You should be glad, and have the right to be.

    Be well, and, as usual, I anticipate your next post.

Comments are closed.