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.