Passover, Seders and Theodore Bikel
We had our Seder on Wednesday night. My son in law, Peter, who was born into a Swedish, presumably Lutheran, nominally, household, and who attended Marin Catholic High, was on the road back to work and couldn't stay. Daughter, Becky, grandchildren Haley and Zachary represented the Bjurstens. Son, Josh, daughter in law, Tammy, nominally raised as a Catholic, and now a philosophy teacher at Cal State, and Myles, the Magnificent, who at 10 months is beginning to stroll around the room with a triumphant smile, arrived from Lakewood in their green Saturn. Wife, Lin, had assembled the requisite Seder ingredients (Benjie's Delicatessen on Tustin Ave. played a role.) The Hagadah's were out, but not really needed for this secular humanistic gathering. A deep committment to any theological argument was not in evidence, but the nostalgia of past seders was certainly evoked. I find myself in the position, now, of being "the old man." My parents, my father who would have loved to have been a rabbi, or an accountant, but instead, supported his extended family by a postal career, died in 1992. The next to last of his generation, my Uncle Herb, who was sent to law school through my dad's labor, died about 5 years ago, and shortly thereafter, my Aunt Beatrice died. So, I am the oldest of the surviving generation, and Passover brings nostalgia.
My Seder would have drawn gasps had I had the temerity to roll out the SH version before the older generation. Raised as a Conservative Jew, and trading a certain major league softball career for the pain of Hebrew School.... oh, there isn't a Major League in Softball! Well, maybe Dad was right about Hebrew School being more important than being a great third baseman. I was a little believer in those days, and just getting my start in science with telling the butterflies from the moths, and collecting local weeds, and yes, goldenrod and ragweed are allergens.... but that was in the future.
The Seders then, were real Seders! Dad, at the head of the table, chanting prayers that I could understand only by reading the English in the Hagadah. Even his Hiebrew was different than what I was learning at Bnai Shalom from Dr. Weiss. It had a kind of Yiddish sound to it, and the Ashkenazi Hebrew I was learning, "the Correct Hebrew," sounded so pure by comparison. But dad was so fast! Through years of DAILY practice, he was a PRAYER SPRINTER, and if there had been a Prayer Olympics, he would have been a real contender. So, he covered everything, the multiple hand washings, matzoh splittings, kiddush, wine pouring and re-pouring, and suddenly, before the food was cold, it was time to eat... kugel of course. Tsimmes. Matzos.... Streits, Manischewitz or Horowitz-Margareten? We were eating on the Pesadicha dishes, old English willow patterns of Chinese gardens that my maternal grandmother had brought from Montreal.
During the Seder their was the plagues, and the dumping of wine from the glass in sympathy with the ancient Egyptians who had lost their first born sons, so that we, Jews, could be free! And their were the modern Pharoahs, the plagues on our society, as we saw it. During World War II, it was Hitler. After the war, nobody assumed that proportion. Maybe, Joseph McCarthy, the Ku Klux Klan, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.... but these were small fry compared to Hitler and the Holocaust. A friend, Mark, from my Chicago high school days, who sent me a very clever bunch of non-traditional, but right on the money, songs, suggested that I add George W. to my list of plagues, but, bad though he is, I can't call him a plague in the biblical sense. Or, maybe I can. I just want to send him back to his ranch in Texas. He has certainly killed a lot of people for no good reason.,... Well, politics was always part of the Seder. And our Seders were Liberal Democratic ones, even though Uncle Herb found it to be expedient to his legal career to be a Republican precinct captain in the Chicago of Mayor Edward J. Kelly!
Sorry, Dad, I din't follow in your religious footsteps. I was more like the mother of Menachem Daum, the Chassidic protagonist of Seeking and Hiding, who was envisioned confronting God with questions.... deeply disturbing personal queswtions about why He wasn't there when her infant son was ripped away from her at the entrance to the concentration camp.
So, it wasn't a Chassid Seder. It wasn't a Conservative Seder. It wasn't a Reform Seder. It wasn't even a Reconstructionist Seder. It was a wonderful excuse to baste my memories in nostalgia for a lost innocence, a lost faith in God, but a trilbute to a connection, and a debt owed to previous generations for the values I hold, for the Jewishness, I feel..... for my people, and those who will carry their values forth. Haley and Zach will remember their first race to find the Affikomen, and the crisp dollar bills that were their rewards.... and the warmth around the Seder table, and the love, and the Egyptian Pharoah who couldn't make up his mind, and Lin and I singing, "Let My People, Go!"
The best values survive in the Liberal Secular Humanist tradition. Justice. Liberty. Compassion. The Golden Rule. More, of course. But, this is an entry in a blog, and not a book.
I will wish all people of good will, the very best celebration of being alive, hopefully in good health, hopefully surrounded by loved ones and family..... and friends, Chaverim, in Hebrew, and Theodore Bikel singing, Shalom Chaverim! Peace, Friends. Happy Passover! Happy Easter! Happy Life! Chai. Create your own Music List @ HotFreeLayouts!
I was a pretty crumby softball player, anyway. I forgive you, Dad! Current Mood: nostalgic