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I pass

April 21, 2011 am30 2:49 am

For years I avoided holidays altogether. Birthdays? The were always good. But not holiday. The muttering in incomprehensible dead languages. Fantastic fables. Us vs them mentality. Meaningless ritual. And then I agreed to come back to my father’s for Pesach, and only Pesach. Made it clear, but still got invites to others. Nope, not a chance, not interested at all.

Pesach was loaded with stories, fables, like the others, but not like the others. It is celebrated at home, with only family and friends. The meal is the thing.

And the stories, well there are those myths, but the story part is a freedom story. Pharaoh, we might say, but “Pharaoh” in an upright flat American accent we might hear sung… Or Moses… as the story was adopted by a modern group of people, Americans by birth but not quite Americans if you watched how they were treated. There were different voices intoning the images and symbolism of the stories from the Pesach table. I so thoroughly conflated the two, the Civil Rights movement with the Passover story, for years, for decades, that just today I discovered that “Follow the Drinking Gourd” was neither traditional nor Pesach-related. (It just gives some directions for escape. With a nice melody.)

Anyhow, it’s been this way for a while. Pesach is the only holiday I tolerate. I participate in the ritual. And I even complained, years back, to my father that as long as we are doing it, I missed stuff; the rituals were too abbreviated, or too many were skipped. But siblings have kids, and the kids’ short attention spans give cover to their parents’ restlessness, and the Seder became more and more abbreviated. I was probably silly to complain at all.

And it’s not like the seder was completely abandoned. There’s the warm up blessings. Four questions. The four sons (yours truly is a natural for the wise one). Plagues. Plagues… Even though my father abandons most of the Hebrew (is some of it Aramaic?) he alone chants/sings and spills. Dom. Sounds like nothing on paper, but the tune is ominous, like the sounding of some sad bell. Blood. Tsfardaye. (frogs, sounds like the word for French, everyone says that’s a coincidence, but I could use a real etymologist). Kinim. Dever… he says them quicker than I remember from my childhood, still a beat each, just a faster beat. Finally Makat B’horos. My father smiles at me here. Right, for the killing of the firstborn son. It’s funny, but with an edge. Then some more blessings, some songs, and food. Later the kids hunt for the hidden matzah (the afikomen).

But this year, I pass. After ten, twenty years? of me coming. Seder was moved; wasn’t at his house. It’s a long drive. But mostly, it just wasn’t my father’s seder. I’m sure he still presided. He likes that, and there’s no one else who really could. But presiding or not, he was a guest. And then look at me, same guy who complained about losing the comfort of ritual. I don’t know who he smiled at when he spilled wine for the killing of the firstborn. But it wasn’t me, and that’s not a bad thing.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 21, 2011 am30 9:39 am 9:39 am

    First of all, I’d like to compliment the writer of this post for his writing ability. I just read a book entitled The Cult Of The Amateur by Andrew Keen. He complains that the Internet has spawned nothing but amateur writers, composers, musicians. But you, sir, are a talented writer and I love your choice of words.

    I do challenge your choice of action. When did a Seder become ABOUT you? About where YOU want it to be? About whom YOU want to be with? We don’t choose our family, but if you are this Narcissistic about an opportunity to be with your family, the way you describe everything I guess you are one of the true “chosen ones” and you get to choose your family, who among them are allowed to be with you at the “chosen” time that is best for you.

    And as someone who has lost their father, I cannot even begin to tell you how offended I am that you would write about yours this way. There surely will be a day when that you will long for the “chants, sings and spills” and if not that, I promise you will miss the voice.

    I can also promise that you one day will miss the delight in his eyes to see his family there in front of him. As a father, I look at my four tolerating me, and I want to know they are healthy, that they are happy, and that they love each other. Because when we close our eyes for the last time, we finally let go. And I can say from watching my father die, that death is far more peaceful when you let go knowing your children are OK. And OK with each other. But then, when you make holidays and family gatherings all about you, you might miss that point.

    You had the opportunity, sir, to write the same story, but with a more meaningful and life-changing message. You might have gone to your family with the idea that one day YOU could offer your home for the sedar (or any family gathering for that matter) and you might want to position yourself (as the first-born) to take a more active role in the ritual or to request the parts that I guess are left out, to be inserted at your request. And one day you would be chanting, singing and spilling. As the oldest, you are choosing to lose a wonderful opportunity to lead your family into another type of “promised land.”

    I learned a very long time ago that you have to roll up your sleeves and be involved with your family. You have to appear. You have to help design the ever-changing mold of the family you have before you. Writing, “I pass” is self-absorbed. The alternative is “family-absorbed” and that is where you have the opportunity to be a family leader, a family shaper. Or just plain family.

    I love the way you write. I love your choice of words. I hope you continue to Blog, because I’d love to follow you and read your ideas. But I don’t value your choices in this matter. You’re taking the easy way out. I mentioned by four children before. I’d be honored to have any of them feel as strongly as you do about ritual, and family gatherings. I’d be terminally sad if they followed your choices. I hope you’re young. Maybe you have time to reflect in a different pool and attend the next time your family gets together.

    See you soon, I hope.

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