In keeping with our non-tradition

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we hosted a Passover Seder this evening for a bunch of friends.   I think it is the first time we’ve ever had 16 people here for a sit down meal.   The meal was great thanks to matzoh ball soup provided by Rob, the main course of roasted chicken and vegetables provided by Jeff and flourless chocolate cake and fruit torte courtesy of Kristin!  I provided seating, dishes and cutlery, although to be honest I was so consumed with making sure there were enough bowls and plates that I nearly forgot about utensils, and had to scrounge some plastic sets at the last minute – thank goodness for birthday party leftovers languishing in a cabinet!

Our Passover tradition includes a brief recap of the events leading up to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.   We have finger puppets that represent the plagues, and the kids take turns holding them up at the specified moment.   Every time I stand up and tell this story, I get about half way through and then have to stop myself from rolling my eyes and saying something like, “Oh please!  Let’s all get real.  Who thinks this actually happened?!”   Instead I interject a few jokes before moving on to the bloody conclusion – the death of all Egyptian first born sons.   Happy Passover, everyone!!

Every year, Passover/Easter week always gets me thinking about the fantastical mythology surrounding both of these traditions that so much of the world accepts without question as literal truth.    The god depicted in the Old Testament is really kind of a nasty s.o.b. and then in the New Testament he’s all ‘love your neighbor’ and ‘turn the other cheek’.    I mean, I know they say having kids really changes you, but….

Seriously, though, does no one see the similarities between the Christian stories of the Old & New Testaments and, for instance, some of the Sumerian stories?   Both have a tale of a baby hidden in a basket and sent down the river who is then rescued by a member of the royal family and raised in privilege to later become a leader of his people.   Why is the Christian story truth and the Sumerian one myth?    Because Christians aren’t Sumerians?

My kids and their friends all think the Passover story is great fun – kind of like an ancient suspense/horror tale.    They wave the puppets around and do sound effects and are applauded for their efforts.   Which I think is the best approach you can have to such a thing, where people are punished for no good reason other than that they have a selfish ruler who doesn’t worship the ‘right’ god.

The bright spot is that friends will always take time out of their busy lives to attend a meal if it is tied to a religious tradition – even if it’s not their religious tradition.   So for that I am happy that Passover is here.   When else do I get to have 16 people over for dinner?    We all agreed that we should do this more often, but I am quite certain that we won’t – at least until next year’s Passover Seder.

One comment on “In keeping with our non-tradition

  1. Andrea says:

    I found myself reading this entry late last night, after our own 16 person seder had concluded, and the family, friends, and and even guests who were celebrating their first seder had departed or gone to bed. And I found myself feeling that you had somehow missed the point of Passover. The biggest goal of Passover, as a holiday (besides being an excuse to eat and spend time with family and friends, which as you note is the point of most religious occasions), is to remind us of our good fortune. The plagues and the parting of the red sea and all those things are a story, but the idea that “WE were slaves in Egypt” and now we are not is the crux of the issue. We are meant to look at how far we have come, and to acknowledge the need to sympathize with (and perhaps even work to improve) the plight of others who are still slaves, whether literally or metaphorically. As they say of the absurd Star Wars/Hobbit/AIDs religion story that gets told towards the end of The Book of Mormon, currently running on Broadway, “it’s a metaphor!”. Passover reminds us to be grateful for the progress we have made as a people, to be grateful for the freedoms we possess, and to not forget that others are not so fortunate and that we hold an obligation to work to improve the lot of those less fortunate than ourselves. The Frogs and the Cattle Disease and the Darkness are all just the vehicle through which that story is told. At the time, that was the story that was most effective. Perhaps it is time to rewrite the story to be relevant to our lives today, but the message remains as vital as ever – just ask those in Africa and other places throughout the world who are even now struggling to obtain their own version of freedom from oppression. “Next year in Jerusalem,” the refrain that we quote at the end of the meal, is not a literal hope, but a prayer for peace and understanding in the world. That is the true goal of the Passover seder. To remind us that we should always be working towards building a better world.

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