Oy Bay!

"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

Spare me the politics, dont hijack the Seder

Posted by Oyster on April 3, 2007

Passover family seder

One of the few diamonds in the rough from Craigslist. Written by some fellow by the name of Jonathan Mark out in the East (Oy) Bay. I find this interesting, because I just led my very first Seder (yay!), and I did include some material to help those at my Seder to visualize what slavery is, and how its relevant to today. What do y’all think?

At my Seder tonight there will be no discussion or empty chairs for Darfur, gay marriage, global warming, abortion, Katrina, illegal aliens, Gaza settlements, Zimbabwe, Palestinian olive trees or the sinking of the Altalena.

We can talk about all that at Passover lunch, anytime after the Seder. But if Passover is so important that it must become a bleeding heart’s Super Bowl, the repository of all that ails the world, then it’s important enough to respect, beyond anything else, the Seder itself.

My idea of a Seder isn’t the Village Voice and a kosher-style brisket.

The Seder already has a theme — Passover — and it doesn’t need any help beyond that. The Seder celebrates an event of sufficient majesty and magnitude that it can and ought to stand alone, without political intrusions designed for the disinterested, not for the devoted.

On your wedding anniversary you don’t buy flowers for other women.

At your Fourth of July barbecue you don’t set up an empty chair to commemorate the rainforest.

On Thanksgiving, you don’t talk about why Norwegians should give thanks.

Because on your anniversary, the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, the mood and theme of the day is clear and sufficient, even to the most casual or political among us. Nothing speaks to the epidemic of Jewish confusion and spiritual anemia than the idea that the Seder — the most magical, cinematic, musical, mysterious, historical and child-friendly night of the year — is considered insufficient or unsatisfying as is.

We’ll get back to outreach, pluralism and ecumenicism tomorrow. But tonight, stranger, you outreach to me. Tonight, you figure me out. On the Seder night, let’s focus on the Jew within. This night is about how we left Egypt. This is the “night of watching,” remembering what G-d did for us on that long-ago night of chills.

As is, a good solid Seder — filled with commentary, children passing along insights they learned at school, numerous musical interludes and reflection on our national birth and liberation — should take us from early evening until the wee hours of the morning.

It’s long enough. You really, really want to talk about how much the American refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty reminds you of babies thrown in the Nile? Fine. We’ll talk about it at lunch. The tragedy of Darfur will still be around on the afternoon after the Seder and you can commemorate it then.

Or will you be gone by then?

Sometimes, even in this self-indulgent era, Judaism isn’t about you. It’s not about me. The Seder asks that we be about the Seder.

Everyone is welcome to come to the Seder, not to hijack it.

A Seder can be hijacked by the arrogance of political advocates who think their causes are too obvious for anyone to dispute. Remember, the Seder often has many guests and family members of diverse backgrounds and politics. In these very uncivil times, someone who disagrees with us politically is all too often called “an idiot,” or worse. The Seder’s spirituality can be punctured by someone like TV host Bill Maher, who said that he hopes the president dies. Your uncle’s fourth wife, the one you don’t really know, could be waiting to unleash some Ann Coulter or Rosie O’Donnell broadsides. Or, worst of all, someone who was engrossed by the Seder is now less engaged by your soapbox and is intimidated into silence, alienated from a Seder that was doing just fine a minute ago.

You may think global warming is a perfectly reasonable topic to bring up at a Seder. After all, it’s a “planetary emergency,” says Al Gore. But writing in The Boston Globe, columnist Ellen Goodman says that “global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers,” and maybe you have an Auschwitz survivor at your table who doesn’t think its on a par and is profoundly wounded by the very idea.

The New York Times Science section recently reported that “scientists argue that some of Mr. Gore’s central points are exaggerated and erroneous.” Well, if some at the Seder believe as strongly as Goodman and some believe as strongly as the Science Times experts, and if that survivor is painfully distracted, the Seder can get ugly in a hurry, completely unmoored from its spiritual plane and the subject at hand — the Haggadah. Remember the Haggadah?

Hey, pal. Yeah you, the one who wanted to make the Seder relevant. You just turned the Seder into something divisive, something about you. Thanks, but no thanks.

It’s not a chance worth taking.

Long after the Seder we can read the morning paper and think about the distance between the Haggadah’s promise and the day’s front page. The Haggadah is eternal; the front page comes and goes. William Faulkner said the past is never dead, it’s not even past. I’m still leaving Egypt.

My Seder is timeless. It doesn’t need help.

Jonathan Mark

  • Location: Lion of Judah

5 Responses to “Spare me the politics, dont hijack the Seder”

  1. lchaimlover said

    Thank you so much for posting this!

    People don’t pull chairs out for Jews at any other non-Jewish holiday events. Why is this night different? Because it is Jewish!

  2. Nachum said

    God Bless You!

    The Seder as been a highlight of our tradition and our faith for thousands of years. From the day we left Egypt, to the service in the temple, to the exiles in Babylonia, to Spain, through the Shoa and today.

    The haggadot have changed, the type faces has evolved, but the message holds truer than ever.

    Our would be hijackers have lost connection with the Seder’s holy message and purpose!

    It is the quintessential passing on of knowledge, from grandfather to father, from father to child and beyond. It is the retelling of the story of our very beginnings as a nation, of our intimate connection with g-d, and the great risks and wonders that brought our people into being

    “has G-d ever gone to take for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, with trials, signs, open miracles, and war, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm…”

    Why do so many feel the need to desecrate this precious night? Is not exciting enough as is? Was there not enough drama surrounding the exodus that we need to drag in today’s latest headlines?

    This night is to remember what ‘the L-rd did for me when I left Egypt!”

    For US!
    Your words are so true…

    Thank you Jonathan

    May your words ring around the world in time spark change and understanding in our people.

    לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּירוּשַָׁלָיִם

  3. Oyster said

    Reb Nachum! Welcome back!

    So I included supplements in my seder that talked about current-day slavery, and about the captive Israeli prisoners (we prayed for their safe return, as per the wish of the Chief Rabbis of Israel). I included the bit about slavery to try to help my family understand that slavery is still around, so that they can visualize how bitter it must have been to be a slave in Egypt. I took care to tie these messages back into the narrative of our people. Because my family isn’t so observant, I think such an approach is helpful in making them take the message of Pesakh seriously, and not just treat it as a “kid’s holiday”…

  4. Archangel said

    Thanks be to G-d!

    I have been reading all about this in Mamet’s recent book “The Wicked Son.” I hope to further comment on it soon.

  5. Oyster said

    ArchAngel, I look forward to hearing more about it!

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