Cousin Harry always hated Passover. “We’re not even Jewish,” he’d say. “We don’t even do it right.”
He’s not completely incorrect about the Jewish thing. Although my dad’s side of the family does celebrate all of the big Jewish holidays (Hanukkah, Yom Kippur, etc.), we don’t Bar Mitzvah our kids, no one speaks Hebrew, and I have never fasted nor deprived myself of bacon for any reason, ever.
Still, every year we put on our yamacas and sit down for sedar (or whatever other holiday we’re sitting down for). We do it for Ann—my aunt, Harry’s mom. Ann is 75-years-old, filthy rich and arguably the most excruciatingly judgmental person I’ve ever known. She’s also really, really into being Jewish. That’s why she hosts these holidays at her apartment every year. She wants to remind the rest of us where we came from.
Harry never comes. Because he’s the head of the only truly financially-independent-from-Ann household in the family, he doesn’t have to. Come to think, he doesn’t have to do a lot of the things the rest of us have to do, like dress modestly and watch what we say and not show our tattoos. He doesn’t have to pretend to care about Passover or Judaism or “where we came from.” All he has to do is listen to the rest of us suck up to his Mom and hope that she will continue to pay our car insurance.
The only reason he came this year was to be with the family. Plus, he said, the exact day we all got together wasn’t technically Passover, so he didn’t think we would have an actual sedar.
But when Harry and I gazed over the dinner table that night, we saw little books and a big circular plate full of weird stuff—tell-tale signs of a sedar.
“Where’s the maror?” I asked, noticing that the spot for bitter herbs was instead filled with sour-dusted gummy bears, and the traditional lamb shank had been replaced with a sauce-less spare rib.
“Oh, I thought we’d do something a little different this year,” said Ann.
“A pre-Sedar,” she continued. “Since we couldn’t all be together on Passover, I thought we’d explore the story of the Jews before they became slaves.”
“Oh how cute!” exclaimed my cousin Joan, always the chipper one.
We took our seats at the table and Ann began to explain her pre-sedar scheme. Harry listened with a stupid grin while I played with the napkin holders.
Instead of the Exodus, said Ann, we’d each take turns reading the story of Adam and Eve. The sedar plate, she said, would be a garden-of-eden plate. The egg was still there, a symbol of Eve’s fertility. The gummy bears represented the sweetness of the forbidden fruit. The spare rib was, what else, Eve pre-incarnate.
I tried to listen, but it was hard with all the text messages I was getting. And by the time we had gotten to the snake, Harry was wrapping the floral napkin around my head like a bandana. That’s when Ann lost it.
“This isn’t funny! If you guys are going to get distracted and laugh and make fun of me then why are you even here!”
The whole table went silent. Harry looked at his mother like he had just been stung by a hornet. Ann met his eyes with venom. And all I could think about was my car insurance.
“To be fair,” Joan said gently, “I don’t remember ever having a sedar where we weren’t laughing.”
“Yeah, well it’s fine to laugh but it’s not okay to laugh at me,” said Ann, chin up. “I want this to be fun but if Harry’s gonna snicker at me the whole time then well, I just…I just don’t like it Harry!”
Harry clearly didn’t like it either. The man who 30 seconds ago was wrapping a napkin around my head looked like he wanted to shove that napkin down his mother’s throat.
“Alright Ma,” he backed up in his chair. “I’m not dealing with your tyrannical bullshit this year. You get on with your little charade and have someone get me when it’s over.”
A chorus of “no’s” sang out from the table, but Harry left anyway. He walked through the kitchen to the den on the other side of the apartment. Harry’s wife covered her face with her hands. I tried to make eye contact with someone—anyone—but everyone was either staring at the doorway or into their empty plates.
“He shouldn’t have done that!” She looked at me like a homeless kid begging for change. “Don’t you think he shouldn’t have done that?”
“Whatever,” I said, figuring I could probably pay my own car insurance this month. “I mean, we’re not even Jewish.”
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