our family was like mafia. a jewish mafia. it was not about organized crime, rather organized religion. while the mafia had “the five families”, we had “the four families.” while the mafia had bosses, we had four matriarchal hebrew school teachers. like the mafia, we both had east coast and west coast connections. while no one in our family was in the olive oil business, there were some that spent time in the deli business. the first night of passover, in the family, was a meal that you could not refuse. this tradition lasted over 40 years.
the head matriarch of the family staged this massive event which ranged at about 60 in attendance. my aunt, uncle and their family spent days preparing this massive meal. while there were official table assignments, each family, over the years, established their territory. we shared a table with another aunt’s family.
passover services were spirited with singing and participation. everything would go great until that one moment…. the service leader, our cousin, would give a speech. the speech was akin to that academy award speech with references to contemporary issues which somehow related to the passover. we had to listen. there was no orchestra music to cut it off.
for years, we growned and moaned over this oppression. was slavery really worse than being captive and having to listen to this every year? our brains still have signs of the mental lashing we received. there was no escape.
our cousin, the speech giver, was not an ordinary person. he had god-like status in the family. my parents thought better of him than us. he was the total package; handsome, tall, bright, and a medical professional. he was a giving person who provided free medical treament for those who could not afford it. my parents considered him a saint. despite his admirable credentials, these lectures were the 11th plague to our table. we moans and growned and sought our deliverer. it was so bad that even my father, who had the highest regard for his nephew, would become miserable. where was the almighty, blessed be he, with his great arm to reach and serve us the matzoh ball soup?
the decades old traditionally eventually ended. families broke off for their own seders. with ours, i was tasked with leading it. i “whipped” through the haggadah with the skills of a taskmaster. traditionally, the reading of the haggadah, with blessings and prayers, travels around the table for each individual to participate. everyone is expected to read some paragraphs. we often do it at breakneck speed.
as the leader, while i know better, i get the itch that my cousin had to say something about the state of the world and how it relates to passover this year. this year, there is much to talk about. there is ukraine and how a recent dna result revealed that we are part ukranian. there is the ring up the amazing archeological find on mt. ebal which an important clue into verifying the exodus.
as the seder’s “taskmaster,” however, i remind myself to show compassion for those symbolically simulating and remembering slavery. a diatribe from me may cause a revolt. they might wish to scrap the seder and choose to symbolically remain in egypt making bricks rather than hear my nonsense. i remind myself that the haggadah does a great job of inspiring those at the table. there is no need for me to offer anything. yes, the haggadah is sufficient.
in sum, while we may think we are the bright and enlightening one in the room, knowing your audience is of import. captive audiences are not keen to being lectured. opinions, to them, sound like the scratching of a chalkboard. yikes! with this in mind, when temptation strikes at the head of the seder table, i start saying and repeating the following mantra “shut up and let’s eat!”
happy passover and easter!
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