Friday, June 20, 2014

The Seder Dinner

My friend Charles is one of those rare people who is down for anything.  It is one of the many rare and excellent things about him.  I am one of those people who constantly seek out new and different experiences in life and so our friendship consists of conversations like this: "Hey, there's a group of vaguely spiritual people getting together tonight for fellowship and maybe dinner.  I don't know anyone there, I can't remember how I found out about it, and i dont know how to get there, but we should go."
"Yeah man, definitely!"
 Charles and I are both spiritual people, and grew up in the Episcopal church.  Charles has a crush on Judaism, and though he'll never cheat on Christianity, he is Judeo-curious.  At least he used to be.  For that matter so am I.  I really didn't encounter many Jewish folks growing up, so my first real introduction to the Jewish culture came when I moved to New Orleans, which has a strong and influential Jewish network and culture.
Back in 2010 Charles and I worked out--religiously--at the Jewish Community Center (JCC), and about once a month there are funky hours due to Jewish holidays and so I've been gradually introduced to some Jewish things.  Occasionally the JCC would host Jewish events, and we'd sneak in and just walk around among the Jews (it's a really cool feeling).  During Hanukah we got to eat some latke's and apple sauce, and that was my first experience eating "Jewish food."  
Charles' fascination with the Jewish faith and culture opened my eyes, and we talked a lot about it to each other and with our Jewish friends--most of my first friends in New Orleans were Jewish and we were adopted into their group of friends.  Like Christian parents, Jewish parents often name their children by naming them after important figures in the bible.  Sarah and Rachel, for example, are very important female figures in Judaism, so those names are common in Jewish circles.  It can get confusing, however.  Charles and i were at the gym stretching and chatting and a friend of mine, Allison, walks in.  She is Jewish.  I introduce Allison to Charles, and 3 minutes later he just starts calling her Rachel.  I become confused because she works with another Jewish girl who is named Rachel.  And I don't hear well.  And I was only about 90% sure that Allison was really Allison, and not Rachel.  So then I took a chance and called her Rachel too, but soft and mumbly, so she hopefully couldn't figure out I wasn't sure of her name (even though I introduced her to Charles as Allison).
It turns out she was Allison.  
It came to pass that we invited ourselves to a Seder Passover meal.  Adam, a really wonderful friend, who was on my JCC basketball team twice before we hung out and I found out he was Jewish, said we could join his family.  Charles and I are so excited we're talking abut the Seder like Jesus is going to be there.  The day before the Seder, Adam tells Charles and me to bring 2 bottles of wine and two boxes of mahtza.  I'm really excited about bringing some of the Kosher food and a little nervous about what's going to happen.  The next day I'm in the grocery store buying wine and mahtza, and get a text from Charles.  "At Borders.". It is 5:30pm, the Seder dinner is at 6, and he texts me, "at Borders."  What am I supposed to do with that?  What the hell is he doing at Borders?  Has he forgotten about the Seder?  
Maybe I'm a little flustered and I don't know where the Kosher section is.  Maybe I'm stressing because I don't want to be late, Charles doesn't seem to care if we're late, I don't know what kind of wine to buy, and I don't want to screw up my first official Jewish Seder.  And now Charles is in a sea of yoga pants sipping a goddamned mocha frap at Borders, and I'm hunting and gathering this stuff solo.  I don't know, but whatever the reason, I was rushed and anxious.  I picked up not two but four boxes with the word mahtza on them, wanting my friends to know how excited and honored I was.
Charles accuratley describes our methodology as such: I am a tidal wave, and he is a squirt gun.  Tidal wave: buying double the amount of what's asked for.  Squirt gun:  arriving at Borders 30 minutes before you need to be somewhere else.
So it's 6:01pm I'm tidal waving it up the steps and into the Streiffer home.  Got my four boxes and two bottles of wine.  Feeling good.  Have absolutely NO idea what's about to happen in the next three hours.  So I give the boxes to Adam's aunt, and say, "I brought four boxes instead of two.  You know, just in case."  She looks inside, shrieks this giddy, horrified noise and says "Pete, why on earth did you bring Matzo ball mix?"  "Adam told me to bring two boxes."  It's about this time that I realize that maybe he said Mahtza, and not matzo ball mix.  In fact, I don't ever recall him saying anything about balls.  Reflecting even further, I wonder why I would bring boxes of something unprepared while everyone else is carting in plates of delicious-looking prepared food.  Maybe I thought we were all going to cook stuff together.  I don't know.  Adam's aunt was also loudly thinking the same things, and pointed them out repeatedly, and couldn't stop laughing.  It was pretty embarrassing, and I don't embarrass easily..  I figured I'd make a Gentile mistake or two throughout the night, but I didn't think it would be the first thing I did.  "Hey Rachel, look what Pete brought!!"  "Hey Sarah, look what Pete brought!!"  Every single person who arrived got the same story.  Thank God the other Rachels and Sarahs were nice about it.

"So I brought the wrong thing, crucify me."

Introductions are made and we all hang out awkwardly for a while.  Charles and I loudly announce our Gentilehood (gentility?) whenever possible.  When it's time to sit, there is much discussion about who sits where.  For me, this is a big deal and determines how the rest of the night is going to go, because I'm deaf in my right ear.  Can't hear a damned thing out of it, so I need to be positioned on the right end of the table, with my good ear facing the rest of the table.  The problem is most people are already sitting in what I call "my good spots," and there is a cute girl so Charles and I are both jockeying to sit next to her.  In the end I get to sit next to Charles' cute girl, but on the wrong side of her so I can't hear anything. I can see all those people to my right--they look like they're having so much fun.  But I can't hear them at all.  Poor Marissa (the cute girl) is talking to me and I'm just responding to what I imagine she's saying.  I'm literally guessing what she's saying and making up an answer.  "Yeah, well you know, New Orleans."  I'm trying not to do my patented owl-spin, where I turn my head around so far that I'm looking at the person beside me directly in the ear so that my left ear can pick up a signal.  I used to do it all the time till I saw a pic of me doing it on Facebook and realized how awkward it must be for someone facing the same direction as you to turn and look you in the ear.
The great thing about Seder is that there's the Haggadah, which is like a playbook, and everyone gets to read from it, so Charles and I got to participate in the Seder.  I found myself getting into it, and really enjoyed the rituals.  Christian orthodoxy has its roots in Jewish culture, so to read about the Jewish exodus and escape from Pharaoh had special meaning to me.  In fact I felt like I was taking it more seriously than anyone else. Celebrating a religious service in the home is a wonderful gift and something I wish Christianity could build into its structure.  There is a different element to it, and it proves that the religious experience is portable.  God is not locked up in your church.  In fact, God probably only hangs out in there on Sundays, and probably isn't impressed with your stained glass windows..  
The food comes out, it's delicious, we drink wine, and we all have a good time, laughing, telling jokes, etc.  And then it happened.  One of the cool things about Seder is that there's a lot of music.  And the songs we sang at the end of the Seder were hilarious.  They were all about leaving Egypt and slavery, but to the tune of Gilligan's Island, These Are A Few of My Favorite Things, and Just a Spoonful of Sugar.  Well I love A Spoonful of Sugar, it reminds me of my childhood, and its a nice happy song, and I'm trying to impress Marissa, so I'm belting this thing out (different words of course), and really hamming it up.  I have a decent voice and have been drinking wine, so in my mind people need to know I think I'm talented and Marissa really needs to know.  Everyone's laughing, and I'm feeling sufficiently awesome about the whole thing, but something's not right, and everyone is laughing and looking directly at me. "Are you laughing at me?"  "Yes."  Marissa points to the lyrics, which describe  how the sweetness covers the bitter herbs in the mahtza sandwich.  "In the most disguising way."  Oh.  Well that's something.   I had been waving my hand over my nose, making a poop face and singing "in the most disgusting way."  So first I brought the wrong food, and then I pretended to smell a fart and said the real food was disgusting.

Charles and I are were painfully single, so at every event we were hoping to find our future hot rich wives, and Marissa seemed to fit the part.  She talks to me first (kind of talks at me).  When I drop the ball she moves her attention to Charles, then of course she moves on to the witty Jewish tennis player.  He was losing his hair but something was working for him because Charles and I ceased to exist in Marissa's world.  This didn't mean we stopped talking to her and trying to be funny, but eventually she actually got up and physically walked out of earshot to sit across from him after the meal.  

The night ended well.  Adam's parents are the cutest couple in the world.  Adam's Dad was the master of ceremonies, and in the end we all sang secular tunes, and his parents sang "I'm in love with a big blue frog," which had special meaning because their chocolate shop is called Blue Frog Chocolates.  It was adorable.

On the way out, Sarah's husband Ernie, says "Hey you guys aren't Jewish are you?"  Ernie had been in the bedroom all evening calming down their son Ari, who apparently was still fleeing Pharaoh.  So many things had gone on that night I couldn't put an ethnicity to it, but Ernie had an accent and I assumed he was Israeli.  "No, man we're Episcopalian, although with my hair I can pass."
"Haha.  Oh cool.  I'm Catholic.  Yeah, this was a pretty loose Seder.  Sometimes they get real weird with it."

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