On Passover, you will grow incredibly hungry while reading from a haggadah only slightly shorter than a James Michener novel before eventually devouring a bevy of foods you would never think of preparing any other time of year. You will drink copious amounts of wine not fermented in a prisoner’s toilet (as far as you know) or “good” wine priced at the level of “much better wine than you got.”
Uncle Irving will, apropos of nothing, slam the table with his cane and bellow “Da Nazis is shootin’ seagulls!” Dad will feel inclined to imitate Paul Robeson when singing “Let My People Go.” Jane will bring out her Passover show tunes.
Being sent to find the afikomen isn’t quite as much of a thrill when the youngest person in the room is 31. And the dollar reward won’t even pay the bridge toll.
What can I say? Passover is my favorite holiday. And it isn’t even close.
The pat answer as to why everyone loves Passover is that it’s a holiday that celebrates family and togetherness — as if most holidays celebrate isolation and loneliness. With the possible exception of Yom Kippur (the most unpleasant of all religious days other than Ashoura — in which Shiite Muslims atone for the death of Imam Hussein by lacerating themselves with swords), most holidays revolve around family togetherness. And even on those two days, families can starve or bleed together.
Well, what about Thanksgiving, then? Ostensibly that’s just Passover without the haggadah, much better food and good beer substituted for bad wine.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m down with Thanksgiving — but the closest thing this holiday has to tradition is the Detroit Lions reliably losing every year.
And that’s the real reason Passover shines. What other meaningful holiday is there that adults and children can enjoy equally (sorry, Chanukah) that isn’t inundated by a media blitz?
Yes, in papers such as the one you now grasp, one will discover quaint ads for Empire poultry and Baron Herzog wine. But this is a far cry from the orgy of marketing and consumerism that has come to all but define most holidays.
Passover may be the last major holiday that is, in a sense, uncorrupted. In this way, it is still very much a day that is “ours,” just as Dec. 25 is ours to enjoy movies, Chinese food and ample parking day or night. True story: I was driving through Berkeley on Christmas 10 years ago with my pals Farber and Cohen and a newspaper actually blew in front of the car at a red light in a scene seemingly lifted from the post-apocalyptic, Burgess Meredith-breaks-his-glasses episode of “The Twilight Zone.” The streets were abandoned, except for one other car — filled with bearded Sikhs. We smiled at each other and nodded. We both knew it — the city was ours.
Pesach is a time for Jews to slip away from day-to-day life, if even for just that one night, and participate in a ritual shared around dinner tables worldwide. There’s a kind of connectivity there that not even an iPhone can touch.
And while Passover is a great day to be Jewish, it’s also a thrill for non-Jews.
Seating a non-Jew among a table of New York Jews who converse too rapidly for a court reporter, in a language almost entirely derived from 1950s beer jingles and nostalgic stories revolving around William Bendix, is also a prime example to observe the reverse Alvy Singer effect: Just as Woody Allen’s character in the film “Annie Hall” was made to feel like a black-hatted Chassid by Annie’s WASPy family, I imagine my family’s banter must leave my friends mentally clothed in a polo shirt with a sweater tied around the shoulder, chinos and boat shoes.
Finally, a bit of Passover advice to our adolescent readership (if it exists):
• If you must pick your nose after dipping 10 drops of wine in your plate to symbolize the plagues, go for white wine rather than red so no one can tell.
• Laugh enough at Uncle Irving’s jokes and he’ll give you $5.
• The afikomen is always in the piano bench. Trust me.
Joe Eskenazi will probably not be in Jerusalem next year. Reach him at email@example.com.