Despite the fact that my cohabiting boyfriend and I have been a “we” for four years — two of which spent under the same roof — we had yet to attend a Passover seder together until this year.
Perhaps even more surprising: he’d never been to a seder before in his life. You see, he’s my loving goy (aware of the negative connotations, choosing to disregard), and while we’ve fried latkes for many years and visited the Contemporary Jewish Museum more times than I can count, this was his first time observing Pesach.
Not only that, but he helped host one seder and then, later in the week, attended an extremely different version. They both had disastrous personal moments, though they did have something in common — that fun/awful disaster quality that becomes a story, a stronger memory than other, more bland occasions. They have the potential to become family legend.
The first took place in our San Francisco apartment. It was a tiny gathering — just us, my parents and an old friend. While we were at work, my mother cooked. After leaving the office I raced to the CJM to pick up a shiny new seder plate, then bussed home to help mom with the all-vegan Pesach meal. Did I forget to mention my personal seder was animal-free? Our seder plate had a big red beet instead of the shankbone and an avocado in place of the egg.
Our menu included vegan matzah ball soup (more on that later), sweet potato kugel, charoset, kale with garlic and, of course, plenty of matzah.
Everything went beautifully, all according to plan, but the vegan matzah balls were the disaster. They disintegrated completely in the broth while simmering, an hour before the seder. It was all gone, a soupy mess. I quickly threw out the batch and got to work incorporating a few different recipes — and my own ideas — into a makeshift new batch — and it worked! They held together, they were tasty and the boy enjoyed them thoroughly, or so he says.
Before we ate the meal, however, we crowded around our small Ikea table and read from the old family Maxwell House haggadahs, with our dog whining at our feet. My mother lead, her first time in such a position, and the rest of us read along with shaky English translations.
It was wonderful to see the ritual through my boyfriend’s eyes, to see this ancient tradition as brand new. He commented on how much he really noticed flavors when tasked with only taking small occasional bites of matzah, charoset and horseradish. We finished up quickly, got right to the meal and drank copious amounts of red wine after.
The next seder we attended was hosted by two friends in Oakland. I was expecting a ragtag group of youthful 20-something hippies, musicians and/or bicycle enthusiasts. This was not the case. My boyfriend and I struggled with what to bring food-wise and ended up, in a last minute panic, making spring rolls (don’t ask). We showed up at the house with holes in our shoes (him), a trashy shirt and ripped tights (me) and a glass Tupperware overflowing with Chinese appetizer.
It was awkward. The moment we walked in were introduced to aunt somebody and cousin other-lady. The hipster friends were nowhere to be found. We stood gauche in the front entryway, waiting for instruction. Finally, our friend came out and gave us a tour, placed our half-drunk bottle of Manischewitz proudly on the table and asked us to take a seat. The L-shaped table was quickly filled with nearly 30 guests, mostly our friends’ relatives.
When we opened the haggadahs, we discovered that our friends had combined bits and pieces from other books and crafted a beautiful, hand-stapled, zine-like haggadah — and thoughtfully provided colored pencils to doodle with. This seder was far more elaborate than anything my family does, with more in-depth discussion and even more tradition.
This time, I got a glimpse into how the boy really must have felt during that first seder: engrossed, excited, but also exceptionally nervous and self-conscious. I felt the full range of emotions, as if I were new to this whole thing as well — because in a sense, I was.