Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Makeshift Seder

It's Passover this week, and even as we should be taking time to think about existing forms of human (and animal!) bondage and to break [unleavened] bread with friends and family, we here in the twenty-first century of Madison-grad-student lives somehow only managed to squeeze in a little makeshift seder at a local pub before seeing our favorite "baroque, anti-war, liberal, Portlandian, eastern-European, Shakespearian, English romantic"-influenced American band.

In addition to enjoying some Great Dane IPA, we also had a seder plate made up of a combination of items that Justin and I smuggled in separately and some of the things that we ordered. Clockwise from the top of the plate:

  • Cracker-like unleavened bread, from our dinner order, which we decided to use in place of the matzah that Justin had smuggled in. Jews eat Matzah on Passover to remember the story of exodus, when the Israelites had to flee Egypt so quickly that they couldn't wait for their dough to rise, resulting in matzah. Matzah is also a simple food of flour and water, eaten by the poor, and so it is supposed to remind us to be humble and to think of what life is like without luxury.
  • Beet-root hummus, from our dinner order. This one's a bit of a stretch (even more of a stretch than the others!), but since beets are sometimes used as the vegetarian alternative to the Zeroa, or lamb shank bone, we thought the beet-filled hummus could stand in.
  • Parsley, smuggled in by Justin, which we falsely thought could stand in for maror, or bitter herbs, which symbolize the bitterness of Jewish slavery in Egypt (turns out, only horseradish, romaine lettuce, or endive will do).
  • Charoset, smuggled in by me.  It's a delicious combination of apples, walnuts, cinnamon, honey, sugar, and sweet red wine (though I had to substitute white wine and extra sugar, given the limitations of our pantry), which recall the mortar with which the Israelites bonded bricks when they were enslaved in Ancient Egypt.  
  • A lone Belgian frite, from our dinner order, to stand in for Karpas , a vegetable to symbolize spring, which is dipped into salt water (representing tears) to mirror the pain felt by the Jewish slaves in Egypt. (Wikipedia tells me that the parsley that's usually on the seder plate is actually the karpas, and not the maror. Bad Jew.)

I like thinking about the symbolic and ritual elements of food--the way that particular tang of salty parsley can conjure memories of seders past, the way that all food reminds us of larger ideas, of comfort, and community.  Even if this particular seder plate was cobbled together in a decidedly non-traditional manner, there was still something gratifying in its preparation, in what it did to help us take notice of this Jewish holiday that has such deep roots and that is being celebrated by Jews across the world (even if it, as with most Jewish holidays, is somewhat invisible to the larger community of which we are a part).

And then after this Passover ritual, we transitioned to another ritualistic activity: the indie-folk concert, complete with flannel shirts and green hoodies and applause-induced encores and even some talk of Solidarity!

Colin Meloy, the Decemberists' witty and charming front man, evoked crazy cheers from the crowd when he came out with a guitar that had a sticker of the now famous Wisconsin solidarity fist prominently displayed.



The sticker--in addition to an awesome pre-recorded greeting from Portland mayor Sam Adams that encouraged everyone to meet and compliment the people sitting beside them; a heart-breaking rendition of Eli the Barrow Boy; and a typically-awesome interactive take on The Mariner's Revenge Song complete with a gripping story and whale jaws and audience screams--made the show a hit, even with this being the fourth time we've seen these guys in concert.

Happy Passover and Happy Decemberists!

3 comments:

  1. Anna, I just bought a new Haggadah and it claims that new potatoes can be used as the karpas. I've never heard of that before, but you might not have been so far off with the french fry. Happy Passover!

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  2. Thanks for the confirmation, Alex! Maybe we're not such terrible Jews after all... Sorry to have you missed our annual get-together at the Shaarei Shamayim seder, but maybe we'll find some excuse to run into each other at another time? I've also been hoping to actually do an at-home seder next year, so if you guys have any interest in collaborating, you and your new potato-including Haggadah are welcome!

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  3. Awesome makeshift seder. A+ for effort!

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