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The Longest Seder
By Yonatan Sredni
"Ooh, you've got little folders and everything," my older sister Shira teased. She took a packet and started flipping through it. "You printed this on recycled paper, right?"
"Yes," I mumbled back to the recycling freak as I passed out the rest of the booklets.
"So, what's this all about?" my younger brother Shimi asked. "You made us all come to the folk's house while they're out food shopping for Pesach to tell us something really important. What is it? Are they selling this house and moving to a condo on the beach?"
"No, it's not that." I looked around the table at my three siblings. "So, tell me what's the one thing you'd change about Pesach, if you could?"
"The cleaning!" my sister Tova answered emphatically.
"The food?" Shimi suggested. "I miss eating pizza for a week."
"I know," Shira said. "The dreaded 'second seder'. Remember those?" Everyone shuddered as they recalled enduring the seder twice on consecutive nights back in the 'old country'. That was reason enough to make aliyah.
"No." I said. "I mean here in Israel. What would you specifically change about our family's one and only seder?"
"You mean besides the fact that it goes on forever," Shira yawned.
"No, that's exactly it!" I pointed at them. "You guys know how we always have the longest seder around. All our parent's neighbors are singing Chag Gad Ya and tucking themselves into bed by 12:30am and we have barely gotten to the matzah ball soup! Yes, we always manage to eat the afikoman by the halachic midnight deadline, and yes, I looked it up, it's at 12:43am this year, but just barely. We should be all wrapped up with the entire seder and be in bed by that time, not just eating the afikoman!"
"So what do you suggest?" Shimi asked. "We could skip. I hear lots of people skip parts of the Haggadah. In fact, I believe most Israelis don't even read it anymore once the meal is over. Maybe instead of reading all ten plagues we could just do five."
"No, we're not going to skip!" I said forcefully, "But, we are going to make it shorter."
"How?" Shira asked. "Are you cutting out the food?" she laughed.
"Open you booklets," I instructed them. "You'll see I have listed ways we can cut down on the seder length without cutting out any of the Haggadah text or rituals."
"What does 'S.D.A.' stand for?" Shimi asked, reading intently.
"That's code for 'Sit Down Already'. Do you know how much time we waste each year by just yapping in the living room before anyone even sits down at the table? Every year it's the same thing. People schmoozing like there's no tomorrow. And then somebody always ends up changing the seating assignments as we are finally about to sit down."
"Well," Shimi explained "that's because last year you seated me next to all the kids."
"They were YOUR kids, Shimi!" Tova elbowed him.
"My bad," Shimi held up a hand in apology.
"Fine, we get seated quicker," Tova said. "That saves maybe ten minutes. What else?"
"Point two: Prepping your kids." I read. "Every year it's the same thing, Dad asks the kids what's on the seder plate and some of it they know, and some of it they never seem to answer quickly. Like the egg."
"Yeah, so what's the deal with the egg?" Shimi asked.
"The egg represents.um." I drew a sudden blank. "Whatever. Just make sure your kids know all the symbols so we can get through 'Grandpa's Q&A on the Seder Plate' quickly. Ok? Next up is Ma Nishtana? Who is our youngest?"
"My Ezra is five, he knows it," Tova said confidently.
"Are you sure? Last year when it was time for Ma Nishtana the kid froze up. You'd think it was the final of American Idol. It took eight minutes just to get through The Four Questions!"
"He'll be fine!" Tova assured me.
"Ok, but just in case I want Shira to have her daughter ready to fill in if Ezra flakes out."
"But my youngest is already 14!" Shira protested.
I ignored her comment and pushed forward.
"Ok, next item. Which Haggadahs are you guys using?"
"Maxwell House," Shimi joked. "It's the same one Obama uses at his seder."
I was not amused, but I let it go. I had seen the photos online from the White House Seder.
"My wife's using that new 'Women's Hagadah'", Shimi laughed. "I just call it the 'He Said/She Said Haggadah'."
"Well, I'll be using the 'Carlebach Haggadah', it's got some great stories in there." Tova smiled.
"Look, Tova." I said softly. "I love Reb Shlomo as much as the next guy, but you've really got to rein it in this year. Sharing from the Carlebach Haggadah adds at least eleven minutes to the Magid part of the seder."
"So, how many stories can I share?" Tova asked.
"Two tops. One Reb Zushya and one Holy Beggar story for the whole seder. That's it! Understood?"
"You've got it, Holy Brother," she made a sour face.
"What about you, Shira? Which Haggadah are you using?"
"I haven't decided yet. Either the Rabbi Riskin one or the Nechama Leibowitz one - or maybe both."
"Ok, you can do half Riskin and half Leibowitz, but not both at the same time. It's murder on the clock. Which brings me to Betzalel."
"What about my Betzalel?" Shira got defensive.
"Well, your Yeshiva brochur son tends to go on a bit too long with all his little divrei torahs and Haggadah commentaries."
"So, you want me to tell him to shut up the whole seder?!"
"No, on the contrary. I remember that Betzalel doesn't like the first course mom serves, the eggs in saltwater, right? He skips it. That's when he can say all his commentaries. He's got a solid seven minutes there. That's when he can go on - from the time the eggs come out until we get to the kneidalach."
"Anything else?" Shimi wondered.
"Yes, the afikoman."
"Are we cutting that out too?" Shimi asked. "My kids look forward to that."
"No," I assured them. "We're not cutting it out, but we are streamlining the process. You all know that the kids hide it, our dad doesn't even bother looking for it anymore, and then the negotiations start."
"That's the best part!" Shimi exclaimed.
"Yeah, but it goes on too long. Your kids never know what they want. Come on, tell you kids to make up their minds before the seder and know what they are going to ask for in advance."
"An iPhone!" Tova suggested as my siblings nodded in enthusiastic agreement.
"Come on," I said. "Let's try to keep this within our parent's budget, ok."
"Are we about done here?" Shimi asked. "The folk's car just pulled up. They probably think we're all here to help them clean for Pesach."
"Yes, we're almost done. I'll assign someone to open the door for Eliyahu so that part doesn't waste too much time either, but let's all work together on 'Operation Shorter Seder', ok? I know we call pull this off."
They nodded, got up to leave, and took their packets.
"Before you all leave." My father had just walked in with a plastic bag from the local supermarket. "I just wanted to tell you all one thing. I appreciate that you and your families are all coming to be here for the seder this year."
"No problem, Dad." I said with a smirk.
"Do you guys know what the word 'Pesach' means?" my dad asked rhetorically. "It can be broken up into two words, Peh-Sach, literally, 'the mouth that speaks'. At the Seder we are not slaves and we are free to speak at length, to take our time and share and enjoy each other's company and offer commentaries and stories about the exodus from Egypt. Sure, we do our utmost to eat the afikoman by halachic midnight, but we don't need to rush. That's what I love the most about our family, we don't rush. We're not slaves, we are free! We take our time. As the Haggadah itself says, "The more one tells about the Exodus from Egypt, the more he is praiseworthy!"
"What's this?" My mom walked in and looked at my packet on the table.
"Nothing," I said as I snatched it up before she could read the cover. "I was just going to give this to Shira. You know, for her to put in her recycling bin."
The writer has an MA in Creative Writing from Bar-Ilan Univesity.
from the March/April 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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