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Why do Pesach Seders Suck So Much? (my best seder of all time)

I have mentioned previously that I am not fond of the seder. Waiting hours for food while telling and retelling the same timeless tales of frogs and Pharaohs has never been my forte. On top of this, I just get completely maddened by the tradition of having every kid say the Ma Nishtana in three different languages while all the gray haired folks at the table smile like idiots and egg them on. In fact whenever I am at a Ma Nishtana intensive seder I have visions of me shoving forkfuls of maror down all the kids throats and holding the charoset high above their heads while watching their sinuses clear out like a breach in the Hoover Dam.

I think my hate of the seder is reinforced each year as I attend the same old lame seders, either of the Maxwell House, white yarmulke laden old folks telling the hagada in the old English and talking about grandmas matzo ball soup- or it is of the peel your vegetables, clear the table off for fear of matzo crumbs rising from dripping Joyvin and telling Ma Nishtana in Yiddish and divrei torah which have nothing to do with seeper yitziyas metzrayim. The only redeeming parts of these sederim which I always end up at are two things. Either its over real quick, leaving me with a state of I waited all year for this crap or I hear my dad ranting about how no one does the seder the right way and mumbling along with the children on their Yiddish ma nishtanas.

I am actually trying to recall the last seder I attended that I walked away from feeling like an emancipated man, rather then feeling like a free man on paper, but really with a slight feeling that Jim Crow was looking over my shoulder and saying, you aint free fo sho because in my mind nirtza always takes the longest for some reason. Not only does the seder do a good job in making me feel like an enslaved man until the meal, it does a good job at lessening the impact of the whole Egypt thing. I feel like my going to sederim has the exact opposite effect that they are supposed to be having.

All I want to do during most sederim is strangle the person telling me why we eat Karpas and how we want children to ask questions that even educated people like myself would never think of. The questions that usually come to mind during seders for me at least are: why cant we skip magid, if we are trying to get the kids into it? What plague do you think would be the coolest to watch? From a distance of course, I am all about the hail or frogs by the way. Or why is your grandmother touching my thigh under the table?

I know what you are thinking, why all the hatred and negativity? Isnt this supposed to be a frum blog? What happened to trying to use your widespread influence to make a positive impression on what people think of frummies? Well, I must say you are right- in fact I was only using my negative feelings based on past sederim as a prelude to lead up to what I am about to say. Last night I attended a seder in Denver Colorado that was the best seder in my life and in fact the only seder I can recall that I felt should have went longer.

My first night I was at an interesting seder, that was by no means boring, but by no means as exciting as the second night. While discussing the classic seder statistics that everyone discusses on Pesach that usually go along the line of last year we ended at 1:15am or did you hear how long the Horowitzes took last night? and while everyone was comparing seder statistics and listening with a half ear to the shy Ma Nishtanas someone asked my friend where we were going to for the second seder. Oh, the (enter common Jewish Name here) have very interesting seders. Whats that supposed to mean? Well interesting can mean many things in different conversations. For instance when talking about a girl/guy for shidduch purposes it is a way of saying weird or when talking about a shul, it usually means Carlebachian. But when talking about other people sederim it almost always means the same thing. It means that by the time you are done with the seder the milkman will be making his morning delivery and you will be rivaling the seder of the five sages that lasted into the wee hours in Bnei Brak that is always glossed over in the hagada.

In fact we were told to my dismay that the family we would be eating by, would be ending at an ungodly hour, and we would be listening to the roosters crowing on our walk home. Of course they added that it would be great and they have very interesting seders. Not only did I doubt the veracity of their claims, but I had visions of me being propped up by my Kiddush cup and being swatted on the head my old grandmas with those white curls, screaming at me about their ancestors dying so we could have the seder.

To say the least, I rolled around and twisted my sheets in fear of the late night seder I was in store for. Not only was I in a strange land that gave you multiple choices for your arba kosos of wine, but I had experienced for the first time in my life, Seder songs sang to popular show tunes. Yes folks, at my first seder they sang many songs to the tune of many popular tunes. It was weird, albeit a lot of fun and made the whole task of eating shmura matzo a little less painful.

So we met our host, a jolly English fellow whom I am not sure yet if I can mention his name, and his sons who were both jolly fellows as well. My fears of boredom elated a little bit as we entered their large and beautiful house and were greeted with happy people eager to start the meal. I must say that the only thing worse then Magid in my mind, is waiting for people to sit down for Kiddush, washing in normal terms is crappy as well, but both nights we were greeted with women ready and willing to wash our hands and fan us with grape leaves during urchatz.

The seder began with the typical shy singing of the kadesh urchatz song- by a bunch of people who didnt really get acquainted yet. I started thinking about how the seder is kind of like an episode of Real World. A bunch of strangers thrown together for several hours and talking about their faith, of course at most meals at frum homes politics is also discussed and you can always see restrained faces as they choose their words as carefully as Condoleezza Rice. As a matter of fact at my first seder their was a slight political discussion about Obama and McCain between two fellows who talked as if they were constipated, trying to hold in their typical Liberal vs. Republican outrage that always happens when the frum meets the secular at Pesach seders.

In fact if I may recall a story that happens to me at a Pesach Seder in Cape Cod. My old man and my bro were seated at a table with the type of folks that looked to be locals of Hyannis. White pants and yachting shoes was the attire, and my father unfortunately got into a political discussion. It always starts out peaceful, as my brother and I beg the people discussing it to please stop or just agree with everything he says, or else. Well unfortunately for us OR ELSE happened and the three of them up and left. They accused my father of saying something racist, and well, my father said he was prejudiced and went into some Rush Limbaugh-esque diatribe of Affirmative action slavery Reparation Bull-Sh— in a very loud manner.

So after we were seated with damp hands from the washing the divrei torah began. I was still sketchy although I was a bit intrigued by a few things, the girl across from me was a little intriguing for multiple reasons, especially because I kept by accidentally coming in contact with her foot under the table, which kept me wondering if it was always in my way on purpose waiting for a game of Seder Table Footsie- probably the best type of Footsie that could be played- oh how I hoped for Seder Table Footsie with the skinny blonde across the way- I wasnt even interested in her, accept for some footsie to get me through the meal. Then there was the placement of Pineapple chunks on the Karpas plate sitting oddly next to scallions, radishes and potatoes.

At karpas I asked why they had that on their plate and one of the sons who is a Rabbi in Woodmere and works for Long Island NCSY launched into a detailed and interesting devar torah about it- which concluded with because we want to keep the children interested which under normal Karpas settings would have been waved away with my hand- but under this circumstance I thought that it was brilliant. What a better way to keep kids and adults interested then to actually do things differently. Parsley for some reason does not make one much interested.

Then the wacky hats came out and everyone got a mask, that had one of the plagues on it and we got props as well. Things were getting interesting, and the youngest kid at the table was 19. Blow up dolls were added, of alligators, you sicko- kind out of the gutter buddy. The props really helped, sombraroes, pink furry hats that reminded me of my few times at Drag shows and gay bars, and a chicken hat that shook around at every move of the head. Bowling pins of the plagues and small hail balls for my buddy and I to throw at each other. I was having a ball and didnt even notice the time passing by. Sections of Magid were said in Hebrew and then discussed, real discussion, not that honky dory heal the world BS that permeates sederim worldwide.

All was going good and then, like the folks the night before they whipped out some Pesach Seder songs. Take me Out to Egypt sung to the tune of Take me Out to the Ballgame, These are a few of my Passover things, and something sung to Clementine though I cannot remember- it was very entertaining. In short I had never experienced such a fun and invigorating Pesach Seder. It was the first time that I did not have visions of food during magid. Usually during magid I am thinking like a man stuck in the desert dying of hunger and dreaming of food, visions of ice cream sundaes and hamburgers fill the void as I try to read study the features of all those at the table and take reconnaissance missions to the kitchen on my way to the multiple bathroom breaks that make everyone wonder if I had really eaten any matzo at all.

Well save for trying to detect if their was any attempt being made by the skinny blonde girl to play footsie I had not thought about the meal at all. I had been so engrossed in the stories, songs, jokes, costumes and divrei torah that I had not even noticed when a heaping bowl of scalloped potatoes with rosemary was placed in front of me. Normally I would have been overcome with trying to control my saliva glands from spewing their contents onto my lap, while counting the pages left to magid, kind of like those folks counting the pages to the end of Yom Kippur musaf. Something was wrong, I causally loaded up my plate with scalloped potatoes, orange chicken, broccoli kugel and brisket- that I have to say was all amazing. In fact the Denver Jewish community is definitely rated up there as a collection of some of the Jewish community cooking I have tasted.

You could tell by a few ways that the seder was not being held in the New York Metro area. First because there was no Jewish Geography, the only form of geography was usually about having been to NY or having been to Seattle and whether the person liked it. You could also tell you were in Denver because when everyone wanted to bench, a conversation between two people about the benefits of wider tipped skis for deep powder and back country skiing were useful or not. You could also tell it was the west, because I was perfectly normal and not unique at all for wanted to use my Pesach holiday mountain biking and hiking in the Rockies. In New York this is always followed by wow and interesting.

So the meal is done and we are rocking on through the last parts and I am beat, real tired, I remember at hotels I would just bench and leave after the meal- and go look around for girls to talk to. But at peoples sederim you were stuck and we were a couple miles from my friends house anyway and at night the mountains cannot guide your way. I was stuck and all the songs at the end are annoying and suck. Who knows one should be started at 13 and just said once, actually it almost was until someone suggested we do the whole thing, I like it English but it was said in Hebrew.

Suddenly the Hosts son who is the Rabbi from Long Island appears in a spider man costume, full costume, save for the shorts he was wearing because I doubt his wife wanted him in full spandex at the table. It was funny, then we got masks to put on for chad gadya- and we had to practice the noises so we could do the song. I have not laughed so hard since watching the movie Superbad. Was rolling with laughter, I got fire, a very hard thing to make noise to. Everyone was into it and when it was over, I sat stunned that the seder was over. For the first time in my life I was sad that it was over and wanted more. I stated this, but it was 2 in the morning and time to go.

{ 30 comments… add one }
  • outaline April 22, 2008, 12:19 AM

    Sounds like you had a fun seder. All my cousins come for Yom tov and my family drags the seder out for hours, usually ma nishtana is said by every child (and there are many of them) sometimes repeatedly. This year was probably the best (and fastest) one yet. I got completely plastered, according to my family it made the seder a lot more fun but also a lot longer (though I didn’t notice it.) to be honest I didn’t get drunk from the 4 kosos, I was drinking in between and didn’t realize how high the alcohol content was.

  • Frum Punk April 22, 2008, 6:24 AM

    My sederim ended up with me feeling sick.

  • utubefaninMonsey April 22, 2008, 8:45 AM

    Chag Sameach! Happiness begins West of the Mississippi River and South of the Mason-Dixon Line.

  • s(b.) April 22, 2008, 12:40 PM

    glad you finally had a really good one. lots of good sedarim had this year, it seems.

  • noch a loser April 22, 2008, 2:55 PM

    I bet these were all minhagim….including the spiderman spandex.

    speaking of which, I love when BT’s say, “its my minhag”. I crack up every time.

  • menashe April 22, 2008, 3:08 PM

    i feel like the most important factors are the company and the divrei torah being given.

    It’s impossible for Pesach to be relevant for us without making some kind of attempt at relating it to our lives. B”H for chassidus.

    otherwise the whole seder until shulchan oreich is just something to get through rather than look forward to.

  • Hesh April 22, 2008, 10:51 PM

    I would agree with the west- but south of the Mason Dixon line is mostly misery- the backward deep south, the ghettos of Baltimore and DC- well the Blue Ridge are nice and the Tennessee Valley is decent.

  • Ben-Yehudah April 23, 2008, 6:50 AM

    B”H Hesh, you bring up a very important point, and unfortunately you’re sentiment is shared by all to many Jews.

    Rabbis often ask themselves, “Why are Jews turned off by Torah?” Hello?!

    Watering things down, being overly creative, making it up according to your feelings like the so called “liberal Jews” is not the answer.

    When you look at the halachah, and see what is actually required in the Seder, you’ll be surprised. It’s just not that long. See for example: http://www.mechon-mamre.org/i/3510n.htm

    I was worried this year, too. Appropriate or not, I expressed my fears to my host the week before, when I found out that my Shabbath/Seder options were limited, and that I was “stuck” in my yishuv instead of going to Jerusalem, my first choice.

    Fortunately, I was was at the right Seder for me: 1) no suffering 2) Qiddush said very soon after tefillath aravith 3) no posers trying to outdo each others divrei Torah 4) no starving, waiting for the shulhan orekh, and thus 4) no constant check of the page number to see how much farther we have to go. 5) Several interesting divrei Torah, medium and short, mostly during the meal. 6) Great food. 7) Focus on the misswoth of the day INCLUDING Simhath Yom Tov, which unfortunately sometimes gets forgotten, albeit unintentionally.

    My host also said, once someone who wasn’t feeling well made a mezumin, bench when you want, and say hallel and nirtzah according to your custom, and come and go as you please, discussing yitziyath missrayim all night if you like.

    We ended up singing together anyway, but this statement sort of took the pressure off. It was one of my favorite Seders, and one of the most meaningful.

    It was me, and few single guys, two divorced guys, and some kids.

  • hippieJew April 23, 2008, 10:58 AM

    Great post. The seder doesnt need to be something done by rote. Its important to make it fun and creative. It should be done in a way meaningful for all the guest.

  • s(b.) April 23, 2008, 12:22 PM

    For me, this (See for example: http://www.mechon-mamre.org/i/3510n.htm ) is useless without English translation, or at least the name of what it is in English, so I can do a web search and look it up, myself. It’s not that I don’t want to learn, it’s that when I look at Hebrew, it reads like Charlie Brown’s teacher sounds, unless it’s something that’s read every week. Sure, I could pick out a word, here and there, but it would mean much more, and reading it might lead to increased observance on my part, if only I could understand what is says. That said, I love that that site has nikudot, ’cause H knows, I need ’em, if want to read.

  • YUHeights April 23, 2008, 3:58 PM

    My family has a crazy fast seder and everyone is in bed by midnight- but I love it. We try to sign all the songs at the end as fast as humanly possible. For echad mi yodea, we start each verse slow and then speed up with each number. It’s quite fun. We do the same for chad gadya. It doesn’t hurt that my father is pretty much a speed reader in Hebrew, so the rest of it goes pretty quick too. Maybe 5 minutes for Karpas, tops. I toss in a quit dvar here and there. And everyone enjoys the family and the food, etc.

  • anon April 23, 2008, 9:47 PM

    Better than my seder where my brother and sister-in law announced they’re getting divorced (we were all in shock)

  • Hesh April 23, 2008, 10:31 PM

    Wow divorce at the seder huh? Sounds a little weird to announce it at the seder- but I am sure it made eating the bread of affliction a little more like being afflicted.

  • Frum Funky Fab(slightly eidel) April 24, 2008, 3:11 AM

    WHY WON’T IT LET ME POST MY COMMENT?!?!?!

  • Frum Funky Fab (Slightly Eidel) April 24, 2008, 3:13 AM

    Ok, whatever the next comment is me. If they will let me post under another name. Wordpress oppressive fascists.

  • Frum Funky Fab (slightly eidel) April 24, 2008, 3:20 AM

    Evil evil evil wordpress people. If I hadn’t spent more than a minute writing I wouldn’t even bother. But I am of a stiff necked people. so if you even care that much, click on the link for my blog, I’m just making it a separate posting. I will never surrender.

  • Hesh April 24, 2008, 11:02 AM

    Wow such impatience, and such a temper.

  • s(b.) April 24, 2008, 11:13 AM

    ben-yehudah, I checked out your blog and got the source, Nusah Hagadah of the Ramba”m, thanks. (I had posted a comment somewhere asking about what it was; maybe it didn’t go through.)

  • Frum Funky Fab (slightly eidel) April 25, 2008, 5:52 AM

    You are so mean to me. (j/k) Really, this saga went on for longer than appropriate. One of my biggest pet peeves is when technology does not function as it should, though my expectations are unrealistic, knowing that only Hashem is perfect.
    Just for the record, I didn’t really yell. Not even in my head. But I am of a stiff necked people and cannot give in so easily.
    Thank you, however, for the mussar. (I take it straight up.)

  • Ben-Yehudah April 27, 2008, 4:56 AM

    B”H

    s(b), sorry about that. I was just giving an example. I’m surprised than anyone was interested in what that even was. I figured that it didn’t matter if I said it was the Ramba”m, because American (mostly Ashkinazi) were bound to say that “we can’t do anything the Ramba”m says, we have to continue are suffering w/o really knowing the halacha of what is required or just reject it all.”

    I’m glad I was wrong. As far as the English goes. You could Hebrew/English hagadah, maybe even online, and just match up what’s there, and remove what isn’t. The only additions are after brachoth for each cup of wine and for the karpas.

  • daintysplendor November 19, 2008, 4:01 PM

    now u never gonna have to suffer peisach seder when u are on the 10th month of pregnancy and you are around many talmidey chachamim who all have their 2 cents about peisach.. the haggada is read in hebrew and translated in russian (so it’s twice as long)..
    I have never been starving so bad!! needless to say the next night me and my husband spent at home and I was on the couch the whole seder..

  • MartyB March 22, 2009, 12:03 AM

    At my parent’s house the Seder was conducted by my father in Hebrew so when I got married I continued the tradition. One year I went to a Seder at my local Chabad shul. There they went around the table and everyone, men and women, did one paragraph in what ever language they were comfortable with. What a wonderful way of conducting the Seder. The following year I did the same. This made it more meaningful since we all chose to recite in English. It also allowed me to enjoy the Seder since I did not have to do all “the work” while everyone smoozed among themselves.

  • Bz April 2, 2009, 2:33 AM

    At the beginning of your article I was thinking “hmmm… its a shame you feel that way, but its probably because you’ve never really done a seder right…” but its nice to know you managed to find out that if something in Judaism sucks, its probably because its not being done right 🙂

  • chevramaidel April 13, 2009, 2:12 AM

    One year I was at the Bostoner Rebbe’s seder. He handed out sheets with the lyrics to “Adir Hu” in German, and “Echad Mi Yodea” in Arabic, and everybody sang them in those languages. It was fun, and I had the feeling that there was a holy purpose to it- uplifting the language of our greatest oppressors, sort of like when we “borrowed” clothing and utensils before leaving Egypt.

  • Woodrow/Conservadox March 10, 2010, 11:52 AM

    I think seders are just supposed to be awful- part of our transition from slavery to freedom.

    Pesach cleaning = slavery
    Pesach seders= a little better, but still pretty unpleasant
    – And then the rest of Pesach seems like freedom in comparison!

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