Posted by: laughs4dads | March 29, 2010

Why is this Night Different from All Other Nights?

If you’re Jewish, you know the answer to that question: tonight is the night when dinner has foreplay.

In my family, we are what I call “cultural Jews,” which means, essentially, that we know a few essential Yiddish words, eat Chinese food on Christmas Eve, and don’t go to a synagogue unless required to by a bar mitzvah.

Like many American Jews, we are conflicted.  In my case, this started with my father, who observed the High Holy Days but, nevertheless, got pissed when Sandy Koufax didn’t pitch in a  World Series game because it fell on Yom Kippur.  (You’ll find this gut-wrenching story on the page of the classic book, Great Jewish Athletes.)

In an effort to pass this religious ambiguity on to our daughter, Barbara insisted on celebrating select Jewish holidays.  Notice, I didn’t say “observing.”  No, we celebrated them by acknowledging their existence with the performance of some ritual.  For instance, during Hanukah, Barbara and Casey lit candles each night and sang a song in Hebrew.  At least, I always thought it was Hebrew.  But Barb has since admitted that it was mostly gibberish.  It was, however, traditional gibberish; it had the same fake lyrics that Barbara’s mother had apparently made up.

Of course, tonight is the first night of Passover, so we will have a seder.  I remember, growing up, my family would go to some relative’s house, where an uncle insisted on singing approximately 147 verses of Dayenu before we could eat. (Dayenu means, ironically, “It would have sufficed,” which is something that could easily apply to the first two verses of the song.)

When Casey was a kid, we’d subject her to the traditional “Four Questions,” which the youngest person at the table had to recite phonetically in Hebrew.  This poor child had no idea what the words meant and, in fact, wouldn’t have even if they were in English.  For example, the question “Why is it that on all other nights we do not dip our herbs even once, but on this night we dip them twice?” only leads to many other questions for a 4-year-old, starting with “What’s an herb?”

Needless to say, Casey was absolutely thrilled when her cousin Evan was born so she wouldn’t have to do the four questions any more.  In fact, she couldn’t quite understand why he couldn’t start immediately.

The part of the seder the kids liked best was the hiding of the matzoh.  This is the Jewish version of an Easter egg hunt, only with crumbs.  The parents hide matzohs, and the children get something (often, in another great Jewish tradition, money) for finding it.

And once the last piece is found–usually around Labor Day–we can finally eat!

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