Seder 2018: Passover Politics and Pairings

I can’t imagine a Passover seder this year NOT connecting the dots about the threats posed by modern day authoritarianism. Being Jewish these days likely means we’ll hear both “Let My People Go… to the polls” and “Next year in Jerusalem… the newly recognized capital of Israel”. Rather than ignoring the elephant in the room, can we discuss the contemporary relevance of what we are reading at an already long seder without inciting an entirely new uprising? The thought of hungry relatives, already paging forward to see how long until “The Festive Meal”, now distracted and annoyed and arguing about politics? Oy.

Last Thanksgiving, the rule was that anyone bringing up politics had to pay $20, which would be donated to charity. All good, right? Except that when it was time to go around the table to say what we were thankful for, my son, had his own idea. Home from college, he stood up and threw $20 on the table … and ranted about politics for a solid couple of minutes before sitting down, thankful he’d thought of that. I won’t “pass over” him this time, but he’s on notice (and he’s definitely gone from being “The Wise Son” to “The Wiseass Son”.)

The two questions I imagine discussing are:

One: What constitutes an authoritarian regime – more personally, what are we slaves to?

Two: Are any of the plagues relevant to our time?

Number two, the plagues, can be discussed as we dip our finger into the wine and recite them. Instead of cow masks and mooing or setting off jumping frogs, this year we can recognize that turning water into blood sounds very Flint, Michigan, and darkness an issue still for power-challenged Puerto Rico. Agree or disagree, it won’t take much longer than the usual antics.

Question Number One could take longer – and there’s only one way to keep Jews from eye rolling and stomach grumbling when faced with potentially political Pesach pontification. Food is always the answer. A little appetizer, a forshpeiz, and everyone will be happy. But can the food be relevant to the discussion?

My best shot is this: these food and drink pairings I’m preparing to go with imagined responses to what we feel enslaved by. A little “unorthodox” (read, veering on the offensive)? Absolutely. The issues themselves so serious and personal to us right now, a little irreverent humor may be forgiven – or maybe not. I’ll let you know how it goes – or you can check the news and see if there are any incidents in Northern New Jersey on Saturday night.

Representing the oppression, and not the empowerment:
• Sexism and sexual abuse (the #metoo movement): Tequila shots. Because “tequila makes your clothes fall off”, and because so many bad stories sadly start that way.
• Racism: Black and white cookies. Seinfeld called them the cookie of racial harmony. But still “separate but equal”.
• Antisemitism: Potato pancakes in the shape of Jewish stars. In poor taste, yes – but then so is the rise in antisemitic incidents. And because we will never forget.
• Inadequate health care: Because an apple a day keeps the doctor away – and the doctors have been kept away for far too many – applesauce (who am I kidding, it’s to go with the offensive latkes.)
• Gun violence: Bazooka bubble gum. Because Bulleit bourbon is not kosher for Passover. And anything more graphic involving ketchup (as suggested by the Wiseass Son’s twin) will ruin appetites.
• Immigration: They make Kosher for Passover Chorizo. Which keeps me from attempting a wall of matzoh.
• Russian collusion and election interference: This was easy. Little cups of Russian borscht. Although I have to admit, I did buy Russian dressing as a back-up plan.
•Discrimination/LGBTQ issues: I’m not proud of this one (no pride pun intended). 2 cookies before dinner seemed overkill, so the rainbow cookie idea went out the window. I had to go with fruit salad – which was vetted by members of the gay community as an acceptably oppressive alternative, if dated. Also, between us, it may help let my people go.
• Limiting freedom of the press: This was the hardest one to come up with. But after googling and almost giving up, it finally dawned on me! I could use FOX’s U-Bet syrup to make mini egg creams. A stretch? Sure. But you try coming up with fake news food. Not easy. And I can even make them pareve and even faker.

Thinking about the contemporary relevance of seder themes, we don’t know if tomorrow we’ll be sailing blue waves of freedom or if there is stormy whether ahead (political?? I’m talking weather conditions!) We tell the story of Passover as commanded, as though it happened to each of us personally, and it’s magic is that it then, somehow, does happen to each of us personally. We celebrate our “z’man cheruteinu” – the time of our freedom. We look forward, not back, and experience the story of Passover through our personal lenses, focusing on whatever we are fighting for, not against. And knowing we live in a time where even the bread of affliction has carbs.

About the Author
Judi Zirin is an attorney and freelance writer in the New York area.
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