Mom’s Seder: The Next Generation

By Marjorie Ingall

Published April 04, 2003, issue of April 04, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

My parents sold their house, my childhood home. (I have issues about this, but I’ll deal with them in therapy rather than in this column.) Their new apartment is large enough to hold a brisket and a large matzo ball, but not simultaneously. So this year, Jonathan and I are hosting Passover for the first time.

It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal because we’re taking on an adult role in the extended family (how can we sit at the “kids’ table” when we have a kid? Or when the table’s in our house?); because cooking for a lot of people can be stressful (I haven’t yet pulled a Bridget Jones and tied a bouquet garni with blue string so that the soup turns the color of a Caribbean sky, but it could happen), and because Passover is a major megillah for the Ingalls.

My parents have always had dueling Seders. My dad calls his “My Zeyde’s Seder.” It is a rapid-fire, singsong spew of Haggada delivered, in his words, “with the same intonations, incantations and misogynistic deprecations that have been handed down by rabbis to my grandfather thousands of years ago.” In other words, he bangs on the table a lot and barks, “The women will be quiet!” This performance is only semi-intended as camp. My mother’s Seder, on the other hand, is all about cooperative learning and hands-on participation. As befitting a professor of education at the Jewish Theological Seminary, she finds neat-o lessons everywhere. In the past, we’ve compared and contrasted various kinds of Haggadot (feminist, archeological, Manischewitz, pacifist, Claymation). She’s made game boards so we could play Jewpardy (with categories including Pharaoh Phacts and On the Seder Plate) and Jewish Family Feud. We’ve mimed the plagues, turned “The People’s Court” into a one-act play in which Pharaoh was on trial (I was Rusty the Bailiff), and slapped each other with leeks (don’t ask). She incorporates multicultural readings, finds amusing Passover songs on the Internet, invites questions and commentary from the group. My father assures readers of his Web site, “Believe me, God does not listen.”

Last year Mom outdid herself. She had us tell the story of Passover through a combination of Haggada reading and Paper Bag Players-style improvisation. She divided us into teams, gave each team a bunch of random props (dental floss, a plastic lei, a tape dispenser, a vintage Dukakis/Mondale button) and assigned each team a section of the Haggada to act out. Despite some kvetching, the family rose to the occasion. Some people went conceptual. My aunt Belleruth’s team used Arafat as a stand-in for Pharaoh; my brother used the pimping of baby formula in Third World countries as a metaphor for the killing of the first-born. Some were more literal. My 90-year-old grandmother played the youngest child reciting the Four Questions, with shoelaces — one of her team’s props — tied in her short steel-gray hair like bows. She read the questions in a piping babyish voice while my cousin Abie stuck his arms under her armpits and made amusing hand gestures. My father rolled his eyes and muttered things that sounded suspiciously like “hillul hashem” (an abomination unto God).

Mom’s Seder can be scary. You will be in a skit, and you will solo on “Echad Mi Yodaya” even if you do not know Hebrew. My mother resolutely refuses to see that this is terrifying. She hands people a transliterated Haggada and sings encouragingly along with them. But hello! Still terrifying! Past guests have included Brown University students, who tend to look like deer in the headlights when the solos start, as well as my mom’s friend Mary, a nun (whose Hebrew is better than mine, so she’s not a very good example), and my dad’s Franciscan co-worker from a group home for troubled boys, Brother John. Everybody steps up to the mike; everybody represents. Khad Gadya, yo!

For the past two decades or so we’ve sung the hallowed “Mom’s Seder Song.” My brother and I wrote it (under Mom’s watchful eye, of course) when we were kids.

There’s no Seder like Mom’s SederLike no Seder we know.Everything about it is appealing —Everything Halacha will allow.Don’t you know we get a happy feelingWhen Abie’s stealing the matzo now.There’s no people like Jew people;They smile when they are flogged.Even when they’re fleeing from a big pogrom,The Passover melodies they will hum.Let’s remember triumphs over all that scum;Let’s go on with the Seder!

Now I’m a mom. Is it still “Mom’s Seder”? Will we call it “Bubbe’s Seder”? Can I really be old enough for a matrilineal passing of the torch? Vay iz mir, time’s passing too quickly. Last year, baby Josie spent the Seder asleep in my lap in her green baseball shirt and purple leggings, her thighs like little sausages. This year, she’ll sit in her high chair and eat people food (“Meat! Tzicken!”). She’ll clap when we sing the Passover songs and look from face to face, beaming. After each number, she’ll yell, “Yay!” and then “Mo’! Mo’!” I’ll buy her a Passover board book (with the 10th plague edited for content; you think I want her in therapy at 3?). I’ll find pulverized matzo in Tinky Winky’s fur for the next few months.

Like most parents, I find I’m mourning Josie’s babyhood even as I can’t wait for her to be older. On Purim I got all excited for next year, when she’ll be able to dress as Vashti and manipulate a grogger. This week I’m suddenly fantasizing about making a Seder plate with her at the pottery-painting place on Greenwich Street. Next year, maybe. Can she learn the Four Questions at age 2? She’s a genius, you know.

I don’t like to think about my parents growing older, but that too comes with the territory. Our Seder will still be a family affair, for a long time to come, I hope. Mom will bring food in Pyrex wrapped in plastic wrap, in the tradition of bubbes everywhere. Dad will provide afikoman gifts, pharmaceutical company schwag he spends all year collecting. Last year we scored a Prozac ball that lights up and flashes when you bounce it, a Zyprexa clock, a Prozac mini-basketball and some Seroquel pens.

My father always asks, “Whose Seder do you like better — your mother’s or mine?” Sorry, Dad. I think you know the answer. It’ll always be Mom’s Seder. God willing, even when Josie’s the mom.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here:
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.