Whenever I admit that I am hosting a Passover Seder, I am inevitably asked, “So how many people are you having?”
I always answer vaguely: “We’re having a bunch of friends over.” In our case, “friends” often only means two, and so sadly this questions makes me think of two friends as “only.” I feel I should answer with a superlative, otherwise I don’t pass what seems to be an unannounced but nevertheless omnipresent contest in hostess heft: The Seder you’re hosting better be big, i.e. in the double-digits or else… What? Why must hosting a Seder be a popularity contest? Why this throw-back to adolescence when we one-upped each other on how many people came to our birthday parties?
Some of my quandary might be due to my working at a Jewish day school where everybody is either hosting a big Seder or invited to one. A Seder with only four or six people around the table elicits astounded “Ohs!” or sheer gasps of horror. Therefore I avoid admitting that that is often my reality. We have no family living close by. My in-laws, who would, in the past, often join, have passed away. My own extended family lives a) on another continent, b) isn’t Jewish, and c) isn’t interested in my Jewish life. Most Jewish friends we have here in Chicago have their own families and host their own Seders, but few are Seder-confident enough to host the big Seders that my colleagues seem to expect. Thankfully, we do have a few friends who invite us to their big Seders, and while I’m happy to take them up on their invitation for one of the Seders, I do insist that we also hold our own “little” Seder.
Every year, in the run-up to Passover, when I begin whittling down the supply of challah in the freezer, and my husband starts dreading the big Passover kashering of the kitchen, he suggests we make off to a Florida hotel for a catered Seder or worse, a Passover cruise. “No,” I insist, “Passover is the holiday of the home.” And thus we embark on the endeavor.
Perhaps this is where my colleagues’ one-upmanship over the number of Seder guests comes from: Since Passover is a holiday of the home, the more people you share it with, the better. Which is why, also in the run-up to Passover, I scour my mental Rolodex for Jews I could invite, and thankfully, in all these years, we have always had a few guests. But, until my kids grow their own families and bring them to the Seder table, we simply cannot shake enough Jews from the trees to make it to double-digits. For now, I tell myself, a small Seder is good enough. But why even qualify it as “small?”
I take heart in remembering the days when I was a freshly minted Jew. My husband and I were graduate students at the University of Chicago, and each Passover we held our own Seder in our married student housing quarters with just our neighbor friend stopping by. I had no sense then that our Seder of three was inadequate. Instead, we were happily focused on the liturgy of the pamphlet-like Haggadah the local Hillel had bestowed on us. We flicked drops of Manischewitz wine on our paper plates (we didn’t have Passover-only dishes yet!); we had the orange box of Manischewitz matzah, and we sat around our makeshift, paper Seder plate. And that was good enough! The main point, after all, was, and still should be, that we were having a Seder. Who cares how big it was?
Annette Gendler is the author of Jumping Over Shadows, the true story of a German-Jewish love that overcame the burdens of the past. She lives in Chicago with her family.