Photo credit: Dara Skolnick, Creative Commons
Sometimes you’re in a Hilton conference room in White Plains, one of several families clustered around tables laden with Seder plates and potatoes and salt water. Sometimes the servers aren’t ready for you yet so there’s no wine when the rabbi starts his intonations, and his voice sounds a bit like nails on a chalkboard, and your granny grumbles because it’s already nine o’clock.
Sometimes no one’s eaten for eight hours and the rabbi is long-winded and your family sips from glasses of the bitter, dry red every time he goes off topic. Sometimes one too many of the canter’s “nice little melodies” was four songs ago, and the old woman two tables over is talking much too loud and everyone is shushing her. Sometimes all you know of Hebrew is ‘Baruch atah Adonai’ and the canter is reading from a different Haggadah, and you choke a little on the bitter herbs and all that’s left to do is laugh. It’s messy and it feels a lot like any family’s holiday dinner, it’s hardly as somber and reverent as you imagined, but it’s beautiful.
Because sometimes the rabbi’s four year-old son stands on a chair to sing Mah Nishtanah, and his little voice rings clear through the room, “What makes this night different from all other nights?” Sometimes you read out the ten plagues with empathy for your enemies, spilling wine on the table like the blood of their firstborns was spilt, joyful for your freedom and sorrowful that they were swallowed by the sea. Sometimes you speak blessings over each taste of the Seder, thanking God for his creation and sustenance.
Sometimes you sit in awe that these faithful people still mark this festival as they have for thousands of years, that these days and these evening meals are set aside simply to remember. Remember what the Lord has done for us. Sometimes you realize anew how powerful a ritual can be, that a story may come alive in the retelling. Sometimes the Dayenu reminds you how many levels of favor the Lord has bestowed on you.
So sometimes you’ll come to the table there for a few days, where the Lord’s passion began. And you’ll return home and come to a different table on Maundy Thursday and hear the story of Pesach told again, and as you receive the Eucharist you’ll whisper ‘Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech haolam, borei p’ri hagafen’ over your wine.