I’ve been hosting a seder fairly regularly for the past 7 or 8 years, something that I didn’t grow up with at all, having both a non-religious Jewish grandmother, as well as a non-religious Jewish mother. But there have been many feminist haggadahs that have crossed my path, as well as some anti-oppression and anti-occupation haggadahs, so I’ve been able to reclaim the holiday with minimal references to god and to the state of israel.
Also, my grandmother died in October.
I never attended a seder with her present, as she was brought up quite religiously, and probably was sick of them by the time she started her own family, and her parents passed away. I’m sure she associated them with doing lots of work and doing lots of housework. Women are assigned a great deal of work to do in preparation for, and in the conducting of, the passover ritual, celebration and meal. Whereas traditionally, the men do all the talking and pontificating about freedom from slavery and liberation.
Her parents, so my mother tells me, were very religious. Three sets of dishes, temple, traditional. Having emigrated here as adults with 4 children, they seemed typical of newcomers in a place that didn’t reflect their language, religion or traditions: hold on tighter to what grounds them. The effect on their children, the four born in Romania and the four born here, including my grandmother as the second youngest, and the youngest girl, was to effectively chase all of their children away from anything and everything religiously Jewish. As a non-religious person myself, I can’t say that’s a bad thing. But a part of me does feel like cultural, rather than religious, traditions are worth keeping, adapting, sharing and remembering.
A few years ago when I told my grandmother about my women-centric seders, she was very supportive, and asked me to send pictures of the table. She even sent me, via my mother, the family seder plate, which I happily use every year.
Even though she had never been present at one of my seders, I felt her absence, as I do every once in a while, in this first year after her death.
R and I had invited two of his friends from his documentary program at Ryerson, and my mom and sister. All non-Jews, except for my family, inasmuch as we can be considered Jewish. It was a wonderful evening, and I enjoy hosting, every time, a seder in which at least one person attending is experiencing the seder ceremony for the first time.
There’s so much food to prepare, both for eating and as part of the ritual. There must always be both an orange and an olive on the seder plate, always a good starting point for the many discussions that go on related to the many symbols in the passover story.