We went down to Connecticut to the Seder that my Aunt Marion has hosted many times over the years. I wouldn’t say I was feeling all vego-triumphalist or anything, but it was certainly a week full of affirmation for one’s vegan choices. Start with the high-profile Nick Kristof piece titled, appetizingly, “Arsenic in our Chicken?” Eat your Seder and Easter leftovers before you read that one. Amy had produced a magnificent vegan chocolate covered almond-encrusted matzoh selection. And then it turns out that my cousin Anne, who has to manage her health carefully, was advised to go vegan and (even with the occasional lamb chop) it is doing great things for her! It is a little weird to have a somewhat parallel existence health-wise, with us going vegan to one extent or another and one’s doctors (Anne’s unusually Eastern-Western medicine oriented doc excepted) generally just saying “drink plenty of milk” and get your protein.
The good news is that Anne was able to rock a totally satisfying vegan stuffed cabbage and a curry ginger carrot soup to tide us over AND satisfy the Pesach rules. A perfect compliment to the decidedly non-vegan offerings from master Seder-maker Marion. Quinoa: not only nature’s super food, but pesadiche (with predictably stringent guidelines depending on which medieval sage’s followers you ask). Who knew? I’m going to assume that the tofu from the Momogoose food truck I frequent at work is sourced from a similarly magical-realist South American land whose so-called legumes escaped the notice of the medieval rabbis and are thus exempt from the traditional Ashkenazi strictures against anything your average Schmo might “confuse” with chametz. Between Anne and her sister Karen–temple education director and synagogue president respectively–and cousin David who is training to be a cantor, the group was if anything overqualified to steer the Seder ship. We got it done in a reasonable amount of time, none of the kids cried or freaked out, and it was both delicious and thought-provoking.
The New American line in the title is really a teaser to those MOT who are down with the New American Haggadah, the edition released for this year’s Seder season by an all-star literary lineup including editor Jonathan Safran Foer, translator Nathan Englander, and commenters including Jeff Goldberg and Lemony Snicket. I got a copy (sold out at the New England Mobile Book Fair! Panic in the aisles!) and read a bit this week. The two things I’d comment on are the text, from a user’s perspective, and the artwork. Right from the start, as a Reform Jewish reader you’re struck by the choice to translate Adonai as
“Lord God-of-Us.” It has a vaguely science-fictiony feel–“we arrived at the third planet in the Gorblast system and were invited by natives to a seasonal ritual celebrating their Lord God-of-Us”–and obviously goes against the gender-neutral language that has become standard for Reform liturgy for over a decade. But this aside, it is a bit hard to imagine the multi-generational family group that would adopt this as their working haggadah, to be bought in volume and used for years. While there is some subtle cueing in the marginal notes, the layout’s unusual amount of perpendicular text and the text’s slightly precious quality–as young literary lions take on the ringmaster of the old-school haggadah–don’t make this version seem like one you’d hand equally to your great-aunt and your first-time Ma Nishtanahker. The artwork is grounded in beautiful thematic renderings of key Hebrew phrases from a given section with different graphic effects. In my visual arts-illiterate way I’d say that New American is comparable to the Open Door haggadah we used in their similar reference to the idea of remembering the Jews’ suffering under Pharaoh, the Nazis, and other enemies of the past by using a visual palette of looking through a veil, or seeing words/images disintegrated. I guess that is the look that inspires you to do some tikkun olam. Bonus points for Open Door: texts from both Adrienne Rich and Emmanuel Levinas (perfect together)!
This Seder coincides with my finally trying to collect the minimum genealogical history of my family while the kids are young and everyone else is still lucid. Looking at the landing cards and naturalization papers, it is striking to see how in a couple of generations the family has been transformed not just in material comfort but in physical stature and health. The uprootings and traumas that these generations experienced make it not terribly surprising that their descendents have focused on the future, and (my aunt’s pilgrimage to Poland excepted) not looked back too much to the old country or the old neighborhood–though as time goes past we do have more and more people to remember with whom we once had the Seder. This makes for an interesting dynamic at Passover when we enjoin our children to remember the past and transmit to their children the story of the Jews’ escape from bondage. I’m still wrestling with what it means to balance the remembering and forgetting that are part of being in a family (especially of fairly recent immigrants) and the capital-R remembering that we talk about at Passover.
Happy Passover and Easter, to the tune of Ms. E on a shofar-like horn that Amy brought back from Chile: