The first day of the Omer

A tale of two seders

"You're surprisingly mellow for someone who's hosting a seder for thirteen people tonight," my sister said. She'd come bearing matzah and macaroons from Clear Flour Bakery, and two kinds of haroset (the Ashkenazic recipe we grew up on, plus a Persian version which we all loved), and side dishes in an insulated carrier. She and her family set the dining-room table while I hard-boiled eggs and whisked matzah balls together (and spent a while nattering with Scott, a reporter from the local paper, toward this lovely article; thanks, Scott!)

It made me happy to greet the seder objects I hadn't seen in a year. The sturdy ceramic seder plate and matching Elijah's cup which my aunt gave me when I got married. The cup I use for Miriam, a china kiddush cup given to me when I became bat mitzvah. (It was customary in our community for boys to receive kiddush cups, and girls to receive candlesticks; in hindsight, the delicate china cup painted with flowers seems like a radical gift.) Everything we placed on the table had a story to tell.

The seder was sweet. Our table was full. Everyone sang the Four Questions together; we took turns reading stanzas of R' Lynn Gottlieb's poem about cleaning out hametz; my seven-year-old nephew led us in a few verses of Dayenu. Over dinner we talked about baseball and science and travel. We sang the beginning of the traditional Birkat Hamazon and I remembered, again, that my sister and I know the same harmonies and syncopations. During Hallel we read some traditional psalms, and some decidedly non-traditional -- Hopkins, ee cummings. At the end of the seder we raced through "Had Gadya" at lightning speed.

On Sunday we set the breakfast table with our everyday pottery, and filled it with friends. Early in the seder, my friend Daniel asked why our bracha over wine featured the term ruach ha-olam ("breath of all life") instead of the more familiar melech ha-olam ("King of the universe"), and Ethan joked that he'd made my night. He kind of had, actually. I derive such pleasure from explaining the valances of different God-language, and why I like to use multiple metaphors for God (Who is beyond all language anyway.)

There are parts of the haggadah which we read on both nights, of course, either because they're central to the experience or because someone wanted to read/sing them or because I just love them. But there were a lot of readings we did on night 2 which we hadn't done on night 1 -- poems by Jay Michaelson and Martín Espada, a few classical texts with creative interpretations, and so on. The counting of the Omer, that first tentative step toward Shavuot.

Our second seder wound up both more serious, and goofier, than our first had been. I offered an impromptu explanation for the ladybug crawling on our seder plate ("it represents the Israelites who, when their bondage became too heavy, 'flew away home.'") We established that The Ballad of the Four Sons (written by Ben Aronin in 1948) can be sung to any 4/4 tune (not only "Clementine" but also "The Yellow Rose of Texas," "Ode to Joy," the Gilligan's Island theme....) When it came time for the egg course, in a nod to my San Antonio heritage (Fiesta began this weekend), we cracked cascarones on each others' heads.


I am so grateful to be able to fill two seder tables with family both given and chosen, and to be able to celebrate this festival of freedom with so many people I love.


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