Alef Betty: Modern Hebrew Arts

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Sprawling Seders

The set up of the main room. Notice the glorious mish mash of Haggadot.

I'm always shocked when I attend a seder that's actually orderly, as the name would suggest. The average Pines family seder is more akin to a decentralized terrorist cell, and I mean that in the best possible way. My aunt and uncle take pride in squeezing at least 50 people into their living room in Berkeley every year, a space that the fire marshall would consider suitable for about half as many. Things often get way out of hand. One year, the entire heating system was dismantled in search of the afikomen, just to give you an idea.

Uncle Alex at the head of the table, trying to herd cats in the adjoining room.

My uncle Alex can barely be made out in the distance as he waves the shank bone around. Since we use 15 different editions of the Haggadah, most of us have only a vague idea of where we're supposed to be in the proceedings. It's a matter of course for three different people to yell out three different page numbers as a new reader fumbles around, trying to find the right passage. That's the whole fun of it.

This is a totally misleading picture – it would suggest rapt attention, which is rarely the state of affairs.

Though everyone gets a turn at reading (in no particular order, as you've probably guessed by now), over the years we've identified the fastest readers, who are then assigned the heftiest passages so that we can get to the matzah ball soup as expediently as possible. And, oh, the matzah ball soup! The most perfectly fluffy specimens open the festival meal, courtesy of Arela, a family friend who's also the life of the party on piano. Somehow, osso buco has also become a Passover must. And the meal isn't over until my mom's bavarian cream brings down the house.

Matzah ball soup signals the dissolution of what little order there is to begin with.

We generally don't get much further than the festival meal, leaving the rest of the Haggadah untouched. However, we do sing "Who Knows One?" over coffee, while the herculean clean-up effort gets underway in the kitchen. Passover brings together the regulars and the strays, the young and the old, everyone under one roof, if not at a single table. It's raucous and warm, and disorderly in the best possible way.

Arela has been accompanying songs on piano since the early 80's.

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