Post-Seder Miscellany


It’s hard to write when there’s a cat on your lap, demanding all the extra petting she missed out on when our house was full of family here to celebrate Passover with us. Or is she just displaying her delight at the return to the status quo? Nutmeg is a creature of habit, and much as she enjoyed the stimulating kaleidoscope of sound and movement that our guests brought into her space, she is glad to have her regular sleeping area restored and all her feeding routines resumed.

We are reacting to the return to things as they were in similar ways. We have been empty nesters for more than 35 years, almost twice as long as our house was filled with the wonderful mess and frantic activity that our children generated. We look forward to our family’s periodic visits and dread their departure, but there’s something calming about stripping the beds, tossing the towels into the wash and realizing that we no longer need to run the dishwasher after practically every meal. And we imagine that, much as they relished being with us, they’re equally happy to be back home, routines intact. We are reminded of what I call Newton’s Fourth – or whatever number – law which says: “Everything in life is a tradeoff.” In this case the tradeoff is between tranquility and the vibrancy of life in motion.

Of course, the centerpiece of the visit was the Seder; the two Seders, in fact. Just to confuse non-Jews, and a hefty proportion of other Jews as well, some Jewish denominations celebrate just one Seder, while others repeat the ritual on the second night. We are told that the extra Seder is a reminder that we are in exile, awaiting our return to the homeland. You may remember that my last posting was about the complications the Israel/Gaza War introduced to this year’s celebration of the liberation from bondage. I was worried about the way in which discussion and possible dissension about the war could overwhelm the obligation to simply recount the original story.

I opened the Seder by reading last week’s blog posting, followed by a reading by my co-leader, Roy Furman, of his poem “Al Naqba,” amoving vision of what could have/should have been.  We invited people to save their comments about the war to the time when dinner was being served. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the result. The war was not mentioned again for the rest of the evening. I’m not sure whether my opening had a chilling effect or whether all our guests were happy to just bask in the presence of friends, relieved to be liberated from the subject that had invaded so much of their headspace for the past seven months.

  Years ago, when we were living in Houston, I was involved in a writing program that placed professional writers in the city’s classrooms.  Invited to expand the program to the pediatric ward of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Hospital, we imagined that this would be an opportunity for the children in the program to pour out their feelings about this frightening disease that had invaded their bodies. That was the farthest thing from what they chose to do, which was just to be kids — to be silly and playful and enjoy the company of their classmates. What our Seder guests were suffering from was a different kind of cancer; they were also eager to enjoy a few hours of respite from thinking about it.

But with the Seder behind us, I’m back to obsessing about the war.

Item: A friend called to ask advice about a fund-raising event for her professional organization that was beset by protests about what some members felt was a tepid response to the horrors of the war and were threatening to withdraw from the event. Thoughshe agreed with some parts of their position, it fell short of recognizing the complexity of the situation. But what should she do now? Withdrawing would signal agreement with the protestors, but not withdrawing would be interpreted as aligning herself with the “supporters of genocide.” So many of us are wrestling with similar dilemmas.

Item: Oh, those pictures of tent encampments popping up on campuses across the country! Wasn’t I thrilled by the activism of students of earlier generations in behalf of civil rights in the US and opposition to apartheid in South Africa? How proud we were of our daughter Adina when, shortly after arriving at Wesleyan, in freshman year, she called to announce that she had been arrested for participating in a demonstration to get the college to divest from its investments in South Africa. I don’t think I’m suffering from the classic descent into conservatism that’s supposed to come with age, but the additional years I’ve logged have made me aware of the complexity that underlies public issues, which I wish I could convey to the young people occupying those appropriately named pup tents.

Item: While taking a break from writing this piece, I found on my FB page a posting by a friend who shared something he was horrified to receive from a prominent Jewish figure in the arts world. His reading of the Haggadah had led him to think that just as all those Egyptians suffered from the plagues and drowned in the Red Sea pursuing the fleeing Jews, so must we accept the mass destruction of our enemies if that is the price to be paid for our liberation. As my friend points out, this winds up being a justification for the slaughter perpetrated by Hamas on October 7th. OY!

So, the vacation from thinking about the war is over, and it’s back to the struggle. I need that cat back on my lap.

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Marv Hoffman

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