Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Preparing for a Tanzanian Seder

Passover is approaching, and I now realize that holding a Seder is something I’ve delegated for my entire life. I have wonderful memories of Seders growing up at my parents. (I can’t forget my youngest sister, Deborah at 2-years-old, shouting Dayanu two beats after everyone else at the table. For reasons she can’t fathom, I need to remind her of this every year. I think Bodie is now about that age, and, next year, Deborah’s son will the late shouter.) I then found friends, namely Monica, who sedered like it was nobody’s business. But now, it is time for Hillary and I to prepare our first Seder. And running to the local Judaica store in Dar for a quick training doesn’t seem to be an option.

So I’ve spent a few days surfing Jewish websites, a dilettante’s approach to Talmudic study. First I learned that the word Seder means “order”, so that, while there are over 3,000 Haggadahs in print, they all follow the same table of contents. I also learned that we Jews are very internet focused, with a fair number of haggadot available for download, some free, some via Paypal purchase.

I recall reading, many years ago, a book called The Jew in the Lotus. In it, Buddhism meets Judaism when eight rabbis travel to Dharamsala, India for a meeting with the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama asks the rabbis why Judaism has thrived for over 5,000 years. They respond that one of the primary reasons is the tradition of the Seder being held for thousands of years in households across the world. The service is designed to repeat the story of Exodus as a lesson for children. It is a bittersweet holiday – on one hand, Jews recall enslavement in a foreign land, but there is also the celebration of liberation and freedom.

It is also multi-layered. The story of Exodus from Egypt is on a basic level, but there is also a call to social action and tikkun-olam, making the world whole; one element holds a mirror for us to think of our own roles as oppressors as well; and there is a self-reflective element to understand one’s personally imposed limitations. At the first level, the service is very kid-focused with singing, and, until this year at our house, notable for wonderful food.

We are hosting 11 adults and five kids. The criteria for coming is not overly exclusive: everyone has attested to either being Jewish, knowing someone who is Jewish, having tried out an old Jewish person accent, or seen a Woody Allen movie. With four of the kids under age three, we are not anticipating it to be either a long Seder or one with a tremendous theological debate.

To prepare, I’ve been assembling a Haggadah. Online options range from the Orthodox to Liberal to Reconstructionist to Pure Kitsch (a Chocolate-focused haggadah). I am realizing how little I knew about the structure and all the rituals. The process of creating a Haggadah is enjoyable – after this trial run, it should be something we use for many years.

I’ll next go searching for some basics for the Seder plate. While you could probably trip over a shank bone in Dar, I’m worried about finding horseradish, apples for charoset, much less Matzah (although part of me imagines standing outside with Judith, our housekeeper, trying to use Exodus as a cookbook and pound and bake matzahs in the sun.)

We have a Haggadah ready – it has been plagiarized, pirated, portions appropriated and bowdlerized, and is ready to go (and emailable if anyone would like it.)

I realize that I’m becoming my mother, but I only have five days now to plan the meal….

1 comment:

Deb said...


I love to think of you creating a Haggadah and hosting a Seder as we likewise celebrate Passover thousands of miles away. I'm going to ask Dad to add this blog to our Passover ceremony so that you can be with us as we enjoy our 4 glasses of wine (don't forget!), search for the Afikomen and think of next year in Jerusalem, Dar Es Salaam, Portland or where ever. With much love to you, Hillary and Bodie!