Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Goldilocks and the Three Seders

My family of origin is spread out and we have different religious proclivities, so it's not as if I have a "Seder central" to rely on for Pesach each year. When Passover rolls around, I'm often faced with figuring out how to spend what is one of my favorite holidays, and this decision provokes some anxiety. Being in Israel, and wanting to have a particularly memorable experience, my anxiety level was a bit higher than usual.

Would I find, or be invited to, a Seder that was "Just Right?" With about three weeks before Pesach, I started to do what I know best: go online. I Googled, Craigslisted, joined and e-mailed many of the progressive shuls in Jerusalem to see if they had a community event. After uttering the line, "Next Year in Jerusalem" at the end of every single Seder I'd ever attended, I simply had to be in Jerusalem.

Therefore, I had to decline an invitation to a Seder in Netanya. Other Seders I learned of or were invited to were Too Orthodox, Too Far Away (within Jerusalem - without buses or taxis running that night, how would I get back to my apartment?), Too Big or Too Expensive.

In the end, my Seder panic turned out to be completely unjustified. Once I arrived in Jerusalem, pretty much everyone I met asked me I had a place to go for the Seder, and if I had said no, they would have found me a spot. It is a mitzvah to attend a Seder and to invite strangers to come.

Where did I end up?

Probably in the best real estate in the Old City's Jewish Quarter, in an upscale apartment where, from my seat at the Seder table, I had a stunning view of the Kotel (The Western Wall). A friend from the Ulpan had arranged these front row seats, after acquainting herself with the hosts (a couple originally from Chicago) during a Shabbat visit a few weeks before.

The Seder itself was whimsical "Contempodox" and quite small (just seven). The table was decorated was tiny stuffed animals, beasts, and balls of hail, representing some of the ten plagues. I was particularly amused by the jumping frog. When I asked about the plague "Darkness," the family produced sleepmasks. It was contemporary in that the hostess had chosen to not become a slave to Passover, freeing herself from the onerous burden of holiday cooking and cleaning by ordering food and serving it on attractive paper plates. She did make a soup and her son, an intense man who works on a goat farm, provided excellent Merlot he and his friends had produced. Otherwise, it was Orthodox - we read the entire Haggadah, had lively discussions about what it means to be Jewish, and stayed up until 2:30 a.m. singing songs.

My friend and I crashed at Heritage House, a single sex dormitory in the Jewish Quarter. Sleeping there is free in exchange for a willingness to be introduced to Jewish observance. Unlike Goldilocks, I can't say that the bed I chose was "Just Right" but the experience was memorable.

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