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The Official Half-Jewish Guide To Surviving The Passover Seder

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Tonight, we celebrate Passover. For those of you new to the holiday, or have not and never will celebrate it, the story of Passover is basically one from a time when the Jews were enslaved by the Egyptians. Moses, basically the Jew’s version of Jesus, came around and he had a direct line to God. Together they worked up this plan to unleash 10 plagues upon the land of Egypt, until the pharoah decided to free the Jewish people. The final plague was the death of every Egyptian first born at the stroke of midnight, on the 15th day of the month. God told Moses to let the Jews know that if they painted a red streak with goat’s blood upon their doors, the plague would pass over their home. Thus, we have Passover. A celebration of the day God didn’t kill every Jewish firstborn in Egypt and allowed us to be freed and follow Moses to the promised land! The tradition includes reading the story of Passover and performing multiple prayers and rituals, all guided by a book called the “Haggadah”.

We eat matzoh because when the Jews left on this journey, they were so rushed they didn’t have time to let their bread rise, so they ate it flat and crunchy. Matzoh might be the worst snack of all time, but somewhere along the line all the Jews agreed to pretend we can tolerate it for a week. You can get creative with recipes, but I prefer to just munch on it like a piece of toasted cardboard.

Alas, many of us will find ourselves seated around a table this evening, preparing to read from the “Haggadah”. Whether you are a pure blood, mud blood, or simply a friend of a Jew tagging along for the free food and wine, Passover can be a really fun night if you know what you’re up against. That is why I’m taking the time to put this together. Let me help you get through your seder tonight. Heed my advice, and you just might even have some fun. If you feel like you already have a good grasp on how to have fun celebrating this otherwise strange and gloomy holiday, still follow along because you just might learn something or maybe just enjoy yourself listening to my rambling thoughts and sometimes quality jokes.

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Arrival/The Beginning

So this one depends on where you have to travel to. I kinda get the best of both worlds for this one, as we are hosting one night but then traveling to our nation’s armpit, New Jersey, for the second night. It allows me to prepare completely differently for each event. When we host the event, it’s all about bringing the energy. People should be arriving around 5-530 PM, and I’ll be drinking well before that. I’m thinking I’ll start with red wine and then transition to beer after dinner. We’ve got baseball to watch and maybe gamble on, if you’re into that sorta thing.

Coming into your seder with a nice buzz is important. This is not exactly the type of holiday where there could be music playing like it’s Christmas. At least I don’t think so. My family is probably at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of how “by the books” our holiday traditions are. But even for us, Passover has one of the most complex vibes. It’s like everyone wants to get drunker than we know we’re supposed to get, so everyone starts out acting like they’re trying to behave. You sit around and read from this book that tells you when to sip from your wine, but everyone is also just drinking their wine because it’s fun to drink wine. Food comes out and boom, everyone takes off the training wheels.

If you’re going to a seder with a family that you think might be more religious than mine, it just puts extra stress on the importance of arriving with a nice buzz, as it will allow you to maintain this mindset throughout the lulls of the sedar. You will be well ahead of the curve when dinner is over and then it’s time to pop a few more corks. Also, it’s just fun to show up to events and know you’re a little drunker than everyone else.

Appetizers/Drinks

This segues perfectly from the last section. Most Jews take a lot of pride in their holiday spreads. Whether someone has died or gotten married, Jews are gonna roll out all the tricks. I’m talking pastries, dips, smoked fish, you name it. My advice to you, just do it. Nike. Obviously, each family’s seder is gonna be different, featuring different foods depending on preference. I can’t sit here and tell you everything that’s good and bad because I have no fucking clue what your family or friends will serve. At my house, we’re coming at ya from all directions this year. I imagine we will be serving things like shrimp cocktail, quiche, chips and salsa, and a few other random finger foods.

Oh yeah, and some fucking Matzoh Ball soup. I capitalized that shit because that’s how elite this meal is. Right now, my mom is in the kitchen whippin’ up 70 matzoh balls like she’s the 4th member of Migos. It’s very easy to make really bad matzoh ball soup, but when done right it takes chicken noodle soup and flips it on it’s head. If this is offered at your seder, as it should be, you should try it. It might suck, in which case just ignore the matzoh ball and enjoy the chicken broth and veggies or whatever else is in there. But if your host knows their way around a ball, you’re in for a goddam treat.

As for drinks, once again it depends on what type of family you’re off to celebrate with. I think red wine is definitely the traditional drink for the holiday, but everyone does their own thing. My family drinks red wine no matter what, so tonight will be no different. If you don’t like to mix, I recommend just starting with red and riding it out all night. Can’t go wrong there. Like I said before, I’ve got my eyes on some beer as well. I have family coming down from Vermont with some Heady Topper in tow, so can’t turn that opportunity down.

Drinking is also something mixed into the actual ceremonial aspects of this holiday. Don’t quote me on this, because again my family kinda makes things up as we go, but I’m pretty sure there are some sections where you’re supposed to sip your wine or at least dip your fingers in it, and then you can suck on those. It’s fun. Get involved. Make it interesting.

The Reading of the Haggadah/Dinner

This is the meat and potatoes of the evening. This is why we prepare. This is what Passover is all about. This is the part that no matter what family or type of Jew you are celebrating with, you’re gonna have to partake in some form of this one way or another. Basically, it’s this book that you read from and it takes you through the story of Passover and the religious ceremony associated. There are rituals you must do; blessing of foods and the wine and shit like that. Most families go around taking turns reading from the book, but there is also a leader of the ceremony, most often the oldest male Jew in the clan. It sounds pretty boring and redundant, but with the right attitude, this can also be a really fun experience. You must be mindful of the environment you’re in, so you don’t ruin someone else’s holiday. But if you’re with a group of fun, open minded people, I imagine they’ve already realized how much this part of the holiday can suck if you don’t bring some energy to it.

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The paragraphs and language of the Haggadah are brutal. There are words in there you will never see or hear again, places that sound like they were made up by a bunch of guys tripping on mushrooms 2000 years ago, and even some solid Hebrew prayers. If you listened to my earlier advice, you’ve been drinking for a little bit by the time everyone is ready to read, so being creative when your turn comes won’t be hard. Pretend you are auditioning for the lead in the school play, and if you land the role you’re gonna get to kiss the prettiest girl in you class. Really sell the story of how Moses saved all the Jewish first born children of Egypt and then led them all to the promised land. Those around you will feed off the energy, and by the end it will feel like you’re doing a script reading of your favorite episode of Seinfeld or a Shakespearean era production. Depending on how the reading privileges are split up at your seder, there are a few reading opportunities you will want to keep your eyes open for. A few you want to avoid at all costs, and a few you might want to change seats to ensure you land.

I’ll start with the bad ones. Obviously, if you don’t read good, just scan a few pages ahead and scout out the paragraphs with the tough words. The names of people and places are the worst, but also most people have no idea what’s right and wrong so you can just wing those as you go. You know better than I do what you can and cannot read so just trust your gut. If you see yourself getting lined up for a tough read, simply hit the bathroom before your turn and no one will miss a beat.

Everyone knows you also want to avoid the 4 questions at all costs. In terms of poetic language, this section of the Haggadah is one of the best, but this is also the toughest task of the whole ordeal, as it most often is asked to be read in Hebrew. Mind you, no one is gonna expect a non-Jew to do this, and most families ask the youngest Jew to do this, but everyone is different. If you’re in a position where this could be asked of you, I would start thinking of a way out ASAP as possible. I don’t think the bathroom is gonna work this time, either.

There are, however, a few golden passages for those of us who enjoy a good read aloud. For my family, the most sought after passage is obviously the one where they say “asses”. I’ll spare you the context but basically there’s this one part where they’re naming all these animals and they say “upon the asses” and then everyone at the table makes a donkey sound and giggles. It’s fun because everyone is drunk at this point. If you think you can handle that one without laughing and ruining your sedar, go for it. It’s as good as it gets.

I also love the “it would have been sufficient” passage. This one is another repetitive one, and I think that’s why I like it so much. You can really get some rhythm and get into it. If you pay any sort of attention to the ups and downs and intricacies of the ceremony, you’ll also recognize the significance of this part in the Haggadah. It warrants a lot of enthusiasm and emotion, so if you end up being the one who gets to read this part, fucking bring it. Your fellow Jews around the table will thank you.

Beyond these notable good and bad passages, it’s really up to you to decide what you’re up for. Figure out what you’re gonna have to read, and prepare. Change seats and set yourself up right. No matter how it works out, do the best you can to make it fun. When wine is flowing the way I anticipate it will be for most of you, it doesn’t take much to turn something into way more fun than it’s supposed to be. I guess that’s my main message for anyone when it comes to preparing for Passover; just bring the energy and fake some early excitement until it turns into genuine drunken fun and potential debauchery.

As for food, just keep the same mentality as before and try whatever they put in front of you. It might not sound good, or look good, but it usually is. Get drunk and take advantage of getting to sample some new things. Don’t be the asshole who acts like they’re too good for some brisket or turkey or whatever it is you guys are cooking up. It’s all for the ceremony.

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Post Dinner

Once dinner is done, just let fucking loose. At this point, you have a better feel for what you can get away with at your respective sedars than I do right now as I’m writing this. I’ll spare you the reading. You have no more responsibilities. Go home, or stay and get hammered with some good Jews. It’s up to you. Enjoy dessert. Jew’s know how to do that too. You’ve made it this far without fucking anything up, so really there’s nothing that can go wrong. Spill some wine, eat some cookies, and unwind. We did it. We survived Passover.

Again, every single sedar is gonna be different. That’s what’s cool about Judaism, and I supposed religion in general. It’s all kinda up for interpretation. So as long as you head out on Passover with an open mind, and if you’re not driving maybe even an open container, you will get through it. Follow my steps and alcohol-driven thought process as much as it applies, and I think you will be surprised by just how enjoyable this holiday can be.

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