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Deborah Jiang Stein

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Passover in 140 Characters

Posted: 04/09/09 11:06 PM ET

My family is everything from secular to Just Jewish to Orthodox, with a handful of Asian Jews, Hispanic, lots of non-Jews, nine adopted Jews, some converted Jews, and much intermarriage. Other branches of the family tree are Christian, Atheist, Greek Orthodox, Buddhist. In other words, mutts galore.

After years of two and three hour Seders with extended family and friends, often non-Jews, this year I imagined writing my own Haggadah in tweet form. Instead of the traditional fifty pages or so of text that guides people through the Seder, can we slice it down to 140 characters?

Why not? There are six word memoirs. There're flash fiction and paragraph stories. Maybe Catholics dream of drive-through confession, or Lutherans yearn for fast food lemon bars after their services. So why not a Twitter Haggadah in 140 characters?

That'd get the Seder down to less than five minutes.

We can use the extra time for cleaning up all the spilled red wine and grape juice, fumbling around for Kleenex as we recover from over-aged horseradish, and sweeping off those stubborn matzoh crumbs from our laps.

The dilemma is to choose which important text to distill into those 140 characters. What about the Four Questions? These questions are a central theme of the Seder meal. They are a highlight of and open up the Passover festival.

Here they are in their original form:

1. Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either bread or matzoh, but on this night we eat only matzoh?
2. Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat only bitter herbs?
3. Why is it that on all other nights we do not dip our herbs even once, but on this night we dip them twice?
4. Why is it that on all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat in a reclining position?

These Four Questions are 453 characters with spaces. And if I drop the spaces, it's still 358 characters. I can strip out the question marks and commas, and now I'm at 350 characters. That's 210 excess characters with no spaces and no punctuation.

How can we expect anyone to read a run-on sentence of 350 characters? How welcoming is this to the non-Jewish family members and guests who've never been to a Seder before? The Four Questions hardly would make sense to them anyway, even in their original form. That goes for some of the other customs, too.

When I asked Jennifer 8. Lee, a reporter for The New York Times and author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, about her Passover, she told me, "My boyfriend asked me to cook brisket for Seder. I was surprised to learn that soy sauce is not Kosher for Passover. I was like 'how do you cook meat without soy sauce?' And now I've had plenty of meals without rice or soy sauce. I grew up in the U.S.!"

Imagine a first-timer reading my revised Four Questions. It would look like this:

Whyisitthatonallothernightsduringtheyearweeateitherbreadormatzohbutonthisnightweeatonly
matzohwhyisitthatonallothernightsweeatallkindsofherbsbutonthisnightweeatonlybitterherbs
whyisitthatonallothernightswedonotdipourherbsevenoncebutonthisnightwedipthemtwicewhy
isitthatonallothernightsweeateithersittingorrecliningbutonthisnightweeatinarecliningposition

Even if I strip the Four Questions down to 140 characters, there's no room for the answers. And what good are questions if there're no answers? Well, in Judaism, that works. It's a culture of asking and inquiring, often for just the purpose of dialogue with no answers. At least no good answers. (Kind of like the status in our economy.)

So let's say we don't need answers. I'm still 210 characters over. Help! Which letters and words do I drop? Shall I make it random and just take out all the letter "a" ... or what?

At least I have a full twelve months to figure out my New Mutt Edition of the Passover Haggadah.

This time. Next year. In 140 characters.

* * *

This is another Musing for Mutts Like Me.

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Email: deborah.kjs [at] gmail [dot] com

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