THE BLOG
03/30/2009 05:07 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Audacity to Haggadah

Version 2008 C.E. (5767 for those of you keeping score at home)

WARNING: THIS IS NOT A KVETCH. What follows is a real life, non-practicing, reformed American Jew"ish" Haggadah. This is, as my Bubbi used to say as she was mimeographing anti-Franco literature at the ACLU, the real magilla. Do with it what you will. Burn it. Edit it. Use it to get through the last, Last Supper until next year.

IN THE BEGINNING:

Passover is one of mankind's oldest continuously performed traditions. And it's still legal in most states! A time-honored tradition when family and friends can gather and argue and eat and think and eat and complain and eat.

So, while we are supping tonight, remember this is much more than a meal. It's a chance to remind each and every one of us just how much more miserable we could actually still be!

So, from being the "low man," to shopping at Loman's. This is our story of perseverance and faith. Belief and strength. Hope and Crosby. (It is a "road story" after-all)

It is also a story that must be told every year.

Why must this story be told every year? Well, this being a Jewish Holiday, we answer that question with a question. Why do we do anything? Why do we reset our clocks twice a year? The crops don't know. Why can't the Democratic Party do anything remotely easy? Why do Christmas commercials start running right after Halloween? Why must we make New Year's resolutions that don't last until the final BCS championship bowl game? Why do we wear neckties? Why are we in Iraq? Uncle Moishe? Bubbi? Zadie? Noodles? Anyone? Why do we do anything?

Maestro:

FAMILY TRADITION:

Why do we drink?
Why do we eat fish smoked?
Why must we live out the songs George and Ira wrote?
The public school's fine, yet we still pay tuitions
So sue us if we get our pre-approved loans
We're just carryin' on
An old family tradition

We're all very proud
From where our granddaddies came
With the Pogroms the Tsars and Fuhrers
Oy, vey! Ain't a real fun game
But if you stop and think it over
Put yourself in our position
We like to piss and moan and sing all night long
It's our family tradition

So ask yourselves
Why do we drink?
Why is our whitefish smoked?
Why must we live out the songs George and Ira wrote?
If we happen to pick-up a lower number while waiting for service,
Well that's just our Zabar's mission
I say leave us alone
We're shmearing all week long
It's our family tradition

Lordy, I have loved some Sadies
And I do love a good schvitz
Been using many towels, cleaning out my bowels
Since B.C. 3236
When my cardiovascular surgeon son-in-law asks me
How did you get in this not so good condition
I said hey sawbones I'm just carryin' on
My old family tradition

For this, I could've stayed home, Doc
So tell me now, why do we drink?
Why is our white fish smoked?
Why must you live out the songs George and Ira wrote?
Why must we pay that schmuck his commission?
We get pre-approved loans and sing all night long
It's our family tradition!

We tell this story every year because we are all still slaves to something. Some of us are slaves to fashion. Some of us are slaves to crushing familial expectations. Some of us are slaves to spotty phone coverage.

The thing is, tonight we settle all family business. Tessio? Dead. Clemenza? Dead. Moe Green? Fuhgetaboutit.

Now, Passover can be a demanding holiday for most of us chosen people. It takes a full week out of our lives. It requires extensive preparation and organization. Self-denial and introspection. Sensitivity and acceptance. But, hey, who has time for that?

So, we are going to compress all of our suffering and remembrance down to the next half-hour or so.

A Limerick:

There once were slaves on the Nile
Who the Pharaoh often defiled
Along came a man
Who freed his poor clan
And things where "oy vey" 'til "Sig Hiel"

Now: It's time to throw down a little knowledge on your chosen behinds. So here's the Jubian 411. Jews eat their history, which doesn't mean that Jewish history bites. Before us is a plate of symbolic food. Each morsel reminds us of a different aspect of enslavement and delivery.

MAROR - or Bitter Herbs. Bitter, bitter herbs. Our maror is horseradish root and symbolizes the bitterness of slavery and anything to do with getting used and abused by "The Man."

KARPAS - Or Parsley. Also bitter. (EDITORS NOTE: There's no bitterness like show bitterness) It will be dipped in salt water that represents the sweat and hard labor of the slaves as they built the Pyramid's creating the first known cases of "Karpas Tunneling Syndrome."

CHAROSET (Ha-ro-set) - Or mortar. Not so bitter. It symbolizes the mortar the slaves had to use while hunched over on little wooden boards in the blazing sun. Yes, we're talking about "Out Board Mortaring." We actually include a little bit of spackling in our charoset.

ZEROA - Or Shank Bone. We all have fond memories of Zeroa Mostel, but as Jimmy Swaggart teaches us, Zeroa is really "the mighty arm of Gaw-wd. I say GAAWW-AD! And if you send your pension check to my P.O. box you too will have a more personal relationship with GAW-WAD."

Zeroa pays homage to the painting of lamb's blood on the doors of all the slaves to let God know which homes should be spared the death of their first born son... as if he didn't already have enough on his mind.

BAYTZA - Or Egg. It's a symbol of both sacrifice and hope. You can have your Baytza poached or sunny side up. There's also Baytza whites for those watching their "challa-estorel".

MATZAH - Matzah is, well, matzah. The original lock box. Planning on roaming around with no bathroom breaks for the next 40 years? Have some Matzah.

Matzah also symbolizes the rush and flight of the slaves as they fled Egypt. They didn't have time to wait for the proverbial bread to rise. No green bananas for these slaves. They were in a hurry. They were "yeast of Eden" if you get my drift. Unleavened bread. The first fast food. Cash and carry. One-stop shopping.

Okay, enough with the edible symbolism. The Passover story itself is very simple: Slaves meet Pharoah. Slaves lose Pharoah. Slaves spend forty years in the desert wandering aimlessly to find their chosen homeland. A place where they would be safe and beloved. A place of security and peace. They found this place and as we all know, nothing bad ever again happened to the Jews.

This is a story of deliverance, and more importantly, understanding that freedom is not guaranteed to us for life.

We must all constantly be aware that our liberties and pleasures could be taken away from us as quickly as you can say "Patriot Act."

"Seder" means "order." And "Haggadah" means "the telling". And yes, we are telling history. Passover--or "PESACH" for those of us in A TRIBE CALLED KVETCH--began on the banks of a flowing river in a far away land thousands of years ago. Now, let's get down to bitterness.

"There's No Seder Like Our Seder"

There's no seder like our seder,
There's no seder I know.
Not everything about it is quite kosher
But there's nothing that the Torah won't allow.
Listen how we read the whole Haggadah
In mostly English,
'Cause we know how.
There's no seder like our seder,
We tell a tale that is swell:
Moses took the people out into the heat
They baked the matzoh
While on their feet
Now isn't that a story
That just can't be beat?
Let's go on with the show!
Let's say hi to Schlomo!

For those that want to read the fine print, you can now wash your hands. For everybody else...

CANDLE LIGHTING

We begin this Passover Seder celebration as we begin all Jewish celebrations by lighting candles. Light the candles and we all - and that means you down there in the cheap seats--say:

BA-RUCH A-TAH A-DO-NAI, E-LO-HEY-NU ME-LECH HA-O-LAM, A-SHER KID'-SHA-NU B'MITZ-VO-TAV, V'TZI-VA-NU, L'HAD-LIK NER SHEL YOM TOV.

Or:

BLESSED ARE YOU, CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE, WHO HAS ALLOWED US TO FIND HOLINESS THROUGH ACTION, AND HAS LET IT BE KNOWN TO US THAT THROUGH CELEBRATING THE CREATION OF LIGHT, WE WOULD BEGIN TO ENTER INTO THE SPIRIT OF SACRED DAYS. THUS WE LIGHT THESE HOLIDAY CANDLES.

Now that we've set a mood, perhaps a little vino?

KADESH

Red, red wine. It flows to my head. Makes me forget. Servitude. Red, red wine. It very well may be up to you. It makes this Jew want some food.

Since ancient times, every Jewish service begins with candles and moves to wine. Why? Because that's how we roll. Let those new fangled Jewbians believe they are drinking the blood of Christ. Us "Old Shulers" know the grape is really a symbol of the bounty we all have been given by mother earth. Some years we have a better bounty. Those years are locked up in the cellar downstairs. But, for tonight, we say...

BA-RUCH A-TAH A-DO-NAI, E-LO-HEY-NU ME-LECH HA-O-LAM, BOREI P'RE HAGAFEN.

OR:

BLESSED ARE YOU, CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE, WHO CREATES THE FRUIT OF THE VINE.

Next up:

KARPAS

Thousands of years ago slaves never dipped their vegetables in anything, let alone salt water. In fact, they never even really ate vegetables. They subsisted on a low-carb diet almost exclusively of dirt, pebbles and penne with butter.

So, we take our veggies and dip them in salt water to remind all of us of the salty tears and sweat that our ancestors had when they were slaves in Egypt and give thanks to God, if you believe God even exists. But, maybe he does. If he's a "he." Who knows anymore? It's not for me to question. So, for now:

BLESSED ARE YOU, CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE, WHO CREATES THE FRUIT THAT GROWS FROM THE EARTH.

BA-RUCH A-TAH A-DO-NAI, E-LO-HEY-NU ME-LECH HA-O-LAM, BOREI P'REE HA'ADAMAH.

(Everyone now takes a small piece of "karpas" and dips it in salt water on the table and eats it.)

Next:

YACHATZ

As we can see there are three matzot before us. The middle one is called the AFIKOMON which reminds me of Yaphet Koto, which means it's time to play the assimilation that's sweeping the nation...NAME THAT JEW!

Polio by Ralph Lipshitz?
I am Isador Demsky! No! I am Spartacus!
Bobby Zimmerman's blowin' in the wind.
Jonathan Leibowitz gives us a show daily.
Jack Cohen sees his name and wants to paint it Black.
James Osterberg III? Iggy's got a lust for life!
Saul Hudson wants to welcome you to the Jungle.
Natalie Hershlag? May the farce be with you Portman
Amy Winehouse? Ironically, this is her real name.
Margarita Cansino? What the Hayworth?
Daniel Radcliffe? Dumbledorf shmumbledorf
Jeffrey Hyman wants to be sedated.
David Beckham? ¼ Becks and Nosh?

Anybody got somebody to add? If not, continue:

(The leader of the service now uncovers the three matzot, takes the middle one, breaks it in two, wraps up the larger part, and sets it aside for the Afikomen.)

Why do we break the Matzah now if we don't need it until later? Because we must learn to wait for things we want. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. There are no shortcuts. We can't get what we want all the time, but if we try real hard, we might get what we need.

So, we break the middle Matzah, not for now, but for later. Because true freedom is like a good Pension plan.

We also want to hide the afikomen somewhere in the house for the children to find for a big prize to be negotiated, thus teaching our young how to haggle.


THE FOUR QUESTIONS

It is customary for young persons to actually ask the Four Questions, which are not really questions. The actual FOUR QUESTIONS are:

I. ON ALL OTHER NIGHTS WE EAT LEAVENED BREAD. WHY ON THIS NIGHT DO WE EAT ONLY UNLEAVENED BREAD?

Once we were slaves in Egypt. Blah. Blah. Blah. As we've already discussed, when we escaped from slavery, we were in no mood to bake.

II. ON ALL OTHER NIGHTS WE EAT ALL KINDS OF VEGETABLES. WHY ON THIS NIGHT DO WE EAT BITTER HERBS?

Once we were slaves in Egypt. Blah. Blah. Blah. The bitter taste helps remind us that bitterness bites the big one and there's no bigger bitterness to bite than slavery.

III. ON ALL OTHER NIGHTS WE DON'T DIP OUR HERBS EVEN ONCE.
WHY ON THIS NIGHT DO WE DIP OUR HERBS TWICE?

Once we were slaves in Egypt. Blah. Blah. Blah. The first time we dip was to taste the bitterness of slavery--see question two. The second time we dip is to remind us of the hard work still ahead. (Reminder to one and all. One who cooks, doesn't clean.) Now, dip, baby dip!

IV. ON ALL OTHER NIGHTS WE EAT SITTING ANY WAY WE PLEASE. WHY ON THIS NIGHT DO WE RECLINE?

Once we were slaves in Egypt. Blah. Blah. Blah. It used to be only kings and Pharoahs reclined while they dined. Now, we will too. Kick back and relax. " Don't sit up straight, children. Hunch over and eat with your fingers!"

And speaking of children. There are...

FOUR KINDS OF CHILDREN

The Wise Child. See Corleone, Michael.

The Cynical Child. See, Corleone, Sonny.

The Simple Child. See, Corleone, Fredo.

Then, the young child. See Jackson, Michael.

Passover reminds us that each child exists within each of us... except for the young child. Michael Jackson sadly sometimes exists within him.

Any retelling of the Passover story begins with the fact that the Jews were enslaved by the Pharaoh. So, who was this pharaoh? We sing.

King Tut:

Now when he was a young man,
He never thought he'd see
People stand in line to see the boy king.
King Tut
How'd you get so funky?
Funky Tut
Did you do the monkey?
Born in Arizona,
Moved to Babylonia
King Tut.
King Tut.
Now, if I'd known
they'd line up just to see him,
I'd trade in all my money
And bought me a museum.
King Tut
Buried with a donkey
Funky Tut
He's my favorite honkey!
Born in Arizona,
Moved to Babylonia
King Tut
Dancin' by the Nile,
Disco Tut
The ladies love his style,
Boss Tut
Rockin' for a mile
Rockin' Tut
He ate a crocodile.
He gave his life for tourism.
Golden idol!
He's an Egyptian
They're sellin' you.
Now, when I die,
now don't think I'm a nut,
don't want no fancy funeral,
Just one like ole king Tut.
King Tut
He coulda won a Grammy,
Buried in his Jammies,
Born in Arizona, moved to Babylonia,
He was born in Arizona, got a condo made of stone-a,
King Tut!

Okay. Okay. King Tut was not the pharaoh in question, but that song's pretty funny. So, now LET'S GET READY TO GRUMBLE!

THE STORY OF PASSOVER

In brief: An orphaned slave boy is raised by oppressors to be king until he discovers his true identity and banishes himself to the wilderness where he meets a homely farm girl and becomes a man, then thinks he sees God and returns to Egypt to free his true people.

When the powers that be deny him, he gets biblical on their asp-loving butts. He frees his peeps. Wanders around the desert for forty years. Questions God. And dies before reaching new home.

Again now, with tedium: A Long time ago in a far away place Jews by the thousands populated Egypt. They were an appreciated work force. Kind of like, I don't know, slaves.

However, it wasn't long before the Egyptians focused on the unwieldy numbers, which threatened to shift the balance of power. The Pharaoh decided the only way to control the herd was to trim it. So, he decided to "weed the garden." He ordered every firstborn male of every Jewish family to be weeded out and we have proudly tried to be weeded out ever since.

Any-who, a troubled mother does the only thing she can and places her newborn son in a wicker basket and set him out to float in the raging currents of the Nile River in the hope that he would somehow survive.

And survive he did. This young man we'll call... I don't know - MOSES - was found and adopted by the Pharaoh's barren wife who raised him as her own son to be a Prince and eventual successor to the throne. (You got that Paulie Walnuts?)

Then, due to some miracle, she and her king hubby had their own son. This son was not as old-bright-strong-wise as Moses. He grew up jealous that he was not their favorite. (Tough Titties, Ramses.)

That's right. Moses is raised to rule over the very people that begot him. Until he has a spiritual awakening and is cast out--yet again--into the wilderness--becoming the "Arab Formerly Known As Prince"--where he was rescued by a sheep farmer with five unmarried daughters. Each one hotter than the next. He marries the homeliest one.

One day, Moses comes upon a burning bush that spoke in Tongues and he took this burning bush to be the voice of God. (Note to self: Never drink on an empty stomach) The bush told him to return to the land from whence he came and confront the royals that once loved him as their own to free his people.

Unlike our Bush, Mose's Bush had an exit strategy.

He returns to Egypt to find his former adoptive brother Ramses is now Pharaoh. The very Ramses he used to rib. But, this "ribbed Ramses" now "condommed" him.

Moses demanded that Ramses FREE the very slaves that helped build the Egyptian empire. He called on the ghost of Paul Robeson and sang, "LET MY PEOPLE GO!"

Armed with no more than a staff and the voices he heard in his head, he was met with, how shall we say, a smidgen of skepticism. A pinch of pessimism. A dollop of doubt!

Ramses ignored him. In fact, he denied the slaves supplies and materials, yet insisted that they keep up their output. Moses very own people derided and castigated him saying things like, "Moses supposes his toeses are roses. Moses supposes erroneously." Yet, he pressed on. Moses orchestrates a reign of terror, presenting ten plagues, each one worse than the previous.

An now, a po-em:

When Pharaoh got nasty
and mean and deceiving
and wouldn't agree
to the Israelites' leaving,
God sent him ten plagues
so he might change his mind,
and the Jews could leave terrible Egypt behind.
There was blood in the gutters
and frogs in the butter,
and lice on their heads
and beasts in their beds,
disease in the cattle
and big boils in the saddle.
Hail started showering
and locusts devouring.
It turned dark as a pit.
Then the first-born were hit.

With each plague, his very own people were treated worse by their captors. With each new burden, his people pressed him to cease and desist. Castigated by his own people. Scorned by his adoptive people. Plagued by his very own plagues. Moses pressed on.

It was the last plague - the slaying of the firstborn - that gives Passover its name. You've got to read the small print.

See, God asked that anybody who didn't want their firstborn slain needed to wipe the blood of a sacrificial lamb on their door. That way he would know who believed and he would "PASS OVER" them. Get it? Pass Over? Passover? It beats the heck out of "Wipe Sheep Blood On Door Day."

Anyway, it was only after this last plague (the "killing of the first born") that Ramses LET MOSES'S PEOPLE (US - THE JEWS!) GO!

Moses leads his newly freed people out into the wilderness to the edge of a massive sea and has them wade into the sea up to their necks to prove their belief before the sea "SPLITS" and lets them "pass over" to the other side. Get it? "Pass over?" Passover?

Then, he and his people roam out in the desert and wilderness for forty years, where shall we say, a morsel of mayhem, a touch of tangible terror, a flicker of fickleness developed among a large portion of these nomads.

Sammy Davis Moses goes up to a mountain where he confabs with the "big cat upstairs." While he's away, a mob of insurgents build false icons and break most of the commandments that Moses was in those very moments being given.

And we all say, "WHERE'S YOUR MESSIAH NOW, MOSES!"

The non-believers were given a smidgeon of Smiting. A whiff of whacking. An atom of ass-capping. They were, you know, not going to be a problem any longer. He ain't pretty no more. They slept wid de fishes. Fuhgetaboutit.

Finally, after all this mishugana. After the plagues and the sea and the years of wandering in the desert and the "don't call us, we'll call you", Moses leads his people to the very precipice of the promised land!

And then, in the final act of irony and contrition, Moses himself questions everything. For this, he could've stayed home. And the Jewish God, being a judgmental and ironic God, smites him then and there.

That's right. MOSES DIES WITHOUT EVER SETTING FOOT IN THE PROMISED LAND!!!

And even though Moses complained, "I'm not dead yet. In fact, I feel happy. I feel happy! I'm getting better. I feel like a walk." God whapped him upside the keppe with a shovel.

And that's that! See, the story of Passover is ultimately a parable of faith and belief in the face of overwhelming adversity. Moses is a reluctant, confused hero who never reaches his goal. Kind of like Bogie in Casablanca, which also takes place in Northern Africa. Coincidence?

And that's that! The story of Passover in a nutshell. Deliverance from bondage. Diaspora. Appreciation of freedom. Symbolic food. A few chuckles. A song or two. And maybe some Brisket.

LET'S EAT!!!

AFTER DINNER:

Much like Columbo, there's always one more thing. In our case, "Tzafun" means "hidden." And, "Afikomen" means "dessert." Haggle. Haggle. Make the kids beg and cry. Then:

Together we thank generations of ancestors who brought us to this day.

Together we thank the brave women & men of all the peoples of the world who struggle and sacrifice to make this world a better place to live.

Together we dedicate this cup of wine to our ancestors who, from generation to generation escaped from slavery, struggled against oppression and tyranny, maintained a vision of hope and who have left us a legacy of liberty and freedom.

This cup is for Elijah the Prophet. We open the door to greet him and invite him to join our Seder and bring with him a time of peace and freedom. Eli's coming, hide your hearts girls.

NEXT YEAR AT THE BELLAGIO!!!