Saturday, April 25, 2015

Seder Dinner, My First

It was 1966 and I was in high school with a crush on my friend Mike. He was ever so smart, with a genius IQ count of 162, if I recall correctly. He was a younger child of the one Jewish family in our small provincial town in the Texas Bible Belt. Mike was brilliant, funny, blew the sax in jazz band, was a favorite of the teachers, and so cool. I thought I was, too. Cool, that is, not Jewish. His father was our family doctor, which also added to his social elitism. 

Mike's mom was sophisticated. She drove over to Dallas frequently to shop and buy foods in the kosher markets, and there is where the family attended weekly synagogue. It was over four hours round trip to drive to Dallas and back home. This time dedication to family and spiritual life awed me. We hardly ever drove to Ft. Worth for high school football games, and that was only an hour's adventure. 

 Passover was approaching that spring. I was invited to Mike's home for the Seder dinner. A bit apprehensive about the upcoming evening, I asked my grandmother what to expect. She advised me of the menu, explained a bit about it, and told me "Nancy, it is an honor that you have been invited to partake of this meal. They are sharing their faith with you." 

We were Southern Baptist, and our only family "holy meal" of the year was usually an Easter lunch after church services when we all sat around the dining room table and shared a roast chicken with mashed potatoes. In other words, we Baptists did not have spiritual meals, except for grape juice communion served before lunch, at church, and on four Sundays annually. And it was not really a meal, it was a commemoration sans involvement of food. 

Apprehensive about the upcoming evening Seder at Mike's Jewish table, I approached Mom with questions: what to wear, what to discuss, were questions about the meal acceptable to ask, what type gift should I take, should I fold my hands when they prayed, should I drink the wine? All concerns answered, hostess gift in hand, I was ready for Seder. 

The appointed time to be at Mike's on that Friday evening was later than my usual 6 PM dinner time with my mother and grandparents. Eating after the sun set only added to the mystery and sanctity of the proffered meal. Several of Mike's high school friends were also invited, and we were seated in the dining room with Mike's mother at the head of the table, officiating at the blessing of the meal. How different this was; my grandfather always said grace before our meals. Mrs. C. intoned kiddush, the recited blessing sanctifying Shabbat, as we symbolically washed hands around the table. This very act of her offering the traditional blessing impressed me as a feminist observance. Another check added onto her list of being experienced and ever so socially cultivated. 

The foods and spices were described at the Seder dinner. Mike offered his explanations about herbs presented on the table, signifying the bitterness of Jewish slavery in Egypt. And there was roast chicken. After all, that was no mystery meat. But I was sure Mrs. C. had seasoned the foul with varied spices other than what my grandmother shook over chicken. Could it have been rosemary or thyme? It was exotically different than our usual roasted chicken served on the yellow Formica kitchen table at my grandparent's home only a minute's drive from Mike's house. 

 Dr. C., Mike's dad, must have been present at the dinner but I do not recall his appearance; it was Mrs. C. on whom my attention was focused. She was gracious and cordial to us, Mike's friends, and it was only years later that I understood the invitation as being a mitzvah she undertook. I am grateful to her and Dr. C., may they rest in peace, and also to Mike for allowing me to partake of their celebration all those years past. The holiness of that meal has not been forgotten.

No comments:

Post a Comment