Are you there, Elijah? It's me, Liz.
Let me first start out by stating, if you didn't catch my last name in the byline, I'm actually half Jewish. Ironically, this created even more of a problem when I dated a full Jew. Maybe it was because in the "Judaism" eyes, I am in fact not a Jew. One, because my mother was a Protestant. And two, perhaps the more, um, damming thing: I was baptized.
It's also important to note that up until dating this person, for nearly the entire duration of my 20s no less, I had a different outlook on Judaism and its culture. See, the Newman side of my family — that would be the Jewish side — wasn't exactly religious. I mean, my Dad married a WASP from a God-fearing farm family from small town Illinois if that proves anything. And then had no problem with her sprinkling Holy Water all over his offspring.
Still, to keep his roots planted in us (or, as all Jews will understand, to appease his mother), my brother and I attended a few passovers here and there growing up. If there was religion in the Newman's, it all stemmed from my loving Grandma. And dammit, whether her children were just there for the Matzoh Ball soup and the Charoset (and, she knew they were), she was going to host this sacred meal every year.
These Passovers consisted mainly of someone (often me) trying to pawn their hard boiled egg off on somebody, listening to my grandfather belt out "The Only Kid" after too much Manischewitz and borderline beating down my cousins to find all the pieces of matzoh to win the whopping $1.00 my grandma awarded. I think I may have opened the door for Elijah a time or two, but that's about where the religious part of this Newman Passover Program ends.
In short, we came, we saw, we ate — it was a family dinner with a bit more talking about Moses and a lot more parsley and salt water on the plate. Bottom line: I grew up under this false illusion that all Jews were as laid back about being Jewish as my family is, only to later find out my family was the exception, not the rule.
This fact was brought to light when I attended my first (I hesitate to say "real" in case my Grandma can read this from beyond the grave, but you get the idea) Passover with my then-boyfriend. First of all, after years of said egg pawning and opening the door for prophet ghosts, I thought I was a pro. I wasn't even nervous, because Hey! I was half Jewish and knew all about Passover customs.
Here's the first reason that's not true: I made an ACTUAL chocolate cake in preparation for this momentous event. Even those who aren't Jewish likely know the cardinal rule of Passover: no leavened bread. THAT'S THE ENTIRE POINT. You don't eat anything with flour because when the Pharaoh freed the Israelites, it is said that they left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread dough to rise. GET IT TOGETHER, LIZ.
I still to this very day thank the sweet Lord above (who says I can't be religious?) that this somehow triggered in my memory as I was frosting my masterpiece, quickly clarified this fact with my Dad (who, I'm actually shocked knew), and subsequently ran (sprinted?) out to purchase a flourless chocolate cake one hour before we were scheduled to leave.
That should have really been my sign I wasn't a pro, but I was somehow still keeping the allusion alive.
Once we arrived, the first thing I noticed was 1. the table setting was truly pristine, 2. there were lots off different types of wine glasses, and 3. there were very intimidating looking books (read: Haggadah) on every chair. At this point, this thought was flooding my head: Please don't assume I know how to read Hebrew.
After some exchanged pleasantries, we sat down to begin Seder (note: this is all you call it when you're in the big leagues).
It all started off fine, I was but a mere spectator. And wow, there's a lot more reading than I remember, but luckily for me — and this is in no way to diminish the sanctity of this religious ritual — it's a lot like a square dance in that there are constant directions in what to do. Drink a glass of wine. Check. Dip the parsley in salt water. Check. I can follow rules ... smooth sailing.
And then, I had to read. I HAD TO READ. Now in case you didn't know, as if Israel actually tried to make it more confusing, Hebrew is read from right to left. I actually knew this (Editor's note: check me out!). But guess what I didn't know how to do? Yep, read Hebrew. And this boyfriend's family, well, they read Hebrew fluently. Gulp.
Was I going to attempt this? Well considering we were half-way through the four glasses you're allotted during this dinner (don't try and surpass that ... it's frowned upon), and I've only eaten damp parsley at this point, you bet I was. After one glance at this book I quickly knew this isn't exactly something you can fake; it may as well have been hieroglyphics across the page. I was going to have to come clean about this.
Before I do, my then boyfriend's Mom asks: Do you know how to read Hebrew, dear? Well, if this isn't the worse person to ask this who is? No, then boyfriend's Mom, I actually don't. And guess what else? I've pretty much been faking my knowledge this entire time. How much do you want me to marry your son in a non-Jewish ceremony right now?!?! Mazel Tov!
Ok, that didn't happen, instead I went the use humor as an out route: "You know what, it's been a while, so maybe I should stick to the English side of this book" (nervous laughter running rampant).
Mom response: [with a forced smile, and a nod] Of course, dear.
After a few more prayers and Psalm reading (in perfect Hebrew), it was time for Elijah.
Finally, Yes! To quote the infamously awkward Pretty Woman dinner scene, this was "the fork I know." I will impress them with my door opening skills, and the fact I know you leave the wine on the table, and ... WAIT. What the ... who's that going for the door? No, get out of there then boyfriend's cousin — that's my move!
After mentally pulling myself together, I then learned that it's actually customary for the youngest to open the door for Elijah. This is actually for kids, which makes sense, since that's what I was when I did it. So, in short, not only did I miss my big moment, I was reminded of my advanced age.
There was a silver lining, however. Elijah represented the, shall I say, closing ceremonies of this whole shebang. It was one more prayer, one more glass of wine, and then off the to afikoman (or in Newman terms, 'find the matzoh") races. Plus, this is when we can eat real food, which is around the time when then-boyfriend's mom complimented me on my "homemade" flowerless chocolate cake.
A compliment for this Shiksa?
Elijah must have really walked through that door.