April 2, 1998
A Woman’s Voice
By Marlene Adler Marks
My Passover seder was once again acclaimed by oneand all as the best ever. Good thing, too, since, as befits a holidayfilled with questions, anxiety had dogged my every step -- rightuntil the last moment.
First, I worried about the weather. Passover felleven later last year than this, and though there was not a sign of ElNiño and it had been unseasonably warm, I, of course, wasconcerned about the possibility of rain. And I worried about thetable setting, for this was to be my first seder al fresco, served not onlyoutside but on plastic.
"I'm sure everyone will understand," said mymother. But I was not so sure. Fearing that my friends would think Iwas cheap or lazy, and not nearly the Martha Stewart I pretend to be,I left frantic messages of warning: This seder would be "casual"; besure to bring sweaters and dress for the chill.
Then, I worried about the food. Wendy gave methree kosher chickens; Alice was bringing two briskets. But what ifit still wasn't enough?
"You're worried for nothing," my mother said. Butby now, she was worrying too -- not about my seder in Los Angeles butabout my cousin Lorraine's in New York, to which Mom and Dad werebringing a platter of fruit. We spent hours debating the relativemerits of pineapples, strawberries, cantaloupe or a mix of all threeand grapes. A worrier's delight.
With my mother thus preoccupied, I turned tocousin Rita. She was busy fretting about the table settings for herown second-night seder, and hadn't caught up to the matter of food.So I went on alone. Beyond the natural concern that my guests woulddie of starvation, I was agitated about one cousin who eats onlykosher, another who eats only vegetables, and those friends who areallergic or who are on the Zone Diet or the protein diet or puttingtheir faith in Phen-Fen before its link to heart-valve irregularitieswas revealed. I felt the kind of apprehension that made me long forYom Kippur, when no one eats at all.
When my worries had boiled and condensed into afine fumé, I baked a turkey breast and, for good measure, apotato kugel (doubling the recipe) and an extra dessert -- an orangenut cake.
Little did I know that, in the midst of myobsession, my friends were worrying too. The day before, Laura hadcalled, tormented about the shape of the hard-boiled eggs she hadbeen requested to bring.
"Why did you give me something so easy to do?" sheasked, in exasperation. "I'm only good at hard tasks. I couldn't peelthe eggs without leaving half the white in the shell. I threw out abunch, and those that I kept are so deformed, they're practicallyabstract."
Finally, it was 6 p.m., Erev Pesach. Wendy, whose matzoballs are internationally celebrated for flotation, came through thedoor frothing about her soup.
"Tasteless," she declared it, and the matzo balls,she insisted, were like lead. So she salted the pot, added water toit, and nursed it like a baby, worrying, all the while, that she hadpaid too much for the chickens, and vowing that next year she wouldbuy them closer to yuntif, when the kosher market sells them at half price.
Alice and Ted arrived, their brisket kept warm ina huge brown insulated box. Alice declared the meat stringy and hersauce "too intense." By turns, she threw herself into apoplexy,worrying that the meat would be either too hot or too cool andwondering why she couldn't turn my stove top to "On."
Meanwhile, Kari came in, disturbed to find thatthe chicken would be served unheated: "It's fine with me," she saidwith a glare of disapproval so firm that I threw the chicken into themicrowave, returning only to see her and Judy eyeing each other'scarrots with suspicion. Whose would be best?
Then, in sauntered Mary, warning one and all thather chocolate cake "is much better than it looks." Debra, not to beout-mortified, suffered the indignity of contributing only bottledgrape juice. "I can cook, too, you know," she said.
And with that, the seder itself began.
You'd think that my worries would end there andthen, but you underestimate my talent for a good hard-boileddistress. Last year, as seder leader, I kept my worries about theHaggadah to a minimum, refusing to rewrite it completely, making duewith the one I had first compiled when all my guests were feminists.I felt queasy about forgoing the washing-of-the-hands ritual, and, asfor music, my company never gets beyond the first verse of "Chad GadYa." I am a worrier, not a perfectionist.
But Marty, who co-leads the seder each year, hadbeen worrying for me. Concerned that the seder would go over theheads of the children, he brought along "Uncle Eli's Haggadah," fromthe Internet. Every ritual, every historic reference had its own Dr.Seuss-like rhyme.
"I think the seder is for children," he said, hisvoice filled with obligation.
What are these worries about? My mother says thereare "good problems" and "bad problems," and these about Passover areof the first, happier, variety.
How wonderful it is to worry about such smallthings. The weather, the table, the food and the guests. Even thepossible closing of Pacific Coast Highway in the event of mudslide --these are the concerns, the privileges of love.
Bad problems, of course, we know all too well.Heart conditions, unemployment, death. To know only good worries isto be in a state of bliss, to be part of a natural order in which theminutiae of life is resolved by time, and to learn once again thatGod is in the details.
The first night of Passover turned out to be thehottest night of the year. We sat on the patio, telling the story ofthe Exodus to freedom, by the light of the full moon. Warmed bygentle breezes, we ate eggs (deemed perfect), soup (thick andflavorful), brisket (masterful), carrots (both recipes divine) andthe world's greatest Passover chocolate cake. The children understoodit all.
"The best Passover ever!" they all declared. I'mworried that this year's won't be half so good.
Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist for TheJewish Journal, is preparing for Passover. This is her updated columnfrom last year. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
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