April 4, 2012
DIYers take on Pesach
(Page 2 - Previous Page)
Singer/songwriter Martin Storrow attended a prepare-for-Passover retreat with 30 people in their 20s last month, and he said the conversations were intensely serious, focused on the Arab Spring, modern-day slavery as well as the plight of women in repressive societies. Sometimes the conversation turned personal, looking at the internal constraints that can enslave a person — shame, greed, jealousy or an unwillingness to connect.
“I think a lot of people in my generation are looking for something relevant and something that is not just a story that happened a long time ago, but something that is happening now and constantly evolving,” Storrow said. “We live in an age where everything is constantly up to the minute and we’re always looking to tie things to our contemporary experience.”
The Passover retreat Storrow attended was a program of Moishe House, a cooperative living experiment where three or four people live as roommates in a house for a subsidized rent, and in turn host regular events for young Jews in the area. There are 46 Moishe Houses globally. Storrow is a founding member of the West L.A. Moishe House, which opened in December.
The retreat, which culminated in a mock seder, was about building confidence, according to organizer Rabbi Dan Horowitz, who runs Moishe House in the Midwest.
“More than anything else, what speaks to this generation is having the ability to have ownership, and having that ownership, being able to take off in any direction they find meaning in. They want to feel that whatever they are doing is not inauthentic, but a vibrant form of expression of everything that Passover should be,” Horowitz said.
The Moishe House in the San Fernando Valley, which opened in August 2011, will host a seder for an expected 25 to 35 guests. That group will use the just-released “New American Haggadah” as a framework — the multiple voices of various contemporary writers it offers is attractive to the democratic Moishe House — but the hosts also are encouraging full participation. Not only have guests been asked to bring a tradition from home and a dish to contribute to the meal, they all are invited to come early to help cook and set up.
“We’re all about the collaborative process. That’s the way we do things — someone writes a status update on Facebook, and everyone wants to comment on it and put in their own two cents. We re-Tweet — we interact that way. For seder, we want to see how the story can come together through different eyes,” said Terry Wunder, who lives in the Valley’s Moishe House.
With Haggadot.com, Levinson has tapped into the need for extreme personalization and multiple sources, allowing users both to contribute and to pull pages for a haggadah they can then download and print out to use on seder night.
DIYSeder.com, another site offering customizable haggadot, offers several tracts for users to choose from, and a for-pay premium service with extra features.
On Haggadot.com, artist, rabbis, comedians, professors and lay people of all ages and backgrounds are among the 180 people who have contributed.
In the past year, Haggadot.com became one of nine projects funded in the inaugural year of the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund, a collaboration of the Jim Joseph Foundation, Righteous Persons Foundation, and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
While Levinson initially expected the users to come primarily from her own age cohort, the site has proven attractive among people of all ages who want to craft a customized seder experience.
The maror section, for instance, listed 21 entries by the week before Passover (and more were being added daily), including a simple poster of a lion screaming “maRoooar”; a Jewish World Watch contribution that discusses the bitterness of abandonment for refugees in Africa; and a take on the bitterness of alienation from interfaithfamily.com. A maror taste test asks seder-goers to consider what is most bitter: Romaine lettuce? Horseradish? Tonic water? Dark chocolate? A recipe for a maror cocktail includes vodka, raw beet and horseradish (there’s a salty karpas cocktail as well). For every section, there are several versions of a simple, traditional page — the blessing in Hebrew, English and transliteration, and stage directions, for instance.
Videos on the site include school kids performing a Ten Plagues rap, an edgy animated Passover story, and a 20-second flip book. The video option will work for seder-goers who bring their iPads or laptops to the table – an increasing number, Levinson said (see accompanying story, Page 23).
ART AND THE SEDER
Art is a major component on Haggadot.com.
Ken Goldman, an Israel-based artist, plays with ritual objects with an insider’s intelligence and subtlety that induces viewers to about four seconds of brow-furrowing before figuring out his meaning. Goldman’s “Eco-bdikah set” is a spot-on satire, and he proffers a peel-and-stick ba’al teshuvah wine stain kit — for those whose clean haggadot might betray that they are new to Jewish life.
In a more traditionally drawn style, Will Deutsch’s sketches provide a caricature-like nostalgic take on Passover moments, including one showing a search for the afikomen, and another a school kid on a bench eying a sad piece of matzah while another boy enjoys a hamburger.
“I think that there is this question for a lot of people today of what is relevant to me about Judaism,” Deutsch said. “There are different ways in which they connect with it … and I think the works I make create a new visual vocabulary that represents cultural identifiers in a way that hasn’t been seen before.”
Deutsch, who was raised in Orange County, is one of the pilot members in Los Angeles of the Six Points Fellowship, an initiative to support Jewish artists funded by Jewish Federations of Greater Los Angeles, The Jewish Community Foundation and the Righteous Persons Foundation.
“In Los Angeles, there is an explosion of Jewish arts and culture, reflected in many of these new projects exploring both the seder and Passover,” said Josh Feldman, associatedirector of the Six Points Fellowship. “Bringing contemporary arts into this ancient tradition is also meeting young adults where they are with their Jewish practice.”
And relating to Judaism through art shouldn’t be mistaken for a sense of hipster aloofness, Levinson said.
“People want to explore themselves personally in the larger structure of Judaism, but it’s about reaching a sense of authenticity as opposed to some sort of air of coolness,” she said.
Especially because being a DIYer, it turns out, requires a fair amount of homework and a good dose of chutzpah, whether you’re 27 or 67.
“When I first started making my own haggadahs, I had this horrible feeling that I didn’t put in the thing where you dip the second time, and now I’m going to get in trouble because someone is going to say, ‘Where is the part where you dip a second time? You’re doing it wrong,’ ” Soloway of Eastside Jews said. “The fear of doing it wrong is one of the things that stops people from exploring Judaism. It keeps people from going to synagogue, from celebrating Shabbat.”
Soloway said she has worked for some years to experience that perfect seder where the pace is good and conversations are stimulating and the effect is uplifting — but she’s not quite there yet.
“I can’t say I’ve pulled that off. I have definitely gotten inspired, and gotten close to pulling it off, but I’ve never quite pulled it off,” she said.
For one thing, she has two children.
“A lot of people experience this choice. They want there to be meaningful adult dialogue about really deeply exploring the metaphor of freedom as they see it in their own lives, whether that is social justice or emotional freedom in their own heart or discussing addiction or other powerful themes around Passover. But you don’t want to do that in front of your kids, or with your 3-year-old who doesn’t really care,” Soloway said. “You have to walk that middle road, where it’s not going to be super meaningful, but it’s not going to be super boring.”
This year, Soloway is going to a friend’s house for first-night seder and is looking forward to the promise of creative activities and deep dialogue.
And on the second night, she’s going to her in-laws, who run a traditional seder.
“And, in some ways, that’s a relief, because there is something about the structure of childhood seders that I look back on and that in some ways still make sense all these years later,” she said.
“People read; they’re not being asked or forced to get into conversations about something personal or political, which can be dangerous with family. You’re just celebrating with family and you do it every year, and it’s more about continuity and doing what works. You don’t always need to reinvent.”
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